Two different planetary systems appear to be swirling within my universe these days. They adhere to different laws of physic. One is the generation easing off the career track looking back with wisdom, pride, gratitude, regrets, joy, wonder, disbelief and a sense of “we had a good run”. The other is the generation leaping off the cliff into the big, limitless, expansive world ahead of them, with anticipation, excitement, all-knowing confidence, strength, expectation and a sense of “it’s our turn”.
Time and time again, these universes collide, as one strives to impart the wisdom of their experience and life lessons, while the other strives to break away, do it their way, forge their own path.
The latest debate at this intersection involves excellence and “senioritis” at my house. After the tension and drive of the first half of the senior year, when college applications are submitted, interviews conducted, standardized tests are taken, it is fully expected that students then collapse into “senioritis“. Apparently, this is a documented phenomenon, a cosmic inevitability, a diagnosis for which we must prepare ourselves, and against which we have no powers. Really? Who says? I don’t buy this.
‘Senioritis’ is a peculiarly American phenomenon, completely foreign to me having grown up in Europe. For the baffled rest of the world, reading this outside the US, here’s a definition of the ‘senioritis’ condition from Webster’s: “an ebbing of motivation and effort by school seniors as evidenced by tardiness, absences, and lower grades.” College acceptance is based on past performance and good-enough passing grades at the end of senior year, not excellence and a strong finish in your final exams (e.g., IB, AP). Just drag yourself across the finishing line with a mediocre passing grade and you’re IN.
The message we are sending is “Excellence doesn’t matter“. It feels like battling an entire culture when trying to defend the value of excellence and finishing strong with a high school senior. The importance of excellence is too obvious. It’s hard to explain the obvious. “Because it’s true” has zero impact. So here’s an attempt at opening up a channel of communication and deeper understanding …
Why does excellence matter?
1. Because … always adopting a mindset of excellence gives you the assurance that you did your best. You don’t give yourself a reason for self-flagellation after the fact. It frees you up from any regrets about lost opportunities.
2. Because ... doing excellent work establishes a self-image of “I do things with excellence”. “This is who I am”. That in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
3. Because … your capacity for excellence and self-discipline is like a muscle, that needs to be exercised and kept fit, just like the other muscles in your body. Keep the engine well-oiled and running, so it can accelerate and perform, when needed.
4. Because … it establishes a behavior pattern that you can count on in yourself. It gives you strength and confidence.
5. Because … your actions and performance create an impression of you in others, upon which they will make future decisions about you. “He’s really smart, but just doesn’t apply himself” won’t get you very far in the long run.
Send me your reasons … I need all the material I can get!