It'll Never Be 98%

How are you?

Any annoying gung-ho cadet like I was would immediately stand tall and say "Outstanding!" upon being asked that. Of course, that's the standardized positive response to such a question. That response alone can show some amount of American Military training, or at least play-army training. Some people love hearing the enthusiasm that comes from the response but anyone with a head on their shoulders and any amount of genuine care for the one(s) they're asking can't stand such a generic response. Assuming you've read my last blog post, that same Mormon man, the same day he said he'd never die, also expressed discontent for "Outstanding". His reasoning was a kid could have his leg cut off and be bleeding out and when you ask how he's doing, he's going to tell you "Outstanding, sir." He made a good point there, and that's usually my answer when someone asks why I don't like it. But that old man isn't the subject of this blog post. It's only coincidence that the only two things I remember him saying happen to be relevant in my first two blog posts. Well, there was a third thing, and that was when faced with a multiple choice question and you don't know the answer, the correct answer is most likely to be the longest one.

The date is the 9th of June, 2023. Eight years ago today, I was notified that my mentor had passed away. Upon receiving this news, I was devastated. I knew the time was coming, he was having heart problems and it wasn't getting better. It didn't make the news any less difficult to receive. This man took me under his wing when I was at my weakest. He saw the drive and dedication in me and pushed me to grow far beyond what I ever could have imagined. They say time heals wounds, and I agree to an extent. It gets easier over time; however, a loss amid such a relationship doesn't stop hurting. Coincidentally, today was one of the worst days I've had in a very long time. He was a grumpy old man that pushed people to do better by challenging them and making them grow through experience. Of course, it's irrational of me, but I can't help but think that it may not be entirely coincidence.

As I said, upon being asked how I am or how I'm doing, I'd confidently say "Outstanding!" every time, without fail. My mentor was yet another person not fond of the generic response. Being fun-loving and humorous, despite being a grumpy old grizzled cop, he suggested that rather than responding with something so generic, I could say "Better than 97% I will ever meet. Me being one of the 3%!" Now, that's a bit of a long winded response to something where the expected response is usually along the lines of "Good, you?" But being the goofball that likes being different, I took this response in stride. For well over a year, even when a group answered "Outstanding", I went off with my "Better than 97% of the people I will ever meet. Me being one of the 3%." One day, I remember seeing him and him asking how I'm doing. Of course, I responded with my fancy long winded answer and he grumbled "It'll never be 98%." For some reason, I never thought about the idea of adjusting the number. I could be better than 98% or even 99% of the people I'll ever meet. So I began adjusting the number based on how I was actually feeling. 97 if I was alright and 99 if I was great. There was once a 100 but I botched that answer because I couldn't say "me being one of the 0%"

I look at his response differently now, though. Regardless of if he meant it to push me or to just be snarky, I look back at the many challenges he gave to everyone he encountered and I interpret it as the former. No matter how great I become, he knows I can do better, so in his absence, I should strive to do better. He can't provide his wisdom directly anymore, but there's always something we can improve on. From little habits to entire behaviors, we know our faults and we know that if we can fix those, we become a sort of greater version of ourselves. "What a man can be, he must be."

We may be better than 97% of the people we'll ever meet. That's a lot of people. Regardless of it's just feeling or you yourself being better than them, aside from the latter being very cocky, being one of the 3% is impressive. But let's look at the latter in a less cocky way. How do you measure something like that? How "put together" they are? There's no objective quantitative measurement and there's no point in trying to find one on account of you'll always leave out an important aspect. And good luck measuring a qualitative value. Much like beauty, greatness is in the eye of the beholder. My personal view is in regards to simple strengths and weaknesses. Minimizing the amount of weaknesses I have in professional and social spheres and finding ways to work with the weaknesses that I can't just simply fix.

So how do we get ourselves to be better than that next percentage of people? Of course, it depends on what you measure it by. Since this is my blog and I'm ultimately being narcissistic and talking about myself, we're using the strengths and weaknesses measurement. —Yes, there are qualities that this approach ignores and I don't view everyone as a list of strengths of weaknesses, hell I don't even actively think of it unless I need to for some sort of professional reason. It's the best way I can describe my own approach to self-improvement so here we are. I also feel the need to mention that, like he said, I'll never be better than 98%. That's the point.— What qualities do you have that you look down on others for? Selfishness? Little nervous habits like nail and/or cheek biting? Poor timeliness? Identify those qualities. Start with the simple ones. Maybe it's too much of a change to suddenly start asking about other's thoughts and feelings but you think you can get that nail biting habit finally under control. Find out what you need to do to fix that issue. Sticking with the nail biting thing, some people put that stuff on their fingers that make them taste bad, I just decided to stop one day after I realized I hadn't done it in a while. Whatever works, try different things and stick with what works best. That goes for everything.

I know you can't just undo everything you think is a weakness. There are things that are just fundamental personality traits that feel just wrong and not like yourself when you try to fix or adjust them. That's okay. General Jimmy Doolittle of the US Air Force is best known for his planning and execution of the Doolittle Raid, a one-way strategic bombing mission on Japan in WWII which earned him a Medal of Honor. I once had to do a speech on his qualities as a leader, not just a big player in the war in the pacific. What I learned was something that I always preach every opportunity I get, he surrounded himself with people whose strengths were his weaknesses. He created mutually beneficial relationships with these people and was able to utilize their strengths where he couldn't. If you're not one for speaking before a large group, unless you're supposed to be giving a speech or presentation yourself, you can swing getting someone else to do it on your behalf if they're good at it, they believe in you and supporting you, and especially if you return the favor for them in some way (but never expect someone to do something for you because you did something for them). You can even give them everything they need to say. That's just one example. Timeliness, general motivation, social skills, and much much more are all things that can be remedied with the right friends.

This is all easier said than done. But if it were easy, then it wouldn't be enjoyable and we might not be anywhere near 97%. I use that little quip not as a way to put me down, because I know how he saw me. He knew where I could improve and sought to get that improvement out of me. We should strive for it to be 98%. To feel better than 98% of the people we'll ever meet, 99% even. To be better than them, stronger, smarter, wiser. Though, the second you admit you're better than that many people, you might need to play a game of ping pong to get a lesson in humility. All we can do is strive to be the best version of ourselves and that itself will have us feeling better than so many people, and that's okay to admit, it's even encouraged. There will be bad days. Ups and downs are supposed to happen. Without downs, we can't recognized all of the ups. Just do your best and everything will be copacetic.