In 7th grade, I performed in a middle school choir with a phenomenal choir director. He ran a tight ship. He expected professionalism and skill from all of his students and he got it without any class auditions or talent screening. He managed to get 12-14 year old kids to sing classical music masterpieces in strict four-part harmony without batting an eye. Our district superintendent attended every one of our concerts. He was nowhere to be found at our school wrestling matches.
This choir director was a perfectionist. He once stopped our entire choir in the middle a concert performance of Dansi na Kuimba because our singing wasn’t meeting his expectations. He had us start the song over again in front of the audience.
This choir director often repeated a phrase:
Never settle for being mediocre.
He clearly lived by this principle… and it showed. He expected us to live by it too.
One example is when a boy consistently came to choir with sagging pants (gotta love the 90s). He was told several times to correct it but he didn’t respond. Finally, one day the teacher pulled out a roll of duct tape, pulled up the pants, and duct taped them in the proper position. He didn’t go light on the tape. It was amazing.
Of course, most teachers wouldn’t be willing to go that far. Mediocrity is rampant in the world. There is an abundance of it partially because of the whole Good vs Great situation. To quote Jim Collins:
Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of organizations never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good-and that is the main problem.
A lot of people do good work and live good lives but the real discriminator is if a person is willing to push through the pain and do that extra 5% that others are unwilling to do. That little bit makes all the difference. I’m sure that you remember the teachers you’ve had that were really great. All the good teachers tend to fade into the background but the great ones, they are the ones we remember. They are the ones who were unwilling to settle.
We ought to be unwilling to settle as well.