Pursuing That Which Defines Quality

by Eric Wright

As a freshman in Psych 101, I saw an intriguing film about a test that psychologists had developed to determine a person’s “Need for Achievement.”  The test demonstrated how certain individuals possessed an internal motivation that caused them to strive to accomplish and to solve problems when others might simply give up.  In addition, it showed these individuals were not motivated by an external reward, but instead their reward was in the achievement itself.

What’s Your EQ?

I have often thought that a similar test should be developed to determine someone’s “excellence quotient” – namely, that inner drive to do things to the best of our ability, regardless of what the task is even when the only reward is in personally knowing your work and your life reflected the highest of standards.

John W. Gardner once said, “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing, because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy, because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy.  Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”  Then he added, “Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

Case In Point

When we pursue excellence, the rewards are often unforeseen during the pursuit – like Jesus who said, “The one who is faithful over little things, will be faithful also over much.”

Consider the little boy, born in 1962 in Starkville, Mississippi, the son of a bricklayer.  When he and his brothers were old enough, they would go with their father to the job site to help out.  As he grew, he joined his father on the platform, while his younger brothers would throw bricks up one-by-one for him to stack for his dad.

Jerry, the young boy, never dreamed that in catching brick after brick he was preparing for the most prolific professional football career that any receiver would ever experience.  The Jerry I’m speaking of is Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers.  Rice graduated from high school and attended Mississippi Valley State on a football scholarship.  Out of college he was drafted in the first round, as the 16th overall pick, of the 1985 draft.  He wasn’t even the first receiver chosen – the New York Jets drafted Al Toon and then the Cincinnati Bengals chose Eddie Brown before Jerry was ever given the nod.  Have you heard of those guys lately?

The Why

With 13 Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl rings, Rice is regarded as the best wide receiver in the history of the game.  In the nearly twenty years he played professional football, Rice was always known as the hardest worker in his profession.  As the preseason rolled around, Jerry would arrive at training camp five days early – during the time for the rookies to report.  Why would the most successful receiver in NFL history, who in 2010 was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, show up to workout with the rookies?  Because Jerry Rice strove for excellence every day of his life.

Excellence is that recognition that my life and my work are the contributions I make to the mosaic that is our community, our nation and our world.  Charles Swindoll captured the essential nature of it when he wrote, “Excellence is a difficult concept to communicate because it can easily be misread as neurotic perfectionism or snooty sophistication.  But it is neither.  On the contrary, it is the stuff of which greatness is made.  It is the difference between just getting by and soaring – that which sets apart the significant from the superficial, the lasting from the temporary.”


A respected author and speaker, Eric Wright is the assignment editor for SpaceCoast Business magazine and the founder and pastor of Journey Church in Suntree.