Greetings from the busy (yet cozy) confines of the Keith Household, from the Gizzard of Sub-Polar Michigan (The Heart is a bit farther north).
This week's post should be no surprise to anyone who's known me longer than six weeks on any level deeper than just random musings or rants on a blog. I firmly believe that what advances a culture even further than basic civility is a drive for individual excellence. Because if we are all free to excel, the entire culture excels as well. And the best way to get an individual to excel is to reward him or her when they do.
Why does this make a difference? Because somewhere down the line, the American Culture has given up on excellence. As a prime example, I give you the story of Jericho Scott. Read the following article as a personal favor for me. I posted the url for copyright purposes:
Granted, Jericho is 14 now, and I hope he's still pitching. But seriously? "He's too good. We simply must stop that!" is what I get from reading the article. Someone who pours themselves into their craft is punished, and for what? Practicing until his shoulder is sore? Throwing at smaller targets to improve his aim? Demanding more from himself than everyone else in the league?
"Well," you say, "He's not being a team player, then, is he? Plus, he's making the opposing teams feel bad that they can't hit him. And isn't sport about making each other feel good?"
"Well," I say, "Sport isn't about making a person feel good. Sport is about teaching someone to drive themselves beyond what they believe they can do on their own. Winning and losing are part of the game. If you lose, guess what? You drive yourself and your teammates harder, so the next time you win!!!"
Life doesn't hand out trophies for participation. You don't win by simply showing up. Notre Dame didn't win a national football championship because they simply showed up, and someone forgot to tell them it was time to play. Not every writer finishes a book, let alone gets a contract. Very few actually do. Even self-published authors are responsible for not only finishing the book, but securing a good editor, getting cover art, and promoting. Books don't sell simply by their virtue of existing.
See how I made that change there? It doesn't matter what your dream is, or your passion, or your pastime or hobby. If you don't pursue and yes, demand excellence from yourself, you don't get the prize. You don't get the contract. You don't get the sales. You get "Isn't that nice?" and a pat on the head.
I don't know about you, but I want everyone who sees my work, whether it's writing a book or repairing an aircraft's avionics systems, to be able to say, "That man knows his stuff about (fill in the blank).
As a culture we have to do better at rewarding excellence, not punishing it. The person who puts in more hours than everyone else deserves a bigger cut of the pie. The one who pours their blood, sweat and tears into making a better product deserves to charge more, and deserves better pay than the one who shows up, puts in 8 hours, and goes home to burn their eyes out on the big game of the night.
Participation trophies are a cheap imitation of "Isn't that nice?" Why do you deserve an award for showing up? That's expected. Rewards are for those who excel.
One of everyone's favorite Christmas songs points out the Favor of Excellence:
Come, they told me; A newborn King to see.
Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the King,
So to honor him when we come.
Little baby, I am a poor boy, too.
I have no gift to bring that's fit to give a king.
Shall I play for you on my drum?
Mary nodded. The ox and lamb kept time.
I played my drum for him. I played my best for him.
Then he smiled at me.
Me and my drum.
I left out the "pa-rumm-pa-pumm-pumms to condense the story to its purest form.
Because in our hearts, we know that driving to do our best is what we were born to do.
There was a time when excellence played a part in our culture, and it can again. But it comes down to us. Stop rewarding mediocrity. Drive yourself on to greater things. You don't have to win all the time; no one does.
But is it too much to ask that we everyone do our very best, each day, with what we have?
What do we have to lose?