I went to a workshop on goal setting and there was a major lesson on setting “high standards.” The leader made it sound like the only way you will find happiness is to commit your entire life to getting results at work. When is “good” not enough for a Catholic, and when is “better” taking it too far?
High standards are a way of life for Catholics. In fact, Jesus presented the highest standard of all when he told us we “must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, RSV). His command, if understood properly, is an excellent model for both our spiritual life and work life.
In a way, a nonbeliever might think that Jesus is setting us up for something impossible. That is clearly not the case. As our maker, he is well aware of the impossibility of this command in human terms. But there is another verse in Scripture which helps illuminate how this command is possible, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Obviously, the primary message is that we are to strive for perfection when it comes to holiness — and this is a great target for the rest of life, as well. An accountant should set a standard for entering all of the data into a tax return perfectly, just as a doctor should set out to administer the proper dose of medicine every time.
I believe that Jesus asks us to aim for perfection because it takes away ambiguity.
If you teach a 3-year-old to draw a square and she scribbles out anything even close, you praise and support her effort. The same standard is not acceptable for a professional architect. In both cases, the ultimate goal is perfection. If the 3-year-old does not improve by age 6 and even more so by 15, then she is not raising her standards at an appropriate level.
A problem that can arise when aiming for high standards is a lack of balance.
“Better” is too much when a person’s high standards in one area of his life become the cause of low standards in others. It is common to see some people put so much into their work that they neglect their family. It is common to see people set such high standards for personal appearance that they compromise their humility. Finding the right balance is the key.
Take into consideration your level of training, experience and related responsibilities. There is no doubt that exercising prudence is the answer to your question. If you have a tendency to be spiritually scrupulous, it would be important to discuss your goals and work habits with your spiritual director in order to find the right balance.
Keep in mind that every activity we participate in is an opportunity to grow in holiness. That should inspire high standards.
Make your bed, fill out your expense reports and plan your day like you are doing it for Jesus. Trust in him that he will give you the strength to follow through each day.
Ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen you with his gifts and you will soon form the proper habits to aim high without compromising other areas in life.
Executive coach and
author Dave Durand, author of Time Management for Catholics, is online