Living a life of excellence means making the right choices, which are not always obvious from the start. It takes diligence to observe, process, and finally decide on what to do. Even then the choices we make are not always right. When wrong choices are made, it means taking appropriate action to get back on track. As the school of hard knocks teaches, this is not always an easy path to follow.
When I was a freshman in high school, they informed students that in our sophomore, junior, and senior years, we could spend half of the year at a vocational school. Since not everyone wanted to go to college, this was an alternative to learn valuable skills that could possibly jump start us into a career after high school. In the first two years, much of the coursework revolved around learning job skills. The senior year was meant to be an internship where students worked at their first full-time job.
My dad had already taught me a little about carpentry by that age, but I knew there was much more to learn. I signed up for my sophomore year and couldn’t wait to get started, as I was ready to jump in and start making money. When the time finally arrived, I spent that half the year learning about different tools and processes. One of the key subjects we focused on was carpentry. The class started out with the basics and taught us how to use hand tools. I had already built small items out of wood using hand tools using the knowledge my dad passed on to me. For this reason, I was impatient at first, ready to move past hand tools and learn about power tools. I can’t remember if the men grunted back then when using power tools.
The class progressed into making more advanced parts along the way. I remember pulling my teacher to the side after witnessing what I thought was unfair grading. I saw the work of several of my classmates and the grade they received. I was shocked when I received the same grade. At the risk of sounding arrogant, the quality of my work was better. A simple comparison would have revealed that, or so I thought. After approaching him to complain, he said the other students did the best they could. Since their dimensions were off, he couldn’t give them the best grade possible. Mine weren’t off nearly as much as theirs, which was why I questioned my grade. He looked me in the eye and said, “You’ve got better in you. I’ve seen your work. This was not your best.”
Was I mad? You better believe it. Have I remembered it years later? Yes, but not because I am angry anymore. He made me work harder to achieve better results. I didn’t realize it then, but he helped shape a spirit of excellence within me that I’ve come to appreciate over the years. Excellence doesn’t come easy. Yet, it is not without merit. It brings its own rewards; among them are self-confidence and satisfaction in a job well done.