Monday, October 01, 2012

Excellence vs. Mediocrity

Today at church, our Bishop reminded the congregation of one of the pursuit of excellence.  He related how a young Heber J. Grant (later destined to head the church) determined to become a good ball player by throwing a ball over and over daily against a neighbor's barn until he was the best.  He also turned his 'chicken scratches' hand writing into artful penmanship worth a notable income in his day.  He had trained his voice, which he had been told could only be comfortably taught to sing from a distance of 40 miles away, to carry a beautiful tune that would later be a delight to hear for many.  Heber J. Grant made all these accomplishments from mediocre (or bad) to great by simple discipline and practice.

Emerson's statement on practice became a life motto for Brother Grant:  "That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved."  Of course, the dangerous part of this concept is the idea that we often choose NOT to travel "the road less traveled", and therefore miss out on "all the difference" greater discipline might have offered.


As I contemplated the thoughts shared by my bishop, I was brought to reflect upon a similar sermon delivered by a dear friend of mine, Steve Bray--a college roommate, actually.  It would have been Fall of 1999. . .about 13 years ago.  He referenced an extraordinary talk given by another head of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, wherein we BYU students were asked to strive a little more diligently to attain real excellence in our lives.

My good friend, Steve, also referenced another source that I now struggle to find.  The bottom line of his thought was that mediocrity does not really consist of much different than those who achieve greatness. Those who achieve greatness simply wake up a few minutes earlier, read a few pages more, or practice a few extra minutes over the effort and interest invested by the mediocre.  Lacking Steve's exact references, enjoy some of the following:

 Some days after my friend Steve's sermon, I found myself reflecting upon it as I began walking home from campus.  I lived down the hill from where the main campus buildings were, and I remember walking along a planter box next to the sidewalk that began the descent down the hill.  I stepped up onto the concrete wall of the planter that was only a few inches higher than the sidewalk I had been on.  I walked forward lost in thought for several steps until I came to the end of the planter box.  At this point, the gradual descent of the sidewalk placed me a solid 10 or 12 feet above where I would have been, had I continued on the same path.

This simple walk--a 3 or 4 inch difference in height some 40 paces back, and a continued level walk made an enormous comparative difference in my altitude.  Had I decided to get on the same plane that 40 paces later, it would have been a difficult climb:  10-12 feet up solid concrete.

Now some 13 years after that moment, I still remember some of the exact thoughts expressed in a talk I heard a friend give.  . . .and I wonder what plane I stand on now.  :)