Math has never been my best subject. Or even close.
I never received excellent grades in math — always B’s with the occasional C’s. One day in middle school I came home with a C on my report card in my math class. I was then grounded until I got my grade up.
I pleaded with my parents, attempting to convince them I simply could not do better than a C. Math was hard, after all, and I was applying my best effort. Or so the argument went.
My parents, however, insisted that wasn’t true. I wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t asking for enough help, I wasn’t paying enough attention in class…yadda yadda yah.
“A ‘C’ is average, and you are not average. You can do better.”
It didn’t seem to matter what I said though, there would be no television, no friends and no dance classes until my grade was a B or better.
So I buckled down. I took better notes, I asked for help, and my dad stayed up with me every night double checking my homework. Slowly, my grade began to improve.
I never learned to enjoy math, but I did realize I had to try a little harder in algebra and geometry than I did in English or history. I also learned that my parents were right. (Don’t you hate that?!). I could do better than a C.
This is one of the biggest lessons I learned growing up, and probably why I still remember it so distinctly. My parents have always pushed me to put forth my 100% best effort. It wasn’t until I was grounded for not doing so that I realized what I am capable of.
Since then, I have applied this not only to school, but to everything in my life. Not to say I do things perfectly — absolutely not—but I do try my very best.
When I fail to produce something at a standard I feel is acceptable, I recognize I could have done better, and I strive to be better in the future. Constant improvement is the way I (try) to live in my life, so I guess it’s no surprise I also strive for improvement in my community, in politics and in society as a whole.
This, among other reasons, is why I am drawn to social justice and public service. This is why I have to stick up for the little guy, for equality, for kindness, open-mindedness and love. This is why I have to dedicate my life to not only my personal improvement, but to improvement in the lives around me as well.
If I am not actively lessening the suffering of others, I am merely taking up space. I am using resources and not replenishing them. I am taking advantage of opportunities, and not ensuring those opportunities exist for future generations. I am applying moderate effort when I am only occupied with myself, and my immediate family. Even if I become a millionaire, I believe I am living an “average” life if I do not broaden my concerns to that of my community, country and humanity.
It’s not easy. It means rolling up my sleeves and giving my 100% best effort. It takes constant attention and constant effort. It’s much easier, of course, to only be concerned with myself…just as it was much easier to accept C’s in math than it was to ask for help or study a little longer.
But as my parents taught me with their insistence that I could do better, with the late evening into early morning study sessions….
When we choose convenience or laziness over effort, we sell ourselves and our communities short.
And we are better than that.
“Most of us in this room have done well in our lives. It is fine to want to do well, but if we do not do good too, doing well is simply not enough.” — Anna Quindlen