It’s 10:25 in the morning, Saturday, September 30th. My son Alex just walked into one of the most important interviews of his life. He’s a Boy Scout and this is his board of review for the rank of Eagle.
Eagle is the highest rank in scouting. Those who reach this level have spent years working their way through a myriad of requirements. Along the way, they learn outdoor skills, demonstrate leadership within their troop, and participate in numerous service activities that benefit their community.
Each year, thousands of boys enter the scouting program, but statistics show that only five percent become Eagles. Out of every 100 scouts, 95 will fall short of the ultimate goal.
While I am extremely proud of what Alex has accomplished, I can’t help but think of all those who fall short of reaching their goal. Why is it that so many start, but so few finish? What is it about the 5% that allows them to succeed where the majority fail?
Some boys get distracted by other things. Alex did. As he got old enough, he got a job. He got involved in extracurricular activities at school. He picked up hobbies that ate into his limited time and attention span. He was forced to reduce his involvement in scouting. Still, he achieved his goal.
Some find the obstacles in their path are greater than they anticipated. Alex did. His final requirement, the Eagle Scout Service Project, fell completely apart due to circumstances beyond his control. He had to start over, reaching and developing an entirely new concept – not an easy task for a teenage boy. Still, he achieved his goal.
Some start to think the reward doesn’t justify the effort. Alex did. In the beginning, progress was easy. But as he grew older, he grew frustrated with the level of focus and detail required to complete the final steps. This caused him to question his participation in the scouting program. Still, he achieved his goal.
Many will argue that they lacked the resources and guidance necessary to succeed. While I concede that Alex benefited from an active scout troop and men who willingly acted as mentors along his journey, these factors alone did not make the difference. I know of numerous scouts who earned their Eagle rank despite a weak troop structure and a lack of support from family members. And I know of plenty who had a wealth of resources at their disposal, yet failed to finish what they started.
What made the difference for Alex, and for the rest of the 5%, was the decision to be successful.
You face a million choices every day; what to wear, what to eat, what to say and do. It is your choices that define you. You decide the kind of man or woman you want to be. Victor or victim, success or failure, one of the select few or just another face in the crowd.
The sad fact is that most people are ok with being ok. They aspire to get by. Their goal is to blend in. They’ve chosen to be part of the 95%. I wish I could take credit for Alex’s achievement, but I can’t. Yes, I encouraged him. I made myself available and helped where I could, but you can’t drag an Eagle across the finish line. The program is designed such that the boy must make a series of conscious decisions on his own. It’s a lot like life in that respect.
Wasted potential is a sad fact of life. It’s a shame to want success for someone far more than they seem to want it for themselves. But I see it every day. The lure of average is incredibly strong.
Thirty-five minutes after he walked into his board of review, Alex emerged. He was visibly nervous and waited anxiously while the committee deliberated over his body of work and his responses to their questions. When he was finally called back and given the good news, Alex was visibly relieved. However, I never had a doubt he would be successful. He’d decided long ago that he would be.