Doing Your Best Is Not Good Enough
Chuck May Scoutmaster's Minute
Richard Burrow Eagle Ceremony
27 October 1996
One of the first things I do when I'm preparing one of these minutes is to pull out some Scout Handbooks - my son's from 1990, mine (the 1959 edition), my father's (the 1936 edition), and his uncle's, from 1926. They give me some interesting insight and perspective to the subject at of my talk. Of course, there's also a personal emotional recharging that I get when I see the notes I made in this book 35 years ago. I can still taste the blueberry cobbler that I made to earn Cooking Merit Badge at Camp Chesterfield on July 10th, 1961.
But more importantly, it's also something of a ritual. It puts me back in touch with where this program has come from, and what our roots are. How many other youth programs can look back at over four generations of consistent standards of character, citizenship, and fitness? These books remind me, in spite of all the change we have seen in our lifetimes, that boys will still always grow up to be men, and that they will learn what is expected of a man by observing the men around them. They remind me that my primary responsibility is to show, by my own character, leadership, and behavior, what kind of man the world needs them to become.
Now, you guys down front here may be sitting back thinking, "Boy, I'm glad he's just talking to the adults, and not to us." I won't let you off that easy, since you, not Richard, are the reason we are all here today.
I heard a country song a couple of days ago which said "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything". Think about it.
There is no better overall creed to stand for than the Scout Oath. Not a single word of the Scout Oath has changed since 1910, yet it is as relevant in today's age of instant communications and space travel as it was when most of the country lived on farms, and communications to a boy meant sending Morse Code across a lake by wig-wag, not logging on to the Internet.
"On my honor I will do my best". Those words have been at the heart of the Scouting program for 86 years, and rightfully so. At Sean Logie's Eagle ceremony, I talked about what it meant to pledge your honor, but what about doing your best?
The 1948 Handbook says "His best is something that every boy can do." In the current book they remind you that sometimes others will accept less than your best, but you should never be satisfied with less.
Well, with the greatest respect to the late "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt who wrote most of these handbooks, and to Eagle Scout Robert Birkby who wrote the latest one, I'm here to tell you that having done your best is not enough. If you only do your best, you are looking back at the past, not ahead to the future. Doing your best means being satisfied with what you have done, and that is a waste of what you could be.
Think back to watching the Olympics this summer. How many times did you hear the announcers say that someone had done his or her "personal best"? Dan O'Brien did his best four years ago when he failed to make the Olympic team as a decathlete. Was he satisfied with his best? No - he defined a new best for himself. You never saw a pole vaulter ask for the bar to be lowered a bit because his best was not quite up to that height. How many weight lifters asked for just a little less weight?
In high school I had a track coach who used to make us race a mile, at what we thought was our best speed. As we kicked to the finish line, using all our energy reserves to do our best, he made us keep going for another 100 yards. We learned that we were poor judges of what our own "best" was - that our best was at least 100 yards further down the track than we thought. That's a lesson that Olympic-class athletes have learned long ago - that once you have done your best, you will discover another best just beyond the first one, and another just beyond that.
So it is not enough just to do your best. If you are to become everything you can be, you must always be looking beyond your best, to the next challenge. As a Tenderfoot, your best right now may be to look at Second or First Class, or maybe you are the kind of Tenderfoot who can look all the way to Eagle. One way to start that change in attitude is to not hang around with guys who think and act like you do now, but to hang around with those who think and act like the kind of person you wish you could become. Athletes do not prepare for the Olympics by training with people they know they can beat - they practice against the best competition they can find - people who have been where they want to go. After all, you can't learn to fly with Eagles if you spend your time walking around on the ground with turkeys.
Richard is sitting here thinking, "Whew, adults and now the boys. There's probably not enough time left for him to get to me." Well, it's time to move forward in your seat a little.
You have probably figured out by now that, if my advice is taken, a lot of boys will be chasing your tailfeathers. What are you going to do about that? Just to maintain your altitude as an Eagle, you still have to flap your wings. Today you have shown that you have done your best, and are way ahead of the flock. But if you accept this as your best, they will catch you and you'll become just another one of the crowd. You learned at Philmont that cresting one ridge often revealed another, higher one behind it. You also learned to take one step at a time, but not losing sight of the goal. If the crowd starts to gain on you, you need to find that next "best" to reach for, so you continue to soar above the flock, as you are now.
Of course, none of us has to soar above the rest of the flock. We could accept just our best. But consider what your life will be like beneath all those birds.
I have always tried to challenge myself as a leader to reach a little beyond my grasp to find a way to improve myself. Not only is our "best" something that each of us can accomplish, it is the minimum each of us should accept. Your best may not include Eagle, or it may go well beyond Eagle. If you stay with the turkeys, you may become convinced that birds were never meant to fly. But if you surround yourself with people who are not content just to do their best, you will be amazed how it energizes you and how much better your own "personal best" will become; and how high you can fly.
© Chuck May, 1996
May be distributed freely, with attribution, for non-commercial use within the Scouting community.
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