November 2011

Excellence in All Things


I have written before about witty statements on church marquees, and today yet another one caught my eye and imagination. It read “Whatever you are, be a good one.” My initial reaction was that this uplifting advice would surely guide us to being better people. And then, as I thought about it further, I found nuances that are worth exploring.

The “whatever you are” suggests that my job defines my identity. People say “I am a lawyer / teacher/ chef / plumber” as if their occupation defines them. And while it is true that our jobs reflect who we are and how we spend much of our time, surely there is more to it. One of my favorite lines from the Baha’i writings is within a prayer: “in my work and in my occupation“, clearly signifying that my “work” as a person — developing my character, contributing to society – can be quite different from my occupation or job.

 “Work,” as distinct from “occupation,” can also encompass personal interests and hobbies. For example, my husband, whose job is in a technical field, applies his attention to detail to his at-home projects. The past several weeks he has been doing some stonework in our backyard, carefully shaping and smoothing the stones. When I watch him doing this, I might see it in its nobler context, i.e. striving for excellence.

Indeed this is encouraged within the Baha’i teachings, It is written that arts, crafts and sciences uplift the human world. More specifically, Abdul-Baha, the son of the Founder Baha’u’llah, wrote “Arts, sciences and all crafts are worship . . . giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.”

Continuing my reflection on the church marquee statement, I look next at the word “good.” Yes, we should be good, though I wonder what the standard is. Some jobs have external standards, such as doing so-many-actions in so-many hours. Frequently though words like “good” are more vaguely or intangibly used in the workplace. And anyway, surely it is preferable to go beyond the minimum expectation and strive for one’s own personal best. Athletes do this all the time, with exceeding their own personal best being the goal.

When I go to my job, I try to be at my best in order to do my best. Admittedly some days and some tasks are more motivating than others, but my work (character development) deserves my giving it all, and that will be reflected in what I do in my occupation. So if my job is one of the ways that my own inner-work takes place, then the challenges it presents take on an enlarged meaning. I can learn to welcome these challenges as an opportunity to become more than “good” — to achieve my own “personal best.”


© Jaellayna Palmer 2011