Saint Francis and Excellence

Francis was a freak. Honestly, if you have studied his life at all, particularly through the eyes of Bonaventure, you can see quickly that Francis was intense.

But his intensity brought about a mythologically-sized life. In fact, I am writing about his life hundreds of years later. Something Bonaventure wrote about struck me deeply about Francis. I think our society is rife with this problem, and that we can take an example from Francis to solve it.

To seek to be known as someone who did great things excellently,
instead of actually doing great things excellently.

To Seek To Be Known

This is not a bad desire, honestly. It is one of Maslow’s needs. We want to be known because, in our minds, it is a type of fruit.

However, in our digital world, excellence can be, and quite often is, faked.

Oh, I didn’t see you there. I didn’t realize…yeah, I always…do this.

We Photoshop images, pose cutely for “spontaneous” pictures, shape websites to pretend we are bigger than we really are, and write lofty blogs about all the good we are doing. The goal seems to be to be known for some sort of life we are portraying that we have not actually earned.

Francis had people talking about him. He was well known in Assisi as a spiritual man. And, honestly, that disturbed him. You see, he wanted to actually be the guy doing the things more than to be known as the guy doing things.

To Be Excellent

As Aristotle supposedly said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” And Francis had the habit of delivering excellently on a spiritual life.

He fasted regularly. He wept openly when he harmed others. And his life was full of wonderment that many attested to in the form of miracles and omens. When he received compliments, it disturbed him because he did not think that he actually deserved such comments. So he had friars near him whisper condescension to him to keep him pushing for excellence. (I told you he was a freak.)

Once, Francis fell sick. Since his usual habit (hear the word excellence) was to live a fasted life, he allowed himself to eat a bit of meat with his meal to strengthen him to get well. He recovered, but was wracked with guilt. You see, people saw him as a perfectly spiritual man, but he knew that he had not delivered on the expectations of others AND himself.

So, he stripped down to his skivvies, tied a noose around his neck, and dragged himself to the place in the town square where they usually put criminals. He declared his flaw (if you could call it that) to the public and let them know that they should not call him a perfect saint because of his imperfect fast.

This is ridiculously humble, I know. And a bit too extreme for today’s psuedo-spiritualists. However, the message is clear: Francis sought perfection and excellence of himself. And he would not let a false image of himself drive his actions.

What if you and I had that level of expectation for ourselves to deliver excellence?

What if we sought excellence instead of being known as excellent?

What if we spent more time on our craft than on our posting about our craft?

What if we spent more time getting caught doing great things than telling others we were doing great things?

I think you would have a full blown revolution of excellence on your hands. I am seeing something like this occuring in the young population of Lakeland. We have seen something similar in other parts of the country.

What are YOU doing today to seek to become excellent at your craft?

Tom Peters on Excellence