Friday, November 03, 2006

Why Settle For Less?

Tony Iovino wrote an article, Cursive Writing (linked via title bar), on his blog, A Red Mind in a Blue State a couple of weeks ago where he compared some of the basic skills taught in the public schools with what had been taught in the past. I left a comment and moved on down the road; here’s what I left

“There is a “settle for less” attitude which has permeated nearly every facet of the American culture. You are correct in the assessment of how students are not taught to write properly, to make beautiful letters to express intelligent thoughts. They are not being taught diction and presentation of thought either. These young people are being permitted to settle for less than desirable levels of achievement; but on top of that, they are permitted to settle for common communication skills; unfit to be in civilized society, unfit for advancement in a competitive environment.”

I decided there was more to the whole “settle for less” attitude, much more. I was on my way to a job across town and making good time since morning rush hour was done and the lunch break crowd hadn’t started as yet. I made it around some folks who, for what ever reason, were going well below the posted speed limit. I noticed they took their time accelerating from stop lights as if their cars might explode were they to achieve operating speeds too quickly.

One fellow in particular seemed annoyed that I was in a hurry to get around and down the road; mind you, I was proceeding within the legal parameters, not squealing my tires or bounding in and out of lanes. It dawned on me that he was carefully plodding his way down the road, paying close attention to how to make the most of his gasoline consumption and smirking at my lack of conservation efforts as I headed to my next job.

I’m not into the math as to how much gasoline I used or wasted, since that seemed to be what bothered him as I gently passed and considered his mindset and compared it with my own. I might have burned more fuel, even to the point of calling it wasted effort since I only made a little distance ahead of him, a mile or two at best. If I did that all day long I might spend a dollar on fuel that could have been used more efficiently, driving more conservatively, being restrained in my desires to arrive quickly, finish a job and move on to the next in rapid succession without fretting over whether I’d spent $ 12 in fuel cost or, through my aggressive driving habits, might have used an extra dollar.

Years ago I had a friend of mine turn me down when I offered to teach him the locksmith business. He’d always been good with his hands mechanically and I thought he’d do well. His first thoughts were how much more wear and tear he’d put on his truck, how much more he’d be spending on gasoline and that turned everything upside down. “If you took home an extra couple of hundred dollars why would you be so upset over having to put another twenty dollars in the gas tank?” I explained that he would make enough and then some to cover the added expenses and that he shouldn’t concern himself with a couple of dollars a day when weighing that against the chance to make some significant strides toward financial freedom.

Maybe I do waste some of my income driving around in a nice truck that I replace every few years rather than keeping an old one until it’s worn out and the tires fall off. I enjoy driving around in a well polished truck that has a quality stereo, smells new and responds when asked. I admit to driving aggressively and not really concerning myself with how much gasoline I might waste with jack rabbit starts or pushing the envelope of legal speed limits. At the end of the day I look at the dollar amounts that I brought in and consider myself blessed, regardless of whether I spent a dollar or two on wasted gasoline for having blown past those shackled by a fixed income as they penny pinched their way to where they were going, faces devoid of the excitement necessary to achieve something elusive, that individual satisfaction America has been built upon, acceleration.

No, I’m not joking; the American dream, that spark of independence that distinguishes us didn’t happen by driving five miles under the speed limit to save a gallon of gasoline or, by extension, to worry about the carcass of a dinosaur that died a million years ago to become part of the dwindling supply of crude oil that whacko environmentalists fret about. The dream that motivates us to accomplish mandates that we push worries aside and go for broke if we are to achieve anything beyond mediocrity; then again, so many are willing to settle for mediocrity.

I remember reading about soldiers in WWII and their positive rally slogan, “Go for broke” associated with their attitude to win against anything that was hurled in their direction. Go for broke isn’t reserved for soldiers facing wartime challenges; it is the human spirit expressing courage against fear, against defeat and for success regardless of what it takes.

Rich DeVoss, one of the founders of the Amway corporation, recorded his experience and thoughts on motivational tapes, a means of training those desiring to achieve beyond their current financial situation to recognize mediocrity and the excuses that keep folks from achieving the American dream. While not intending to slight anyone who enjoys time away from the rigors of regular employment, he pointed out that to achieve more requires extra effort.

He chose for an example the fellow going home to sit in front of the television to watch a football game; a bag of pretzels and a six pack in hand as he passed a couple of hours, content that his life was about the same as his neighbor’s, no better and no worse. Rich exclaimed, “If all you need out of life is a bag of pretzels and a six pack while sitting in front of the television then that’s what you should do; however, if you want more out of life you’re going to have to extend yourself. Many folks are unwilling to do more and can’t understand why anyone would want to work after the five o’clock bell has sounded. They envy those who have nice new vehicles, live in better houses and have nicer clothing; but don’t understand the required effort to obtain them.” I may have taken liberties with exactly how he said that; forgive my memories of a talk I heard some thirty years ago.

Why settle for less when there is so much more to be experienced here during our lives? This applies to all avenues of human expression; our jobs or business opportunities, our family life, our chances to express individual talents and even to our spiritual lives. This isn’t a training session; you only have this one chance at mortality, use it well. I have one more short story relating to this topic that I will share; interestingly enough, it came from a talk I heard given at church a few years ago.

A young woman had saved for years so that she could take a cruise vacation. She had figured every penny necessary to purchase the travel ticket and finally, when her savings account matched with those numbers she took valuable time off for the vacation. Each evening she would retreat to her cabin at meal time where she had packed a meager meal consisting of sandwiches, a bowl of soup with crackers; anything to avoid having to pay for dinner on the cruise ship. This went on the entire trip until the last day prior to docking at the home port.

She was about to retire to her cabin when she decided that just once she might splurge and dine with the rest of the passengers in one of the fancy restaurants. She carefully reviewed her finances and concluded that she had enough. One of the other passengers had noticed her absence during the trip asked where she had been during all the other meals, having wondered if she’d possibly been sea sick. The young woman went on to explain of having to eat in her cabin to save money, the need to conserve her funds in order to enjoy the rest of the cruise. “My goodness, Dear Girl; all the meals were a part of the purchased ticket! Didn’t you know that? You poor dear, think what you have missed.”

Life is like that, don’t settle for less; expect more. I’m not suggesting that you drive 90 mph down the freeway throwing dust in the faces of all those slow pokes; but, isn’t there something more to motivate you as you go about the challenges of life than trimming a dollar off here and there just to get by? If I can get across town two minutes quicker, finish up a job and be on my way a few minutes earlier and so on and so on, I have that much more time to start something else that I might want to do; even if that means sitting back to enjoy the peace and quiet between jobs I’ll be doing the relaxing on my terms, not those dictated by someone else.

To put an exclamation mark on my thoughts; after having posted this article I noticed the movie that was playing in the other room, Rudy, about a size challenged football player who got to play out his dream on the football field. Rudy, Rudy Rudy!

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