Be the Exception
With his recent New York Times editorial,
Russian president Vladimir Putin reignited
debate on American exceptionalism. He said
that it is blasphemous to think one group
of humans to be exceptional and that we are
created equal under God. He is right. We are
created equal before God, but some do more
with what they have. They are exceptional.
Every parent will recognize this phrase or
some variation of it: "But, my friends
don't have to do that!" My kids used
that at the beginning of this last summer
when Lynda and I introduced our summer academic
plan for them. It wasn't particularly intense
- some reading and writing, and math workbooks
- two hours per day, tops. To kids anxious
to leave the classroom for the pool, however,
doing academic work in the summer months was
about as attractive as a movie party featuring
a PBS documentary on economics. And, because
their friends didn't have to do anything of
the sort, it was unfair to ask them to do
That's when we discussed exceptionalism,
starting with a review of the meaning of the
word, exception. When it's nice enough to
drive with the windows down in January in
Nebraska, that's an exception. When a student
does extra reading not assigned by her teacher,
that's an exception. When a gym member faithfully
exercises, rarely missing workouts, that's
an exception. An exception is anything that
is clearly different from the norm.
If my kids want to have exceptional lives
- lives with abnormal amounts of happiness,
success and freedom - they must extend exceptional
effort. Doing just what their friends do or
what the teacher requires isn't going to lead
them to their goals. That thinking will lead
them to where most people live - somewhere
between near contentment and frustration -
because most people do only what they have
to do or want to do.
To get exceptional results, you need exceptional
behavior, habits and effort. My son can tell
you about this, because we discuss it often.
He wants to go to medical school to be a plastic
surgeon. I asked him how many plastic surgeons
he knows. He knows none. I told him that it
sounds like a pretty good career and that
I heard that plastic surgeons make some pretty
good money. "So," I asked. "Why
aren't more people plastic surgeons?"
"Because most people can't make it through
the school part," he told me. Precisely!
Just getting into medical school is a tremendous
task for most people. It requires not only
intelligence, but also a discipline applied
to academics that very few possess, and that's
just to gain acceptance to medical school.
Once you are in medical school, that discipline
and focus is continually tested. The process
is strenuous, and thank God for that. When
I need a physician, I want the absolute best.
My friend Jeff is an example of that. Jeff
paid his way through college with summer work
in his dad's landscape business and scholarships.
During that four-year journey, he received
only one grade that wasn't an A - in an English
composition class, even after rewriting his
final paper. His hard work and dedication
in medical school earned him a post-MD fellowship
in interventional radiology. Shortly after
graduation, Jeff started his own practice,
turning down the instant gratification of
signing bonuses with steady employers.
Jeff dedicated more than 12 years of his
life to studying for a medical career. While
his friends were out in the bars and chasing
girls, he was studying. In fact, at the end
of his educational odyssey, I was sitting
with him in a blind hunting turkeys the week
before his board examination. He had a book
with him to study, and he left after lunch.
That's exceptional, and if we hope to have
exceptional lives, we have to be the exception.
-- Mitch Arnold