May 7th 2011
The mom was standing behind me. She was pin ning my graduation gown and telling me to turn around and to please just hold still for one freakin second. That “Today is really important Olive, and you can’t look like a fool. Not this time.”
I caught her reflection in the mirror as she was tugging at this hopeless, polyester gown. I told her that I thought this was weird.
“What, the gown?”
“No. This whole leaving college and living a real life thing.”
She laughed and said tough luck.
She pinned me to perfection and told me hurry. We’re going to be late! And to fix my hair because these pictures were for life. So don’t do anything weird.
And forced me to take a few back up pics that I inherently ruined with captions that looked like this:
And once I identified my mother and snapped a pic or 3 with her, she sent me on my way to sit with my fellow herd of graduates. And watched with the rest of the parents, family and friends as these dangerously borderline alumni clutched their caps in preparation for toss-up at the stroke of the last speech.
The University president took the stage…I’m not sure what he said…but, here’s a picture of his face:
The graduates became increasingly restless. Everyone was not so patiently awaiting the last speech so they could toss ^ up ^ their hats, graduate and move on with this shenanigan called life. And eventually he did. And said that he was proud to bring to the stage Ms. Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi! (bless you) And that she was the current CEO of Pepsi. (Oh.)
She did a slight wave as she moseyed over the podium. She introduced herself again and no one understood it, again.
And then she began to give speech. A speech that was great. A speech that started as a countdown to my hat toss. And ended as the inspiration I carry in my back pocket, even to this day.
And the speech went like this:
“I had a friend. And his name was Henry.
He was a good friend of mine. But some of you may or may not know him as the Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. And whether you find that boring or cool, that’s what he was.
One day, Henry called his speech writer into his office and said “I have a fairly important speech. And I want you to write it.”
The writer said okay. Walked out of his office and shut the door.
One day later, the speech writer knocked on Henry’s door again. The writer cautiously walked over >>> to his desk and with nervous hands gave Henry the fairly important speech he had written the night before.
Henry looked at him.
And then told him to come back in a few hours for feedback.
3 hours eventually passed and the speech writer ventured back into Henry’s office, eager to receive his feedback. Worried about what it would entail. Upon approaching Henry’s desk >>> the second time. The speechwriter noticed Henry handing the speech back to him followed by the question,
“Is this the best you can do?”
Nervous and slightly taken aback, the speech writer said, “Let me go take another crack at it,” and went away to make it better.
That night the speech writer sat at his desk pining over his falsely perfect, fairly important speech. He even told Henry the next day that he “sweated blood” over this speech the night before when Henry once again asked him to drop off the speech and return in a few hours for his feedback. “Yes but, is this the best you can do?” Henry said back.
Panicked and swimming in a pool of second guesses, the speech writer decided to try again.
And received the same response from Henry
Six More Times.
By now the speech writer was on his 8th travel >>> to Henry’s desk. He slid his nervous hands down his suit jacket, took a deep breath and prepared for Henry’s 8th straight rejection. The speechwriter approached the desk >>> Henry looked uP at him again with familiar eyes and said.
“Is this the best you can do?”
This time the speech writer had had enough.
“Yes. It is actually. This IS the best that I can do. I’ve written this 8 times and there is not one single letter, word or idea, I can do better than what I wrote down on this paper!”
“Okay,” Henry said, “Then I guess I’ll read it now.”
The speechwriter stood silent. And asked what he meant? Did he not read the others? Was this a joke?
To which Henry replied, “I only want to read your best work. To see the best you can do. And if this draft is better than the last 7, and truly the best that you can do, then why even read the rest?”
The speech writer went on to be very successful, impressing numerous other politicians and by his fairly important speech. The one he wrote 8 times. He was continuously hired to write more speeches. And more. And even more. And in – – – between his important speech writing, he often thought back and wondered if he would be where he was in that moment,
If he didn’t write drafts 1-7 first.
So the point is. Whether it is your first job, your dream job, whether you are running a business or running a photocopier your effort always has to be 110 percent. No matter what you do, do it well. If you’re a street sweeper, be the best damn street sweeper anyone has ever seen, or if you’re the business type, run the damn business like no one ever has before. Jobs don’t get you noticed. What you do with them does. And just so we’re clear: Never measure success by money. Because net worth is not the same thing as self-worth.”
She walked off the stage >> and the herd of dangerously borderline alumni just kind of sat there for a second.
And eventually we all stood up. And we clapped. And we “woo wooed” and made all the other noises you’re supposed to make when you’re excited and wearing a polyester gown.
But ever since that day I thought about that story. A lot. How I always wanted the reasons I cemented good opportunities, friends, love, career, life – to be because it was the best I could damn do. And not for anything else.
I interviewed for my “dream” job once. And I didn’t get it. But you know, when I walked out of that interview. Without my “dream” job, I knew that I did my damn best. And nothing less. And I got a better job. That liked me better.And I happened to like them better too.
And I remember really loving someone. And feeling like I was the best for them. And that they were the best for me. Brushing under the rug the amount of potential and dreams I was willing to trade in in order to have it.
And it didn’t work out.
Because eventually my suppressed ambition became an overcast cloud in our plans. But only because ambition was a key ingredient in my best character. And letting go of that? Was letting go of my best. And that didn’t seem very fair. For either one of us.
And I remember feeling the aftermath of both the interview and the sacrificial romance. And thinking that
I’d prefer to not have a job, person, opportunity or friend if my best wasn’t their preference. Because my best was someone elses’ perfect preference.
And maybe it was worth the wait, risks, and tribulations of drafts 1-7.
If I could have just that.
So. When it comes to
“Is this the best you can do?”
And if it is.
And if it’s not.
Well, then there’s a whole lot of awesome waiting for you.
Cue in the hat toss