It’s been fun to watch Michael Phelps swim in the 2008 Summer Olympics. We’ve run out of superlatives to describe his performance. He is truly a great athlete. But the thought that struck me this week is that for every gold medal winning Olympian, there are hundreds of good athletes who fall short of greatness.
There are lots of reasons for this, including a less favorable genetic make-up or fewer opportunities to excel. In many cases, however, another factor comes into play. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, “good is the enemy of great.” How often has an athlete achieved early success due to a combination of raw talent and competitive drive, but somewhere along the way found this wasn’t enough. Continued success at higher levels of competition required a discipline and sacrifice that he or she was unwilling to make. One of the oft repeated statements about Phelps is that he doesn’t do anything but swim, eat and sleep. Everyone admires his commitment, but many athletes who are simply good fail to emulate it.
And so it often is in our spiritual lives and our leadership practices. We experience some measure of “success” – whether that’s spiritual or organizational growth or some other milestone – but we fall short of the “next level.” When we reflect, if we ever make the time to do so, we may discover that “good” has been the enemy of “great.” We agree to lead or participate in another Bible study, but find that our souls are not being nourished by spending time alone listening to God. Or we take on a heavy load of pastoral care, and wonder why there never seems to be time for creative thinking or dreaming about the future.
An endless array of good options is calling for our attention. I’ll be quick to admit that choosing the best can be difficult. But it’s a practice that will benefit all of us. So what about you? I’m sure you’re doing things that are good. But are you choosing that which is great?