This is something I wrote for a family friend in the Spring of 09, upon his matriculation into a college-prep leadership program. The prompt was to give age appropriate advice, so I wrote what I wished someone had known to tell me when I was still in high school. My posting this was triggered by another friend’s recent issues with motivating her son. This is for a teenager, but feel free to copy, edit, revise, etc. and deliver any relevant portions of it to any young person you think could benefit from it. If it helps your purpose, tell them you wrote it.


I’m writing you to wish you well and to congratulate you on the successes that have marked your path to this point. I also want to share with you an insight that for me was very hard won, which I hope will be of due service to you at this point in your life. I want you to pause here and take note of the fact that you are in a position to take advantage of opportunities that young men all over this country and all over the globe, of every race and creed dream of — you have the opportunity to live up to your potential. Far too often a trap that young people of your ability fall into is the snare of ego and leisure. When our gifts allow us, for example, to get an A or a B with less effort than our peers may have to put in to get a C, we can easily fall into this trap of self-congratulation, accepting grades (an external and often capricious measurement of your work) as a stand-in for the only real measurement worth a damn in this world, which is whether or not you honestly, truly invested yourself fully in the task at hand.

Yes, what I am telling you is that your grades DO NOT matter. Really… in the long run your grades are truly inconsequential. There is no permanent record of what you do academically except for what is etched into your character by the choices you make regarding the time and attention you invest challenging yourself to master what is in front of you. This time in your life is preparation for your future where there will be no artificial bars set for you by others. This means that there will be no bar for an “A”  at which you will have an excuse to stop. The value of your effort will be marked by the objective quality of what you produce, which in the case of young man of your talents is virtually limitless. As you surely already intuit, neurosurgeons don’t get grades — they either save lives or they don’t, occasionally inventing new surgical techniques on the fly to solve problems in the operating room. Supreme Court Justices don’t write their judicial opinions for their parents approval, they do their very best to sculpt jurisprudence that reflects their understanding of the legal principles at the foundation of our government. A professional athlete doesn’t stop training because they win a medal, they train harder. No “A” will make you complacent, and no “C” will bring discontent when you know that you met and faced with full intention, the challenges set before you. There is no artificial place to rest, when you become the final authority on the merit of your own labor.

The reality of this can be scary (even to many adults), but it shouldn’t be. This is a liberating truth that has been embraced by the most productive people on our planet throughout its history. You are young enough that if you begin putting this truth into practice now, when you graduate from college or graduate school you will be in a position to actively define your future however you see fit. You will not have to accept passively the opportunities that the world presents you with; you will be prepared to create opportunities for yourself and others guided by your own vision, defined by your own interests, and fueled by your own expertise. I wish for you to use the rest of your time in high school as an opportunity for you to practice Getting Past “A.” Whatever the grade is, whatever the subject is, I want you to try and put yourself in the frame of mind where the only thing that matters is the challenge the course has placed in front of you and then what you are going to do to meet and exceed this challenge. You know better than anyone else can tell you, what that challenge is. If you have never gotten better than a “C” in a math course, forget that. That doesn’t matter. We are Getting Past “C.” The goal is the work, not the grade. If you’ve gotten A’s on English papers that you wrote the night before, forget that. That doesn’t matter. Spend a full week on the next paper, remembering that the goal is the work, not the grade.

There will be a point, soon enough, when the sky will open up for you. If you focus enough of your attention between now and then on developing the skills necessary to master the challenges in front of you without regard to external and artificial metrics like grades, awards, etc, and instead seek your and find your own degree, when that time comes and the clouds part to make way, you will do more than Get Past “A,” you be able to rise to a creative space where the challenges that you meet  and transcend may be of a measure more than perhaps we have letters or numerals to express.

Love and Respect,

Next Issue of Geek Blak.

“How to find success in the blogosphere, mostly posting stuff you’ve already written!!”