I was young once. Some days it feels like a long time ago. Others… Like it was yesterday. My view of the world seemed small. Yet I often felt like there was so much out there and so much I could do. I remember a conversation once in my kitchen. It was after dinner, and I was probably a freshman in high school. We had just started to clean up and Jeopardy was on TV. We played every night, my mom, my dad and I. Mom got the ceramic match stick holder off of the stove to keep score. If you got the question right, you got a matchstick to keep track. I did well that night, beating them both. This wasn’t normal, as they were pretty smart at that game most nights. For some reason, I can clearly remember mom talking about my history grade that night. I had a big test the next day and she was telling me to go study right when Jeopardy was over. I sat there hoping for it to be extra long that night, or to find something else to do, clear the table, help with the dishes… anything so I didn’t have to go study. I hated that class. Hammurabi and his code, the Babylonian King from 1700 B.C. who wrote one of the first lengthy writings in the world. Funny that I still remember that all this time later. But at the time, I really didn’t care about him or what he had to say. What mom said that night hit me though. And it may not have then, but it really does now. When I was asking her why she was on me about studying, she simply said: “Don’t settle for less than what you deserve. That goes for anything in your life. But right now, this grade… You should do well on this test because you can. You can study and you can get the grade you want. Don’t settle.”
I think I could probably quote that word for word all these years later.
I got up from the table and found my way to my room, my books sitting on my bed. I sat and opened them. In that notebook, on the inside of the front cover, I wrote… “Don’t settle for less than I deserve.” I flipped to the section and started to study the stuff I really wasn’t interested in. Mom knew this was a hard class. It was honors Ancient History with a very tough teacher. He didn’t settle for less than. I knew I couldn’t either.
The next day, I got up and could hear her voice in my head all the way to school. Don’t settle.
I still hear that voice. All these years later, even when I can’t hear her voice physically now. I hear it in my head. “Don’t settle for less than I deserve.” I want to live by that, but so often it’s hard. We question what it is that we deserve. We get it confused. The young girl who was quiet and shy often doesn’t think she deserves more than she has or wonders if this is all she will ever need.
At some point, someone has said these words to us all, and at some point we have all questioned what the answer to the riddle really is. What do I deserve? What does that really even mean? Have I done enough to get what I have? Have I don’t too much and not gotten?
I have resigned myself to just doing. But maybe I am learning more and more that I would rather figure out how to be instead of do. To be thankful and of gratitude for the life I do have. But to always remain hungry. Never satisfied with mediocrity. Mom wouldn’t buy that. But it never really mattered what the answer was. All that mattered I think is that we did the job, or put in the work. We would get what we deserve in the end.
I got an A- on that History test. It was like pulling teeth that night to stay up and study everything I needed to remember. I learned a lot more than Hammurabi’s code of laws in the process. I learned that I get out what I put in. In one night of Jeopardy, I learned more than all the questions and answers I had earned matchsticks for.
And maybe it was enough. Maybe even though some days that little undeserving girl still comes through, I understand what she was saying. Don’t settle for less than…
You can fill in the rest. And when you get it right… don’t forget to get your matchstick. We’re keeping score.