“You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving.”
“Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.”
Warren G. Bennis
I like studying. I really do. I don’t just mean reading. I mean reading and taking notes, reflecting on what I have written, rereading what I have written and then acting upon it. I’ve heard it said that true knowledge changes our behavior. Everything else is just information. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with information. I used to be a bit of pop music trivia expert. I was pretty impressive actually. Sometimes I could name songs, singers, dates and albums. People would tell me to go on the now-defunct game show, Name That Tune.
None of my knowledge changed my life though. It was fun and I could entertain others with it, but it didn’t do much beyond that. Having information about music trivia, politics, spiritual matters, relationships, comic books or U.S. Presidents didn’t make me kinder or better or harder working. It made me vain. It also caused me to seek attention for the wrong reasons. Instead of trying to make an impression on my friends there are three others I should have been trying to make an impression on.
First, I should have been trying to make an impression on my professors. With some rare exceptions, I did the very least amount of work possible in school. Sadly, my grades showed this. I had what one friend referred to as “gentlemen’s grades.” They were passable, but not impressive. I got what I deserved almost every time. There was one exception. I took a class in which I got a grade that I felt was very unfair. I shared my frustration with another professor and he said, “I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure you got some higher grades that you didn’t deserve either.”
In my perfect world, I work in a way that is not meant to impress others, but to bless others. That should be my real motivation. Could I have worked in such a way that my professors enjoyed my work and were glad they were teachers? Could I have done work that was interesting and challenging and not just enough to get by? I remember doing a paper once and not really doing my best. This resulted in two painful lessons.
1. A friend was doing the same paper and when I read his, I felt embarrassed by my lack of thought and effort, compared to his.
2. My professor let me know that this was not my best work even though it was the first assignment I had turned in to him.
Sadly, it took a long time for me to really learn these lessons.
I should have also been trying to make an impression on God, or more accurately, to please God. Now, I know that God loves me no matter what, just as I love my children, no matter what. But, I feel a little happier with them when they are kind or helpful, or do their homework or do things without arguing. I love them either way, but I enjoy them more when I don’t have to struggle with them.
When my children exhibit good manners or when other parents tell me good things about them I have a sense of pride. When the opposite is true, I feel sad. I worry about them. I might get angry, but beneath the anger is fear. I am afraid that they will damage their lives or themselves in some way. I’m afraid they won’t reach their full potential or won’t have friends or won’t be happy. I’m afraid they will waste a lot of years making the same mistakes I made.
Life is what it is and I can’t get any time back. All I can do is do my best now. I just don’t want my children taking as long as I took to learn the power of self-discipline. This not only hinders their own lives, it hinders their self-esteem and peace and thus their relationship with God. God loves them no matter what, but He will not let them move forward until they are ready. I know this as a fact. And when one can’t feel love for oneself, it’s hard to feel God’s love.
Finally, I should have been trying to make an impression on myself. More accurately, I should have been taking better care of myself. Had I studied more, I would have enjoyed school more. I would have enjoyed life more. In everything I did, not just school, had I put in the greatest amount of effort, I would have it enjoyed it more. I know this also to be a fact because the times I give my best efforts are my best times. When I didn’t, I did fairly or poorly and, as I said, my grades reflected this. They were passable.
Now maybe I’m too hard on myself, but passable is the same as failing to me. No, I didn’t fail my classes, but I failed the purpose of education. The purpose of education is not to pass classes. It is to make me a stronger, more self-sufficient, more capable, more contributing human being. I missed the deliciousness of rich thinking, much like a man who refuses to eat a good meal because it’s too much trouble to wash up and come to the table. This is why Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, “Always do your best.”
Perhaps all of this seems like regret. It is and it isn’t. Yes, I wish I could do things differently. Most people probably do. I also know, however, that I have used the last several months much better. Yes, I have room for growth. I always will. But I’m having more fun and being more present than I have been in a long time. I’m experiencing the power of the right way because I finally used my time to Get Started and to Keep Going.