My history teacher for my sophomore year in high school was also the football coach. While we had some rather non-conventional lessons and activities during that year, he made a statement in passing one day that still mulls around in the back of my mind:
You can be the cream of the crud, or the crud of the cream. Make your choice.
Being the “cream of the crud” is so nice. It provides a sense of accomplishment. It’s a bit of an ego booster too. There may be a fair amount, but not a whole lot of effort that goes into maintaining your place as the “cream". It’s a bit like the “big fish in a small pond” scenario. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to help and mentor others. They look up to you and you can share your knowledge with others. There’s respect that comes with that as well.
But there are limits to this. You can only go so far being the cream on top of the crud that you can’t grow any higher. You may lull yourself into a point where you think you have everything. You don't even know what you don’t known in order to grow: technically, virtuously, socially, spiritually, anything.
Being the “crud of the cream” is quite a different story. Everyday is humbling. Surrounded by those who are wiser, smarter, more mature than you, it can provoke feelings of envy, discontent, and even defeat at times. Every day feels like a sprint, to try to “catch up” to those around you, to become their peers, gain respect, and continue to grow. It seems like there is an inexhaustable amount of things to learn, cultivate, and transform in oneself.
Most of my life I’d like to say I’ve been “crud”. I was part of a great books program where some insanely smart and insightful people discussed the great books and how to apply the authors concepts to our lives and the world. I was able to take engineering classes with people that would later on found their own companies and work in major companies helping redefine how chips are designed and made. Daily I try to read those that have the wisdom to bridge the gap between our spiritual forefathers and our spiritual contemporaries and cast a vision on how to influence our world for the better. I work with a team designers, developers, and programmers that can easily get gigs wherever they want and build amazing things daily.
It’s all a bit humbling. No, it’s a REALLY humbling. It’s all a bit frustrating at times, climbing and swimming through the crud, looking for the cream, trying to be the cream. But it’s worth it. As strange as it sounds, it’s worth it. It’s a bit harder to see unless you take a step back, but you can see where you’ve grown. You see that there is far more to learn, and that is motivation to plugging forward, to keep learning. You have mentors to learn from, as long as you have the humility to ask. You can keep your pride in check. You can continuously be inspired. You may never be the “cream” but there will be a far more dynamic and changed you by the end.
Strive to be the “crud of the cream”. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. The sense of accomplishment will not be found in external markers, but in internal change and growth.