Cultivating an Environment of Excellence
I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in our household as of late.
My children are content with being simply mediocre. When asked to complete a task, they accomplish the bare minimum, pat themselves on the back, then ask if they can turn on the television.
I’d like to blame this on summertime, but I don’t really think I can do that. This was going on before the lazy days of summer vacation settled upon us. Everything from schoolwork to athletics has fallen under the category of mediocre.
A few weeks ago, we had a heart-to-heart, the kids and I, about this particular issue. I made a reasonable request of them – Clean out the minivan. Sounds simple, right?
Only what you must understand is that our minivan is like a tiny, traveling landfill. I think I’m doing okay in parenting until I step into the back seat of the van, and then I realize I’m just raising cave people.
WHY IS THERE A MOLDED SANDWICH BACK THERE?!
So, I asked them to clean it out, and they did. Barely. They cleaned out the obvious, easily visible trash, but never bothered to reach under or between the seats. I kind of didn’t blame them, because I wasn’t entirely sure creatures weren’t living in those dark crevices, but COME ON!
That was our first discussion about accomplishing tasks well. Doing things right the first time, and with excellence applies to everything, even cleaning out the minivan.
Of course, I said this after I had gone into the depths of the van after them and actually cleaned it. In the process I found a missing iPod, seven dollars, and a picture of myself from high school, which was a rather curious find.
It may have been the ghost of my past mocking me.
I realized that day that this life skill of doing things with excellence isn’t going to come naturally. I’m not sure this is a problem unique to our family. It’s something that has to be taught, and I’ve not done them justice.
[Tweet “The pursuit of excellence isn’t natural. It has to be taught with vigilance.”]
I’ve avoided the confrontation, and now I’ve got my work cut out for me. Because this spirit of mediocrity has bled over into other areas of life than just their inability to actually clean a room (or van).
My athletic kids are suddenly less concerned with excelling. They want to win, and they long for the accolades that come with their accomplishments, but they aren’t working for them.
Schoolwork is equally challenging. They are content to do the bare minimum in order to cross things off their list. Going above and beyond what was asked of them provokes looks of confusion when suggested.
And while A’s are nice, B’s and C’s aren’t so bad, either.
Truthfully, I have no problem with a B, or with second place, if I know you put your heart into working for it.
But if you just settled for it? Now we have problem, kids.
In college, I spent a semester studying in Kiev, Ukraine. I was enrolled in a Russian language program at The Institute for Foreign Languages, and my teacher, Olga Yurevna, was one of the most terrifying people I’ve ever met.
The first day of class, I joined seven other students in her beginning Russian class. They were all from China, and I was the token blonde-headed, All American girl. That night, she told us to go home and translate and memorize a passage of text that she had written down on the board.
The next day, when we returned, she pointed to a boy in the corner. He had longer hair, and sat slumped down in his chair. He was begging for her wrath.
“Recite line 8 of the passage for me,” she demanded. He shook his head.
“I don’t know it,” he replied.
She didn’t speak to him the rest of the semester. THE SEMESTER!
That was the day that I learned what it means to do something with excellence. Never before had I been in an environment that demanded perfection. It was slightly terrifying, but after four months I was nearly fluent in Russian because of Olga Yurevna’s high expectations.
Now, I know I can’t freeze my kids out for four months if they don’t meet my expectations, but perhaps there’s something to be learned from my experience in Ukraine. I rose to the occasion because I understood the demands, and because it was obvious that falling short was not an option.
We’ve got our work cut out for us around here, and these kids of mine may be in for a few unpleasant months. But I refuse to raise children who grow into adults who are content with mediocrity.
This year, we are in pursuit of excellence.
So, you know…add us to your prayer list. *wink*
How do you cultivate a spirit of excellence in your home?
Have you ordered your copy of Like a River From Its Course yet? I was over on Liz Tulsa’s blog this week sharing more about the inspiration behind the novel. Check out her post here.
If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, do so here. And let me know what you think! I love reviews!