A Very Personal Insult
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

Last week I wrote my post titled “Hard is Good.” This week I want to take a look at another aspect of this topic. Please allow me to start with a story. In June of 1979, I graduated from Corcoran High School. As I prepared to make my way to the War Memorial for this “momentous” walk across the stage, my Dad noticed that I wasn’t excited. He asked why I wasn’t excited, and I think my reply startled him. “Why should I get excited about walking across a stage and getting a diploma that only signifies I attended the required number of days.” The definition of momentous is, “A decision, event, or change of great importance or significance, especially in its bearing on the future.” To me, this event didn’t rise to that level in any way, shape, or form.

Yes, I was graduating from high school and could now move on to something that I felt was worthwhile, but I believed that the diploma only signified that I attended the required number of days, including a required number of days in gym class. Yes, that was an issue at one point when I missed too many gym classes for band lessons. Can you see my point? It was a big deal if I missed gym class. What about learning something meaningful? What about high expectations? What about preparing me for an ever-changing world? Can you see my point? When we tell people they are good enough and don’t need to grow, we insult them.

When we lower standards so people can feel that they have achieved something, we are telling them that we don’t think they can do any better. What a personal insult. Instead, we should come alongside them and challenge them to push forward. We should be looking for resources to help bridge the gap in areas where they might temporarily be lacking. We don’t ignore what is missing and excuse it away; we resource them to learn what is missing and then celebrate real achievement as another step on the journey of success.

Joy in life comes from learning and achieving things that take effort. I have no idea where my high school diploma is. I think my wife might know, but I don’t. My Journeyworker papers that certify I completed a four-year apprenticeship in Tool Making are in an oak frame in my office at MACNY. What was the difference? Both documents required a specified number of hours. The second document required a lot of effort. Night classes when I would have preferred to stay home with my wife and new son. The investment in tools that I needed to measure the parts I was making. My employer needed to see the value I was bringing to their company. After my 8,000 hours in the tool room and hundreds of hours in a classroom, I could do things that, at the beginning, were impossible. I learned something meaningful and challenging. After I received my papers, I called about a job at a local company that was hiring toolmakers. The HR manager asked me when I had been certified, and I replied, “two months ago.” He politely told me to call back in a year once I knew something. Was he insulting me? Not at all. He was showing me I had more to learn. I wouldn’t say I liked hearing it, but I knew he was correct.

When we have high expectations for people and expect more than just showing up, we are telling them they are worth it. We are reminding them that they have an amazing life ahead of them, and we aren’t going to insult them by saying they can stay right where they are.