By Ben van Dorsselaer
My Dad always told me to win my fights well. “It’s ok to grit it out through the tough ones, survive. But, always know that you made the most of the good times” My Dad told me that. Maybe not in those exact words, but I always knew it’s how he wanted me to think.
From the youngest age I tried hard at everything I did and I was never worried about how it made me look. Being average was infinitely scarier than attention, and I guess that stems from that advice. “When the going is easy, go harder”. I don’t think he ever said that either, but I think he meant that too. Why be ordinary among ordinary people when, for a little more effort, you can look shit-hot, right?
Always modest, never mediocre.
It’s a powerful idea and one that, until very recently, I have taken for granted as a character trait that I have conveniently retained. I guess Dad inherited it from Opa. Opa was lean and scary, with leathery brown skin and strong Dutch blood that ran thick and deep, all the way to his pacemaker. Opa drank lots and talked even more, and I respected him. I loved him, very much, but above everything, I respected him. I think that says a lot, too. Opa always pushed me to be fitter, faster, and smarter and always had a genuine belief that the people he chose to invest time in could be great, could be someone special. And if he didn’t, he’d tell you that too.
Opa and Dad both understood that some days would be harder than others. They both survived these days, often side by side, as most of us do. It’s natural. But Dad and Opa were also firm believers in capitalisation. On never being ordinary, if it could be avoided. On being better, not to show others, but to show yourself. They liked to sleep well knowing nothing that was left could be changed. That nothing remained on the track. That it was perpetually more admirable to be a has-been than a never-was. (You know, the whole ‘lion for a day’ routine).
And so do I. And thinking about this led me to realise that, what we believe and what we value are not random, scattered ideas. They are collections, subconsciously absorbed and intentionally passed on. They are finely sorted, alphabetised, referenced libraries of experiences we have osmotically accumulated. They define who we are and how we behave. They are the determinants of our successes and failures, our finest moments and greatest short-comings.
And, I am happy with my library. Humble, but never mediocre.