Excellence isn’t about an IQ or ability, excellence simply means doing the very best you can with the abilities and resources you have available. It’s about effort — keep on keeping on. It’s about recognizing weaknesses and going thru a process to eliminate those weaknesses. Perfection is an unattainable ideal. With effort and desire, excellence is achievable. In the midst of excellence we can attain a fleeting moment of perfection. That moment is life changing because something important is learned; I am capable of excellence.
What you learn later is excellence attracts people to you; it makes you unique and interesting.
In Henry Kissinger’s book The White House Years, he tells a story that connects effort, excellence, and respect. It is a story about a Harvard professor who gave his class an assignment, his students handed in their papers and days later their papers were returned. A student looked for a grade, a comment, any sign that the professor had read his paper. There was a question at the top of the paper, “Is this the best you can do?”
The student considered the question and decided the paper wasn’t his best effort; so, with the intention to improve his paper, he returned home and rewrote his paper. He returned the paper to the teacher and received it back a few days later — no grade, no comments only, “Is this the best you can do?”
“Well”, thought the student, “It’s a whole lot better than the first one, but I can pump up the bibliography a bit, throw in a few more quotes, and even make it two or three pages longer.” So he did. As Kissinger tells the story, this went on 10 times. Finally, the student approached the professor an inquired angrily “What gives?” The professor calmly asked, “Is this the best you can do?” The student replied, totally exasperated, fed-up and majorly P_ _ _ _ d off, “YES”. The professor replied, “Fine, now I will read it.”
After reading this story, my memory took me back to when I did things to just do them. My motivation was to get it off my plate, never thinking of the person on the receiving end of my average effort. It never occurred to me; my average effort reflected a lack of character and a lack of respect for the other person. I was not respecting the person or his / her time. When you don’t respect someone’s time you are communicating:
This is important information and will interfere with relationships. Relationships are all about respect. Respect comes with excellence; it draws people. People tend to dismiss or overlook average. How many papers did that professor read that were just *half-assed efforts until he learned the appropriate way to motivate his students with, “Is this the best you can do?” This was the professor’s way of forcing students toward Excellence, his respect and his interest in them. He wasn’t going to waste his time, on average efforts.
This is a lesson for our students.
It’s a good story for them to read and then answer these “Call to Action” questions.
4. If not, refer students to their personal goals and the lesson “Are Your Personal Goals, real Goals or Are they Just Good Intentions?”