We have a lot of funny lines about exalted stations. Someone “marries above their class,” makes decisions “above their pay grade,” and plays a sport “over their head.” The concept is about stretching beyond the norm, outside the boundary, or past what might be reasonably expected.
I attended a museum exhibit celebrating the fantastic work of famed African-American artist Benny Andrews. He was one of ten children born to sharecroppers, Viola and George Andrews, on a cotton farm in Plainview, GA, now only a crossroads. Benny was the first member of his family to finish high school. He would later study art on a fellowship at the famed Chicago Institute of Art. His art hangs in many renowned museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
His younger brother was the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame author, Raymond Andrews. Andrews won the James Baldwin Award for his book Apalachee Red. Both boys picked cotton and peaches in fields their family did not own. How could two boys from such stark, challenging histories become such creative geniuses? Neither of his parents was educated, but they valued living life “over their heads” and “beyond their pay grades.” They taught their children that education and self-expression were their pathways out and their tickets up.
I was teaching a workshop for a large manufacturing company about delivering exceptional service. My focus was on always giving your customers more than they expected. One participant challenged my focus: “I can’t be so upbeat and excellent every single day,” he said, “It’s just too hard.” He was white, well educated, clearly privileged, working in a senior level slot and driving a fancy company car. I thought about the Andrews brothers. And, I thought about the title of my friend Shep Hyken’s new book: “Be amazing or go home.”