Published on April 21st, 2015 | by CIDennis


Greatness Versus Pretty-Goodness

I was always a solid B+ student in school. Pretty good, right?

A’s belonged to the overachievers, who were suspect. Some neurotic impulse was driving them to excel amidst all the social distractions. I never really trusted the A’s, despite their credentials.

C’s were for the slackers. The C’s were the party people, who were having maximum fun while barely getting by. C’s drove motorcycles, disappeared for weeks at a time, and always had the best stories. But I worried what would happen if I became a C.

The D’s were the people who could care less. D’s tangled with the cops, had the sketchiest friends, the best pot, and got badass tattoos. D’s didn’t just drive motorcycles; they crashed them. D’s had nothing to prove except that they had nothing to prove.

It has been a long time since I received a B+, or any letter grade. I am no longer judged by teachers, or by an educational system. The judgments levied upon me are less obvious now. They originate more from within.

What has become apparent as I’ve grown older is whether a B+ means anything, and I think that the answer is no. In fact, I’m starting to believe that a B+ is possibly the worst grade that you can get. Worse than an F. Because it means that you have opted for safety over everything else.

To reach for an A takes courage. You’re trying to be among the best, and if you fail, you’ve really screwed up. People will be disappointed. You have been groomed for success, and everyone expects it.

And, to fail utterly—to flunk out with an F—is at the very least a life lesson that can’t be ignored. A B+ is quickly forgotten, but an F stays with you.

Not everyone can be a Faulkner, a Picasso, a Hemingway, or a Jim Morrison. Nor would they want to be. Many of the greatest talents were a gigantic pain in the ass. They suffered. People hated them. If there had been an Amazon during their time, they would have racked up the scathing, confidence-sucking one star reviews.

But they took risks, and were unafraid of the critics. The greatest achievements in any art form have always left conventional criticism behind. Criticism is bound by comparing to established norms, and artistic greatness has little to do with what has already been done.

Greatness is an unsafe choice. It involves the risk of failure. It is a lonely path, and is often an even lonelier place when it is achieved. The greatest among us are fragile, remote creatures. It’s so much safer to be pretty good. You can live a decent, satisfying life by being pretty good…and never feel the need to aim a shotgun at your mouth.

Or, you can crash the motorcycle, lose your friends, beat your head against the wall, and try to produce something that the world has never seen. Something appallingly ugly, or spectacularly beautiful. Something different, that comes from the deepest part of your unafraid soul. Something that might inspire one or two future generations to wonder what became of your dust.

Pretty good feels…pretty good. I’ve been there, and I like it. It’s a sunny day. But as the days pass, I admire greatness all the more, and the sacrifices involved seem less worrisome. Bring on the clouds, and even some thunder and lightning. I may never achieve it, but I’ll die trying.

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