“A compelling case for embracing our vocational limits and choosing to do our one thing well.”—Emily P. Freeman, Wall Street Journal best-selling author of The Next Right Thing
Imagine how different your life would be if you spent your time doing the very thing that brings you the greatest joy. It’s possible, but most people spend their days making incremental advances on numerous tasks, competent at many things but exceptional at none. That’s because for too long we’ve believed the lie that more activity, more jobs, and more responsibility equals greater effectiveness. In short, we are becoming a society of “jacks-and-jills-of-all-trades and masters of none.”
But what if you could shift your focus from too many things to one?
In this thought-provoking book, you’ll discover the exponential power of pursuing a singular craft. Through practical principles, Jordan Raynor provides straightforward steps for finding and thriving in your calling. He also highlights more than a dozen real-life examples of high-impact individuals who have chosen to focus on and excel in their unique gifting, including:
• Chronicles of Narnia author C. S. Lewis
• Enron whistle-blower Sherron Watkins
• TV legend Mister Rogers
• Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall
• Reality TV star Chip Gaines
• NFL Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy
• Biblical figures, a teacher, a pilot, a banker, and world-class entrepreneurs
Too many of us are overwhelmed, overcommitted, and overstressed. This book offers a better way—the path to becoming a master of one!
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Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1. Excellence in All Things.
There’s no denying that Tony Dungy was a master of his craft. During his twenty-eight-year career, Dungy rose to become one of the most successful and beloved coaches in the history of the National Football League. In his first job as a head coach, Dungy did the seemingly impossible by turning the perennially pathetic Tampa Bay Buccaneers into a playoff-bound powerhouse. Then, after a move to Indianapolis, Dungy led the Colts to their first Super Bowl victory in thirty-six years, making Dungy the first African American head coach to ever hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
As anyone close to Dungy will tell you, the soft-spoken coach is intensely passionate about the pursuit of excellence, holding the highest standards for himself and his players. But what inspired Dungy to work with such a passion for exceptionalism? Much like the other masters throughout this book, Dungy’s motivation for excellence in his work stemmed from something much deeper, more sustainable, and more God honoring than the pursuit of fame, fortune, and trophies. Dungy was inspired by his parents—both of whom were masterful educators—to pursue excellence as a means of glorifying God and serving others. Remembering his parents’ example, Dungy said, “My parents were definitions of excellence in teaching. It was important to them to be the best that they could be—not for personal reasons, but that was their concept of serving. They wanted to serve people in the best way possible.”
That commitment to mastery had a lasting impact on Dungy, who has thought a lot about excellence throughout his career. “Excellence is doing something at the very highest level it can be done using all your capabilities and everything God has given you,” Dungy said. “I talk about excellence a lot, because I think from a Christian perspective, that can get lost sometimes....We don’t always think of excellence as a Christian concept, but I think God does desire us to be excellent at what we do....Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we should take the approach to just move forward and let the Lord handle it....He wants us to be excellent in what we do. He’s placed us in our careers....We do have a responsibility to be the very best we can be in whatever field we decide to take up. We all run to receive a prize and to win. I never want to forget that part of it. We should run to win.”
Throughout his career, Dungy won a lot. If there was ever a doubt that Dungy was a master of his craft as a coach, his induction into the NFL’s Pro Football Hall of Fame certainly removed that skepticism. As Dungy took the stage in Canton, Ohio, to receive the Ring of Excellence, the audience of adoring fans, family, and former players erupted in rapturous applause. Clearly these fans were celebrating Dungy’s excellence on the field. But as anyone who knows Dungy will tell you, they were applauding something much more; they were celebrating a man who understands that, while he is called to be excellent in his work, his faith commands him to be excellent in all things, including as a husband and father.
In a moving speech, Marvin Harrison (Dungy’s former player and fellow Hall of Fame inductee) addressed his former coach directly, saying, “Coach Dungy. My final head coach. I could sit up here for...fifteen minutes and tell you about how important it was to have you as my coach and talk about football. But what you brought to our team and to me was more important than anything. You taught us how to be teammates. You taught us how to be men. But the most important thing is you taught us about fatherhood....So, I want to thank you for that.”
Harrison’s sentiment has been echoed by countless players Dungy has coached and mentored throughout his career. But Dungy didn’t just tell others how to be an excellent father; he modeled it. I grew up in Tampa Bay, and I still remember seeing Dungy with his kids at sporting events where my friends and I were playing. Even at the height of his career, Dungy always seemed to make the time to cheer his kids on from the sidelines.
“If you’re only focused on excellence in your job or excellence on the field, you will get totally out of balance and out of whack,” Dungy said. “Yes, I need to be excellent as a coach. I need to be excellent as a Christian. I need to be excellent as a father. I need to be excellent as a person in the community and strive for that excellence everywhere and not just in one area.”
Dungy’s comments bring to mind the motto of the late great pastor, Dr. D. James Kennedy, who encouraged his congregation to pursue “excellence in all things and all things to God’s glory.” While this book is primarily about excellence in your chosen work, Kennedy and Dungy remind us of a biblical truth that is critical to understand before we progress past this first chapter: As Christians, God has called us to be excellent in all things, not just in our chosen vocation. 1 Corinthians 10:31 makes clear the standard we are called to: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” In whatever we do, we are to do it all for the glory of God, never settling for anything short of excellence.
Glorify is a word we throw around so much in Christian circles that it has become tragically difficult to define. In fact, one of the most highlighted passages in the Kindle edition of my previous book is John Piper’s definition of glorify. Since so many people found that definition helpful, allow me to reintroduce it here. According to Piper, “‘Glorifying’ means feeling and thinking and acting in ways that reflect his greatness, that make much of God, that give evidence of the supreme greatness of all his attributes and the all-satisfying beauty of his manifold perfections” (emphasis added).
You and I are called to reflect God’s greatness and imitate his character to the world. This is the very essence of what it means to glorify God. But what is his character? Scripture describes God in many ways, but it is his character of excellence that is perhaps most visible to us. So, when Scripture commands that in “whatever you do,” you “do it all for the glory of God,” we are being called to the passionate pursuit of excellence in whatever we commit ourselves to.
All of us have been called to multiple roles in life. We have been called to be excellent wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, friends and church members. If we are going to fulfill all these callings with excellence while also pursuing excellence in our chosen work, it is going to require a tremendous amount of focus in our careers. Again, recall Dr. Anders Ericsson’s study, which states that mastery of any vocation requires roughly ten thousand hours of “purposeful practice.” The reality is that excellence requires an unusual amount of hard work and dedication. Given this, and the many things outside our careers that God has called us to be excellent in, there is simply no way we can pursue mastery at many things professionally at the same time. It defies the laws of science and time. It is precisely because we are called to be excellent in all things that we can’t commit to being excellent at many things.
You and I have a choice to be either a master of none or a master of one. We must pick a path. The path to excellence in our work is the path of singularity. If we want to make our greatest contribution to the world for the glory of God and the good of others, we are going to have to adopt the mind-set of a craftsperson and get really focused and insanely good at the thing God has put us on this earth to do.
If you are still harboring some resistance to this idea that the path to excellence is the path of less but better, I’m willing to bet that you have been a victim of being sold one (or more) of three lies about work and calling that are so pervasive today they often go unchecked. If we are to pursue excellence in all things for the glory of God and the good of others, we need to challenge the following conventional wisdom and replace these lies with biblical truths.
Lie #1: You Can Be Anything You Want to Be
John Mark Comer would love to have been a professional basketball player. As a kid, he loved watching Pistol Pete, the classic movie about Pete Maravich who, through years of practice, grew to become a basketball great. Comer dreamed of living a similar story and eventually playing for the National Basketball Association (NBA). “There was just one problem,” Comer said. “I suck at basketball. I mean, I’m really, really bad at it. It took me a while to figure that out, and then I had to go bury the dream in my backyard, along with my ball and jersey. It was a sad day.”
Today, Comer is the teaching pastor at Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. He’s also one of my favorite authors. One of the things I love about Comer is that he is super clear about the work God has called him to master. “Usually God’s calling is a short list—just a few things,” Comer said. “In my case, I’m called to lead my church, teach the Scriptures, and bring my family along for the ride. That’s what I’m saying yes to.”
But while Comer is clear on his mission, he empathizes with others still searching for the work God has created them to do. This is largely due to Comer’s recognition that for way too long we have been sold the pervasive lie that we can be anything we want to be. “I was brought up in a culture that essentially said, John Mark, you can do anything you put your mind to,” Comer said. “If you work hard enough, if you believe in yourself, if you’re patient, you can do anything. This is such a middle-class-and-above American way to think. Nobody in the developing world would ever talk like that....But...this idea of ‘I can be anything I want’ is bred into us by our ancestry. And it’s not all bad. It gave me the courage to dream and ideate and step out in life.
“But it’s also dangerous because, sadly, it’s not true. I can’t be anything I want to be, no matter how hard I work or how much I believe in myself. All I can be is me. Who the Creator made John Mark to be.”
Comer hits the nail on the head, expounding upon a truth that is embedded deeply in Scripture: God has created each of us uniquely, with particular passions and gifts. The Bible doesn’t portray God as some manager of a cosmic manufacturing plant, pushing a button and sitting back to watch the production of millions of homogenous humans. No, all throughout Scripture, the biblical authors use beautiful language to portray God as an intentional craftsman, putting time and great care into the design of each unique human being. Consider the following verses (emphasis added):
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)
Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you molded me like clay. (Job 10:8–9)
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)
You get the point. God has meticulously designed each one of us. As the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:6, this includes God’s granting of “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” God created you and me with a unique mix of passions and talents, and he has called us to steward those gifts well. In other words, there are certain kinds of work that God has designed us to do exceptionally well and, naturally, other kinds of work at which we are unlikely to excel.
But haven’t technology, access to information, and economic prosperity made it possible for us to choose to do any work imaginable? No doubt. We are living at a time when we have an unprecedented number of options for our work. Now more than ever we have the ability to choose virtually any career we want. However, just because we have more options doesn’t mean we can do everything with excellence.
Pretend for a second that you have decided you want your car to be a boat. You live near a lake and have the option to drive your car into the water; but if you do, you aren’t going to get very far. Your car may be an excellent car, but it is never going to be an exceptional boat. Why? Because your car was designed to be a car, not a boat.
The same is true for you and me in our careers. Yes, you can choose to be anything you want to be. But if our mandate is “excellence in all things and all things for God’s glory,” we would be wise to understand how God has created us and choose work that aligns with his design, ensuring that we make our greatest possible contribution to the world. If we choose work that is out of line with the gifts God has given us, we may be temporarily satisfied, but we won’t be on the path to mastery, with the potential to become the very best versions of ourselves for the sake of God’s glory and the good of others.
No matter how hard John Mark Comer tries, he’s never going to play basketball in the NBA. He may enjoy shooting hoops in the front yard with his kids, but basketball is never going to be the one thing that Comer does masterfully well. In the words of the old US Army slogan, we can only “Be all we can be.” You and I aren’t called to “Be all we want to be” or “Be all we choose to be.” We are called to be the most excellent versions of who God has created us to be. Comer put this well when he said, “Our job isn’t to fit into some mold or prove something to the world; it’s to unlock who God’s made us to be, and then go be it.”
The lie that we can be anything we want to be is particularly dangerous because it paves the way to a second, more subtle lie that so many of us have fallen for.
 Seriously, if you have yet to read Comer’s Garden City, put this book down and go read that.
Table of Contents
Part I The Purpose of Mastery
Chapter 1 Excellence in All Things 3
Chapter 2 Proclaiming the Excellencies of God 21
Chapter 3 The Ministry of Excellence 39
Part II The Path to Mastery
Chapter 4 Start with "The One" in Mind 57
Chapter 5 Explore 77
Chapter 6 Choose 97
Chapter 7 Eliminate 117
Chapter 8 Master 135
Part III The Promise of Mastery
Chapter 9 Salt and Light 157
Chapter 10 The Room Where It Happens 175
Chapter 11 Share the Master's Happiness 189