Pursing Life With Excellence!
By Jeannette Webb
While enjoying a delightful meal with a few members of our church family, an interesting topic came up. One guest, a former university department head, told the story of a returning student. At age 46, with a family and a full time job, this gentleman decided to go back to college. In his early 20’s he had acquired a business degree, but hadn’t taken it seriously and had a terrible GPA. In order to earn the engineering degree he now wanted, he had to perform almost perfectly in his math and physics classes while juggling the full-time job and his growing family for almost three years. He was successful, but the cost was high.
The next story was very similar. Yet another young man had gone to college at the normal time and basically blown off an easy business degree thinking he would never need it. Of course, the results were a very poor GPA. Upon graduation, he was working down at the farmer’s elevator at a minimal wage, which was fine with him, until he met the woman of his dreams in his late twenties. Suddenly he realized that he could not buy a home, support a family, and get ahead in life. His family owned a pharmacy, so he decided to apply to pharmacy school. It took three years of retaking classes to get his GPA up and applying five times to get in. Then, it took another 4 years of actual pharmacy school before he could be a breadwinner.
Both these scenarios show men who were very determined and eventually successful, but the cost to themselves and the people they loved was extraordinary. And, completely unnecessary! While I admire their tenaciousness, I wince at their stupidity. Admittedly, they showed great character, but it showed up really late in life.
This brings us to the question of excellence and of character. I would be a rich woman if I had $5 for every homeschool mom who smiling told me that academics were not important, but her children had great character. Excuse me? To be brutally honest, that statement is an oxymoron. How do you know your children have good character unless it has been tested?
Character is not present unless students pursue excellence in whatever they attempt. I don’t care if it is academic, extracurricular, or work related, I know if character is there or not depending on how they tackle the assignment. Are they self-motivated, working hard in school, tackling tough assignments, digging for answers, and asking questions of the appropriate person until they get things figured out? If they are on the swim team, are they giving their all in practice, courteously listening to the coach, and implementing suggested improvements? If they are mopping the floor, is it done expertly – taking correct steps, doing a thorough job, executed efficiently, and willing performed with a pleasant attitude?
That, my friends, is character – facing hard things with fortitude, going the extra mile, doing what they are capable of. I’m not talking about gunning for Ivy League colleges or winning national awards in swimming competitions. I’m talking about being the best they can be in whatever circumstance they find themselves. The student who is trained to live in this fashion will be a blessing to others as well as being successful in life. They don’t waste time and money in do-overs because they do it right the first time. They make the most of every opportunity.
It is important that we instill in our children (preferably starting at birth) that every choice they make has ramifications. If they choose to be lazy or sloppy today, that choice is much easier to make tomorrow. If they mess around and take forever with chores and do a poor job (resulting in having to do it over), they have less time to play. If they don’t master algebra thoroughly and in a timely fashion, they will perform poorly on standardized tests (which determine scholarships and college entry). Neither will they make it to calculus by their senior year (which limits the colleges they can attend and the major they can enter). The college they go to and the major they pursue determines their earning capacity, the amount of free time they will have later to minister to others, and their overall quality of life.
Our conversation around the dinner table that night brought to mind another set of kids now in their early twenties. They worked hard in their homeschool education, stubbornly tackling the toughest classes they could take; pursuing their extracurricular activities with a passion; delaying gratification so they could prep for standardized tests; and volunteering and serving with a joyful heart. That landed them in world-class colleges on full scholarship where, once again, they tackled the toughest major on campus and worked long hours to secure their future. Just graduated, these kids have amazing jobs with enough time left over to pursue ministry opportunities. They command great salaries, which allows them to live on a small portion and give generously to others and to save generously for future mission work or for mom to be home full time once children start coming.
Character is easiest when taught from an early age. We must set up a home environment that trains character on a daily basis. That requires us to be consistent in our training and our follow through. That means we establish a challenging educational/extracurricular experience and expect the most, not the least of our children.
Character is something we must model. Take a hard look at yourself. Do you routinely step out of your comfort zone? Do you tackle the hard things?
Character is something we must expect. I always expected my children to give their best and they almost always gave 100%. When they didn’t, we had a heart-to- heart. That doesn’t mean I expected them to win the competition, but I did expect them to give it all they had.
I know your kids aren’t perfect. Neither were mine. For that matter, neither am I. Grace is something we extend to ourselves and to our children. But grace, and making/allowing constant excuses are two very different things. Remember, establishing a culture of excellence eventually forms attitudes of the heart. These internalized guideposts are the true essence of character.
Grandma was right, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
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