Recently my oldest son Harrison had an opportunity to disappoint me in a fairly big way. As a 17-year-old, Harrison has these opportunities once every four or five times he takes a breath. Most of the time when these opportunities come along he makes good decisions. Sometimes he does not.
Let me be clear on this: I poke a lot of fun in my columns about my children and their mishaps. But exaggeration is part of the humor. My children are never quite as awful as I make them out to be in my columns. Mostly, they are very, very good kids who make me proud. As I said, teenagers have a thousand opportunities a day to make poor decisions, and most often Harrison rejects these opportunities.
And when my sons are really, truly awful, I don’t write about that. That’s not funny stuff. That’s when I sit them down in my bedroom and yell at them for 45 minutes about how they are morons, and those are terrible, painful moments and nobody’s laughing or poking fun or writing humor columns about those moments.
But Jean and I recently had one of those 45-minute conversations in our bedroom with Harrison. He had made a very foolish decision, and Jean and I during that conversation expressed our disappointment.
“You’re not the only teenager who was doing exactly what you did this weekend,” I told him. “In fact, I would guess a very high percentage of teenagers were being just as moronic as you were in exactly the same way.”
Harrison, looking at his feet, mumbled that I was probably right.
“Do you know what that makes you, Harrison?” I asked him.
“A moron,” he dutifully answered, mumbling to his feet.
“No,” I said. “It makes you average.”
Now he looked up from his feet. I think that stung. I think that got his attention.
“I want you to think for a minute about all of the time your mother and I spent talking to you when you were little. Think about the conversations you and I had about history and economics and science. Think about the time we spent reading to you.”
I paused to give him time to remember.
“Do you think we spent all that time with you because we were raising you to be average?” I asked. Still looking at me, Harrison shook his head. “We raised you to be exceptional,” I told him. “We raised you to be better than average. And that’s what I expect from you. I expect you to be exceptional.”
I think that registered with him. I think he left my bedroom feeling like he had let himself down. And that’s how I wanted him to feel. I want it to sting when I tell him he’s being average, because I want him to want to be exceptional.
I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey. In my columns I’ve joked about having a “Dave Ramsey Budget” at home, but I really did go through his Financial Peace University and it really did change my life and I really do have a Dave Ramsey Budget at home. I did go to his one-day EntreLeadership seminar in Atlanta a year ago and it really did improve how I run my business.
I’ve said this before: There is no one in this country today who is doing more good for more people than Dave Ramsey.
I see people criticize Dave Ramsey and claim that he is trying to get broke people to spend money on his programs, but if you really want to take a measure of the value of the man, look at the people who – like me – will tell you that his program changed their lives. I think it cost about $100 for my wife and me to take the class. Wouldn’t you spend $100 to dramatically improve the condition of your financial life?
On Twitter, Ramsey often tweets out Bible verses (which is probably the true reason he draws such ire from some corners), and he also tweets out motivational tweets. Recently he tweeted: “Normal is broke. Normal is a Victim Mentality. Normal sucks. Go be diligent and excellent today. BE WEIRD.”
When I read that tweet, I realized it was Dave Ramsey who was seeping into my subconscious and Dave Ramsey who I was channeling in my conversation with Harrison.
Ramsey’s tweets and his messages are very positive. His EntreLeadership program, summed up in a couple of words is: Be exceptional at what you do.
He offers a step-by-step plan in Financial Peace University and in EntreLeadership for how you can be exceptional, but the advice is not as important as the message: Don’t be average, anyone can be average and most people are, but you should strive for excellence every day and rise above normal.
I cannot tell you how soon it will be that Harrison and Jean and I have another 45-minute conversation in my bedroom. Probably sooner than any of us want. But I can tell you that it’s been a week and a half since that last 45-minute conversation, and I’ve seen a real change in Harrison’s attitude and his behavior. It’s a subtle change, because he was never that bad to begin with, but it is definitely there. I believe he is striving to be exceptional because Dave Ramsey and I got to him the other day.
He came home from school bragging the other day, “I got a 97 on my test and it was the highest grade in the class!”
He’s been diligently studying for his end of course exams and his AP tests for a week.
His high school soccer team is in the Final Four of the state playoffs, and Harrison has been playing harder and better than ever.
He is even being nice to his little brothers!
Of course, Harrison didn’t just get a 45-minute Dave Ramsey lecture; he also got grounded indefinitely. So I suppose it’s possible he’s not so much striving for exceptionalism as he is being extra special good so I’ll let him hang out with his friends this weekend.
Rob Peecher is editor of The Oconee Leader and he is forever and always proud of his exceptional children, even when they’re just average.
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