“You can do better than this.”
I can still hear my mother’s voice.
I was in the tenth grade and I had brought home a report card that boasted a few As, a couple of Bs, a C and the only D I’d ever gotten – in geometry. I didn’t see anything wrong with that report card because it wasn’t much different from what my friends brought home, except for that little episode with geometry, for which I still don’t apologize.
But, Mom did see something wrong with that report card.
“You are not average,” she said, “So you can’t bring home a report card like this. If you were average, it would be all right. If I knew this was the best you could do, it would be all right. But, it isn’t the best you can do and you know it. You can do better.”
I hadn’t really thought about it before, whether I was smart or talented or anything else. I was just a kid who wanted desperately to fit in despite being hindered by a major case of nerdiness. I wanted to be average because then I would blend in with the others. Teenage life would be so much easier blending in with the crowd. No one would expect me to do anything more than the minimum. Hanging there with mediocrity seemed like a pretty safe way to get through high school.
If you think about it, I was right. And it applies to our work situations today. Mediocrity is a very safe place to hang. You don’t have to deal with the risk of being extreme – either too excellent or too poor. You aren’t a problem child that needs to be put on probation or dealt with. You aren’t a model of excellence who is a target for people who are jealous or threatened. You’re just in the crowd.
My mother’s tone of voice made it very clear that I would be making a few changes with regard to my academic approach.
It’s amazing how quickly I turned things around after that lecture. All As, and a B in geometry. I just had to make the decision.
I’ve had to make that decision again and again throughout my career. It is a conscious decision to ratchet things up another notch, to produce more, to concentrate harder, to work longer, to deliver. It is a decision to leave the pack and be excellent.
Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books, including an Oprah pick. She speaks to corporations and organizations on courageous and creative leadership strategies taken from her interviews with the best-known leaders of our times.