Be exceptional. Be unique. Be something that does not conform to a pattern or the norm.
The norm is not exceptional, but rather the norm is to fall back into the crowd and to blend in. Some even think they are doing a good thing by blending in and not calling attention to themselves. We all have been given the gift of uniqueness. We need to accept and nurture that gift.
“Being exceptional” means we must live out one word, “except.’ “They all did that, believed that, said that, except me.” Everyone complains about the coach (boss, manager, teacher, etc.), except me; everyone is walking around offended by something, except me; everyone is willing to accept the status quo, except me. To be exceptional, we make a choice that although others are doing it, that choice is not for us.
Being exceptional is not superior and not arrogant; it does not mean we are better than anybody else. It means that we are going to consciously, daily, be driven by a choice, not a feeling. We are going to do ordinary things uniquely well. To be exceptional, we do not follow feelings (“I feel like eating that,” “I feel like drinking that,” “I feel like saying that”), but we consciously decide to do what is exceptional. Being exceptional is like being an eagle which soars alone above the storm as opposed to a duck which gathers in noisy flocks. Don’t be of it but be above it.
You will know you are exceptional when others “level set” you. They will do a comparison and realize they do not have your uniqueness; they will feel inferior and discount you. Some aspects of society celebrate ‘the norm’ versus the special. High School Honor Societies over the years have lowered their standards increasing the numbers that qualify. In certain youth sport’s leagues, all teams that participate get a medal. In some public-school districts all students must pass a class.
We move from being accomplished to exceptional through the power of discontent within ourselves. We no longer tolerate just being accomplished rather want to be part of something more meaningful and powerful in life. We need to be challenged, so we are part of a bigger story. Like a brilliantly aged wine and cheese, it takes time and stubborn consistency to be exceptional as a person, a group, a society and as a nation. In other words, we don’t stumble into being excellent. Lafayette College, my alma mater, recently recognized it was woefully lagging in its commitment to athletics. They promoted that they participated in 23 Division 1 sports. What they lack was a purpose to be without equal in that participation.
Consider the story about fellow engineers and artisans lambasting Gustave Eiffel the designer of the Eiffel tower for his effort to become exceptional. They protested with indignation against its construction, calling it useless and monstrous. They ridiculed his lack of imagination and creativity. However, today the Eiffel tower is the most visited paid monument in the world with on average over 7.1 million people per year.
An excerpt from the Cadet Prayer at the US Military Academy reads, “Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.” Jim Bearden, a former Marine and Bronze Star recipient, is a recognized leadership and accountability expert, lives by ‘The Rule’ – “You choose the quality of your days.” His application of that rule is “To have exceptional days, stop looking for exceptions to The Rule!”
“Success is uncommon, therefore not to be enjoyed by the common man. I’m looking for uncommon people.” University of Minnesota Head Football Coach Cal Stoll spoke these words to Tony Dungy his freshman year. Dungy has carried these words with him since that day and now more than ever, he believes the world needs to hear them.
The Pharisees were constantly wanting to ‘level-set’ Jesus. Jesus challenged the way they saw their faith; He challenged the way they viewed their God; He challenged their routines, doctrines, and ideas. So, in return they defined him by what they saw. In the town he grew up in Jesus had to answer, “Aren’t you Joseph’s son?” They refused to believe in his teaching because they considered him one of themselves. They saw no exceptionalism. In both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’s statement “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”
In Jesus Christ Superstar, a mocking Pilate complains that “You Jews produce messiahs by the sackful!” During and after Jesus’s time, throughout Jewish history, there were many who claimed to be the messiah. Jesus represented a truly odd candidate as he did not come as a ‘king of this world.’ What made Jesus unique during his time was his message of love and ultimately it was his fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy and Resurrection.
God gave us a uniqueness, so we must rise above the crowd and be unique because we are remarkable. It is not for the ordinary. It’s not for the routine or the ritualistic. Are you going to be Joseph’s son or a Prophet without honor in his own country? Two unique roles that I have; Husband to Vicki and Dad to Anna, Beth, Clare. All other roles someone else can and will do, possibly better. I must be exceptional in these two roles and even more so in my walk with the Lord.