When I was young, I tended to be somewhat of a loner at school. I was not a cool kid, I didn’t have name-brand stuff, didn’t flirt with boys, loved playing outdoors with the boys, and just in general walked to my own tune. This caused me to be left out and made fun of frequently. I enjoyed school and loved working hard to learn and get good grades. However, girls can be cruel and during my growing up years, several classmates treated me poorly.
During my grade school years, I took piano lessons and I had a really great teacher. He was also my music teacher in grade school and I sang in his special traveling choir. We traveled around to different venues to sing. It was a lot of fun and I always enjoyed being in his class.
One day, when I was waiting on my teacher for piano practice, I sat on the piano bench crying. The day had been hard and the girls had been cruel and I was hurt. I sat there licking my wounds, so to speak, when my teacher walked in and saw me crying. He asked what was wrong and I spilled my heart out to him. I told him about not having many friends, being left out of birthday parties, and getting made fun of for liking school and not being cool enough. I could not figure out how to get certain classmates to like me. I went on and on and on for what seemed like 30 minutes.
When I was done, he sat there for a while and then said, “Amy, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to listen to me closely. There are two types of people in this world–those that push people down and those that lift people up. Sometimes, the people who push others down seem to be winning, but I’ll tell you, the cream always rises the top.”
I sat and listened to him and in my young mind I couldn’t fully grasp what he was saying about the cream, but I knew it was important.
He went on, “Don’t ever let others lower your expectations for you. You keep on doing good in school, keep being kind, and don’t worry about them.”
My tears dried and I felt better. I didn’t play a single note that day, but I sure learned a lot.
That teacher moved on and it was years before I saw him again. His words always stayed with me and though I made some very poor choices and monumental mistakes in high school, I always tried hard to set goals for myself and push myself. I wanted to go to Kansas State University more than anything and so I set the high expectation for myself of getting straight A’s in school. It was something I was able to accomplish and I graduated as one of our class valedictorian.
The night that I graduated, after all the diplomas were passed out and the caps thrown in the air, I spotted my old piano teacher standing off away from the crowd. I hurried over to him. He smiled and gave me a big hug. He didn’t say much, other than “congratulations” and then he turned to leave, but before he left he handed me a card.
As I turned and walked away, I opened it and read, “The cream always rises to the top. Love, Mr. D.”
I sat there stunned in silence. I hadn’t spoken to him in years and, yet, he came on that night with a hand-written note just for me. At that moment, I could have felt a lot of self-righteous pride. I could have thought of myself as super special because I was “the cream” that rises to the top. Instead, I felt gratitude and humility. I was so grateful to him for talking with me all those years back at piano lessons. He had believed in me. He told me to never sell myself short and to always set the bar high for myself. What he told me was that I was made for more than petty girl fights, designer clothes, and being cool.
I felt humility because he didn’t know of all the poor choices I had made in my high school days. He didn’t know that I had compromised my morals and values to win a boy’s love. I was humbled in that moment because he had watched from afar to see how I would do and that meant he cared. He cared about what I did with my life. That meant the world to me, because it meant that he expected more out of me.
Why do I say all this? Well, I say it because I notice so much that we lower our expectations for ourselves and for our kids all the time. So often, we don’t fight to give the world our best because we don’t want to fail or we are afraid to get out of our comfort zone. We keep things so comfortable for our kids that we don’t expect them to fight, struggle, push, and even fail to get what they want. I’ll give you an example of things I’ve heard.
“I let my kid miss Mass because it’s so hard as a teen to get up and go to church. I don’t want them to have too much to deal with.”
“I don’t want my kid to exert themselves too much. They could get hurt.”
“I only want them to focus on school. I’ve told them that is all they can handle.”
“Love how you all are making goals for the new year. I’m over here just trying to do lazy and do it well.”
“I’m too old.”
“Kids are gonna have sex anyway, so we should at least teach them to be safe.”
“This is just how I am. Too late in the game to change anything.”
Low bar expectations. How can anyone rise if you pat them on the head and tell them to just snack on their cookies and milk while playing their video games? We don’t do anyone any favors by lowering the bar.
Now many reading this will think that I’m saying we have to be perfect; that our kids have to be perfect. Folks might think this mentality will create too much pressure for us and for them. What I’m advocating for is striving for your best. Lay it all on the line and give it all you got. You don’t have to be perfect, but seek to give your best. God made you for more than low bar expectations. This doesn’t mean that you have to be successful in a worldly sense. It doesn’t mean you have to make lots of money, have lots of degrees, or have fancy things. It does mean that you should challenge yourself, set attainable little goals to reach the bigger goal, seek to improve, continue to learn, fight through failures and try again, be okay with a little bit of pain, find ways to improve the world around you, and most importantly–use the time God gives you well.
When my piano teacher likened me to cream, he wasn’t saying that I was better than other people. He was saying that those that grow into who God made them, find a way to rise above the expectations of this world. They live this life well. That’s how I see it anyway. It’s a journey. It’s not a one and done thing, but rather a daily commitment to give it your best. Some days will be not so good and some days will be down-right bad, but that’s part of it. Learning to pick yourself and start over again is part of the process. It’s not an easy way to live, but it is the most exciting and adventurous. Most importantly, though, is that God gave you this life for a reason and we should never waste it by staying in a zone of comfort, ease, and pleasure. Lift up yourself and those around you. Get others to rise by believing in them, not because it’s a pride thing, but because you love them enough to see them become their best.