My father always used to tell me, “Don’t be a 90 percenter.”
This phrase has taken a lot of heat over the years. For starters, I’m fairly confident that “percenter” is not even close to a word. The phrase was most often used when my family was getting ready for formal events; I was always the first one dressed, and could be found watching TV in my suit as our intended time of departure approached (and often passed). I would wait to put my shoes on until the very last second, a process I defend to this day, which would prompt my father to bellow this phrase in an attempt to ensure that we were not held up at the last moment waiting for someone who was “90% ready.” My sister and I made the phrase a running joke in the family, shouting imitations of my dad any time someone put off a seemingly meaningless task, even for an instant. Recently, political movements have used percentages in a similar syntax when talking about groups of Americans, and when I used the phrase this summer in Madison, WI, I was greeted with a frown, and a comment expressing disgust that I would speak about the less fortunate in so disparaging a tone. This pains me to say, but looking back on the phrase, there is more truth to it than I ever gave it credit for. This simple idiom can be used to convey some of life’s most important lessons.
Commitment is one of the most important traits a man can have
This is the most overt connotation of the phrase “don’t be a 90 percenter,” and was in fact its original use. Don’t quit after accomplishing 90% of a task; see it through to the end. This can be difficult for a number of reasons. If, after ninety percent, you find yourself “ahead of the game” so to speak, it is easy to let your foot off the gas and coast to the finish line, confident that even partial effort is sufficient. I have been guilty of this at times, and when I am, I find myself supremely disappointed that I did not simply put my nose to the grindstone and finish what I started with the same commitment and resolve with which I started. The results are never as good as they could have been and, occasionally, unforeseen circumstances can prohibit you from ever getting the last 10% done. Nothing is more frustrating than putting a great deal of time and effort into a project, only to have it fall apart because you didn’t cross your t’s and dot your i’s. Don’t be a 90 percenter.
Persevere, especially in the face of adversity
Finish what you start. This is simple sentence, but a very difficult premise at times. When a gentleman takes on task, he must do so with the intention of seeing it through to the end. Obstacles should be seen as learning experiences, and not as potential excuses. In this connotation, 90 represents any number short of the goal, and whether you are 10, 30, or 99% into a project, you shouldn’t let anything stop you from achieving your goals. Don’t be a 90 percenter.
Hold yourself to your own standard
My father very rarely asked me what grade I received on an assignment or test. Rather, he would ask how I did. I knew that, if I responded with a letter grade or score, he would ask, “How well do you think you could have done?” In high school, my transcript was littered with A-‘s that should have been A’s. I would try to justify the grade to my father, saying that A- is still a pretty good grade, or mentioning friends in my class that may not have done as well. None of that was relevant to him. If I could have received an A, I should have received an A, and that was the only relevant factor. If you come up short of your potential, you should learn from your mistakes, see what went wrong, and try to improve in the future, not placated by the relative success you experienced. Don’t be content with less than your best. Don’t be a 90 percenter.
I want to congratulate our undergraduate brothers on their successes this semester. From what I have seen on my visits across the nation, Brothers are doing fantastic things, both in and out of the classroom. You all have accomplished a lot.
But you are only 90% done.
As the semester wraps up, remember the words of Zebediah Rutherford Ezeikel Fiasca (Okay, his name is Karl), and push yourself to cross this semester’s finish line in a sprint. As events wrap up for the semester, make sure you stay diligent, and make sure that Chi Psi is in a good position to succeed in the coming semesters. Buckle down, go to the library, hit the books, and see your classes through to the end. I’ve never heard a student say that they wished they hadn’t studied as hard as they did for an exam. Don’t let distractions pull you away from what you can achieve. You have done too much already.
I’ll see you to 100%.
As per my loathsome bet with Brother Bessey regarding the NFL: Go 49%ers (whoops, I mean 49ers?)