The antidotes to mediocrity

Invitation to my Court of Honor, 1977If you have some time, read Mike Rowe’s form letter to Eagle Scout recipients. More importantly, read his reply to a Scout and ensuing discussion on his forum. They offer plenty to think about. As an Eagle Scout (who also earned it in 1977), I also have a few thoughts his issues about earning awards and falling into mediocrity.

I agree with Mike: The Eagle Scout award comes with no magic power or influence. Neither do college degrees. In medicine and law, a degree from a prestigious university does make a person more marketable. For most fields, most employers look at your career record more than where you went to school. What matters is the effort you put into earning those distinctions. Your work ethic and dedication are what impress people, not just a medal or diploma.

This is why I don’t see how one can be mediocre and earn an Eagle Scout. To me, as it does for Mike, mediocrity comes from apathy. It’s when you don’t care about the quality of your work. You go through the motions and do the minimum that’s expected of you. You take the easiest and safest route because putting in the extra effort makes you too vulnerable. You can’t do that and earn an Eagle Scout. You have to be willing to learn new skills, become a leader, and exercise patience as you wait the required time before you can advance. To earn my Eagle Scout, I had to learn how to swim, overcome my shyness, endure a stretch with a Scoutmaster who favored his kids at the expense of everyone else, as well as go through my parents’ divorce. My path towards Eagle wasn’t for the apathetic or the lazy. I’m sure it isn’t for any other Scout.

What I got from my Eagle Scout was a desire to achieve, and a willingness to push myself further than I thought I could. I also gained a willingness to try new things and come up with new ideas. These things have helped me avoid mediocrity in my life.

I don’t believe people choose to be mediocre. Most people, especially children, relish challenges and competition. People become mediocre when they’re overprotected, when their every need is met for them, and when they don’t need to work for even the slightest need. Mediocrity also comes from the other extreme when people aren’t valued, when their efforts aren’t recognized or are stifled, and when it becomes better to lay low and do nothing than taking a risk and getting beaten down for it.

Sure you can have certain “achievements” handed to you, like the father who gives his son an executive position in his firm. It may even be possible for a “daddyball” Scoutmaster like the one I had to give an Eagle Scout to his son. The father could do the work for his son, manipulate schedules to make sure he completes the necessary steps, and even use his pull with a Court of Honor to seal the deal. But the boy didn’t earn it. And his drafting through life will eventually catch up with him when he no longer has “daddy” to take care of him.

To me, it’s much more satisfying to earn an achievement. Even if I failed to make my goal, I still have the satisfaction of putting in my best effort and everything I learned along the way. It’s not the medal that’s important, it’s the effort required to get there. Effort and a desire to pursue excellence regardless of the sacrifices needed to get there are the antidotes to mediocrity.