Hello, all! It’s Grace! 🙂
I hope all of you are having a lovely New Year! First things first, we have a big announcement in regards to Her Heritage…the incredibly awesome Cynthia and Ashley, founders of Her Heritage, have made the decision to step away from it, and although we are going to miss them so, so much, I am so excited for what the future holds. I am definitely not perfect and I have a lot to learn, but I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity to work on Her Heritage more, and to meet more of you lovely readers! Cynthia and Ashley, feel free to drop by any time–you will be greatly missed! ❤
This time of year, people are all about making and hopefully keeping New Years Resolutions, and I thought it would be fun to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart: achieving excellence. But first–a little story.
Our story opens in a college music appreciation class, near the end of the 2017 fall semester.
My teacher was explaining our final project and showing examples of past projects. The assignment was to create some sort of creative item showcasing certain composers and what we had learned about them.
She showed various scrapbooks, flashcards, and posters that students had made in past. She held up one such scrapbook, which was adorned with artfully arranged portraits of composers, photos of their homelands, and sheet music. This one, she explained, was made by an art student who was very excited about the assignment.
“Ugh!” one girl in the class suddenly interrupted. “That is so try hard.”
“Yeah,” her friend agreed in disgust. “That is try hard.”
“Excuse me?” the teacher raised an eyebrow.
“You know, try hard,” the second girl helpfully defined. “It’s when you go the extra mile for no reason.”
“Well, it got an A,” my teacher said. “That was the reason.”
This scene may sound like something out of a Disney Channel movie, but it happens more often than you may think, both in and out of the academic world.
My mom read a beauty magazine in a waiting room recently, in which a beauty guru explained her method for getting the perfect messy, wavy hair. You don’t want to look too try hard, she explained, so simply don’t wash your hair for over a week.
Although the term “try hard” has come into popularity in recent times, the favored word of years past was “overachiever.” I’ve heard it used to describe academics, fashion, hair, makeup, hobbies, and sports, to name a few. “Overachiever” is one of those passive-aggressive terms that seems nice, but really implies that whatever great thing you did was unnecessary at best, and obnoxious at worst.
Well, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Grace, and I’m an overachieving try hard through and through.
My very presence in that music appreciation classroom was a statement of overachievement—since I’m not actually a college student yet. At the time, I was entering my third year of dual enrollment/early college, and my first semester taking a full load of college classes. I’m not telling you this to brag, but only to let you know that I probably represented the very thing those girls despised: going the extra mile for no apparent reason.
Except—to a small minority of people (of which I hope you are a part), there is a reason, and it’s called achieving excellence.
Excellence is that little spark inside that tells you staying up late to finish an essay or to put the finishing touches on that hobby project is worth it. Excellence is that pricking feeling you get when something is done halfway that says it could have been done better.
One of my all time favorite books, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, is a Newberry award-winning fictionalized biography of one of the most influential mathematicians in history—and it also happens to be one of my biggest sources of inspiration when it comes to achieving excellence.
This book tells the story of Nathanial Bowditch, a budding young student who is making straight A’s and doing math years above his grade level when his world is turned upside down. Suddenly, he has to become an indentured servant for the sake of his poverty-stricken family, and he finds himself ripped away from academics and thrown into the trade of ships and sea life.
Stuck in a profession that he certainly wouldn’t have chosen for himself, Nat makes the decision to achieve excellence anyway. During the day, he fills notebook after notebook with information about running and navigating a ship, and at night he works tirelessly at learning Latin and math.
Eventually, Nat finishes his indenture and works his way up to captain of a ship, teaching others along the way and thus allowing them to advance through the ranks—because he was willing to share his knowledge of navigation and mathematics. Even lowly sailors who could only count on their fingers were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become first mates and captains, all because Nat cared enough to achieve excellence in his own work and pass it on to others.
Nat went on to write a book called the American Practical Navigator that is still kept and used on ships today, and although it has been updated for modern times and technology, it still bears the name “Nathanial Bowditch.” As an aside, I 100% recommend Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. It makes me smile, laugh, and cry, and it contains countless charming moments. The fact that the protagonist was a real person is just icing on the cake!
Back to the issue at hand…what can we learn about achieving excellence from Nat and his story? Well, I’m sure that even in his day (the late 1700’s), there were students like the ones I encountered in my music appreciation class—students who didn’t want to do too well, for fear of being labeled a suck-up or teacher’s pet. However, I think it’s safe to say that Nat would have traded anything to be in school like those other kids his age, instead of stuck in an indenture contract. In his eyes, those kids were living like kings—to have nothing to do all day but learn and study.
Nat did his academic learning late at night, after putting in a full day of work. It’s important to recognize that he didn’t have to do that. He probably would have been perfectly justified to say he was tired and go to bed each night without doing any extra work.
A common saying in our home, coined by my wonderful dad, says the following:
“You don’t have to do this, you get to do this.”
I didn’t have to be in that college class…but I got to do it.
A common complaint I hear about achieving excellence is that it is self-centered or selfish somehow. However, I say that doing your best and trying hard prepares you to better serve others and give back. Nat’s story is a prime example of this—he changed literally millions of lives by teaching others and writing a book that made it safer to sail on a ship.
I think it’s also important to note that achieving excellence is not the same thing as being a perfectionist. I’ve known perfectionists over the years who made themselves miserable because things didn’t go precisely the way they wanted. I still know kids who beat themselves up like crazy just because they don’t win first place in every single thing they do. I’m stating the obvious here, but that’s a pretty miserable way to live.
Achieving excellence doesn’t mean that you have to be the best at everything—it only means that you care enough to try. To try hard.
One of my favorite Bible verses, Ecclesiastes 9:10 (a) says, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”, and that verse is what has gotten me through my life up to this point. There were so many times that I wanted to do things halfway or quit for fear of what other people would think–but truly, who breaks records when they’re worried about what other people think?
As we enter the new year, I hope you remember there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing things to the best of your ability–never let anyone tell you that it isn’t cool to do the best you can or to go after a dream.
Feel free to leave a comment below telling us about a time in your life when you achieved excellence! 🙂