Confession prompts closer look at our ‘best’ efforts

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

He was a golfer. And knowing my father’s attempts on the links, he decided to share the philosophy and confession of a fellow golfer, one who also struggled with the game.

“I can play better than I do,” he said, “but I never have.”

Now I’m not sure if that statement was meant to comfort my father or challenge him. Either way, its layered truth stuck in my mind.

Most of us who have hit that little white ball on those manicured lawns have ended our games with similar sentiments. If only we could have hit that drive, combine it with the other chip shot and put it with a previous putt — my, how different the score would be!

It reminds me of another confessional story of the graduate school commencement speaker who told a graduating senior as they marched in line to the ceremony, “I spent only two hours on this speech.”

Seeing the young graduate’s face wrinkle with unspoken questions, he revealed his scribbled notes, the mute evidence of his preparation deficiency, and added, “If I do well, then I’m proud of myself for being so good in such a short time. If they don’t like my speech, I comfort myself in the fact I didn’t spend much time on it.”

Unfortunately, the latter was the case, as reported by many disappointed listeners.

“I can play better (do better) than I do, but I never have.”

Of course, we can apply this statement of philosophy and practice positively or negatively.

Negatively, we can use it as an excuse, always seeking to comfort ourselves by the lukewarm knowledge that “I could really do better if I wanted to and put my mind to it.” We smugly accept our sub-potential performance and don’t let it bother us.

That approach gives birth to mediocrity, where we settle for what we know is less than our best. Browning’s, “What I aspired to be and was not, comforts me,” simply does not apply here.

Mediocrity does not aspire; it tires.

Mediocrity tires of dreaming and hoping — but mostly it tires of working. Its aspiration knows no perspiration, without which not even good golf can happen, much less good results from worthy pursuits.

But on the positive side, “I can play better than I do, but never have” can move us to cope with whatever challenges we face. The knowledge of our untapped potential can fuel the drive to excel.

“The difference between mediocrity and excellence,” my father once said, “is usually not intelligence, but the intelligent use of our resources.”

And, a lot of hard work. Good old-fashioned “elbow grease,” as my father liked to say.

And now might be a good time to reconsider our approach. Spring is here and so is the life-changing season of renewal, rebirth and re-awakenings.

Will we choose to be moved to action or settle to be excused from our inaction?

“I can play better than I do, but I never have.”

Perhaps today I shall.