If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill,
Be a shrub in the valley – but be
The best little shrub by the side of the hill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a bush, be a bit of grass,
And some highway happier make;
If you can’t be a muskie then just be a bass,
But the liveliest bass in the lake!
We can’t all be captains, some have to be crew,
There’s something for all of us here;
There’s work to be done, and we all have to do
Our part in the way that’s sincere.
If you can’t be a highway, then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun, be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail,
Be the best of whatever you are.
— Douglas Mallock
All parents have the formidable task of nurturing maturity and imparting wisdom to their children. My mother had a couple of poems that were recurring themes in her repertoire of advice and “Be the Best …” was one of her favorites.
As I read this poem now, thirty years after I left home for college, it is amazing to see how my values and my personality reflect its simple message. I have always pushed myself hard for personal excellence. I was inevitably disappointed if I didn’t get an A in my classes and I can be relentless to the point of obsession on the quality of my work.
But my drive for quality stops at me. I have never been competitive and I am not motivated by being better than someone else. Although my lack of competitiveness has affected my career progression, it has shaped me with a solid sense of self-worth. Now if I could just leverage that self-worth a bit to drive my latest career adventure.