How Striving to Be Normal in High School Taught Me the Power of an Extra 10 Percent

Today I’m excited to share with you how I learned the true power of just an extra 10 percent, and how that translates to success.

My Experience:

My understanding of the power of an extra 10 percent came while I was in high school. I must say, I’m very thankful I learned it early on. I went to a trade school. So, I was able spend four years focusing on the craft of drawing and painting in order to create a portfolio that would hopefully get me a scholarship to an art college. I still had academic classes, and the structure of school was just like any other high school. The only difference was  I spent  the afternoons  in Commercial Art class honing my skills.

It really feels like yesterday when I learned about the power of an extra 10 percent. I was a sophomore in Commercial Art class. I passed my first year in class fairly easily, but for some reason it was my sophomore year when my motivation dropped, and I simply just wasn’t feeling art anymore. I just really wanted to be a normal high school student. I wanted to get to football games, and do all of the things that normal high school students do. I was ready to drop out of Commercial Art to begin blending in with all of the other students.

What I thought was going to be an easy thing to do, was not so easy. You see, Mr. Krol was the teacher, and Mr. Krol, was well respected for getting his students into art colleges. He knew the formula and he took pride in that. He knew that the difference between those who achieve greatness and those who don’t often comes down to the drive to do the extra work needed, as well as sacrifice for the bigger goals. Commercial Art was a very demanding class. It was structured around a college curriculum, and it required a ton of homework and staying after school till 5:00 p.m. to complete still life drawings and paintings. I mean, who wants to do that as a sophomore in high school? I didn’t and I wanted out.

So, for about a week in class I simply stopped drawing and really didn’t do anything. I was taking a huge risk, because generally the result of not working would be trading the paint brush and canvas with a pen and paper and writing assignments. Mr. Krol was always fair, so before handing out my punishment, he approached me knowing there was a difference in my work ethic and output, and asked me what was wrong. I told him I wanted to drop the class and be like all the other high school students. He looked at me with a bold confidence and said, “Do all the other high school students get $100,000 scholarships?”

Of course, I couldn’t really fight that argument because I knew why I signed up for this class in the first place. Deep down I wanted to go to college and become a designer. However at the time, I thought it would be easier. After uttering a few more sentences to try and talk myself out of his class, Mr. Krol simply ended the conversation with, “Take one week and watch closely  your fellow classmates in your other classes. Also, commit to coming in after school to finish your projects. If you still feel the same way, I’ll let you leave my class.” I took him up on that offer.

Through the week, I quickly started to think about the difference between me and my fellow classmates. By many accounts, I was a normal high school student. I had friends, a girlfriend; I was well liked and respected by my teachers and peers. So what was the problem? Yes, I was missing out on some football games and other high school fun, but was I really missing out on anything or was I gaining far more in return?

While others were at football games, I was working hard on becoming a better painter. On Saturdays, when others were sleeping in, I was at the library working with Mr. Krol and other students on a required 100 page research paper on an inspiring fine artist. While others were cheating on homework, I was learning how to conceptualize by sketching out 200 ideas a night in tiny squares called thumbnails.

At the end of that one week, I quickly realized that my desire to be a normal high school student was very near-sighted and that many of the goals normal high school students had were very short term and would really not amount to much in their future. But what I was working towards everyday had the potential for a long term gain. It was then that I realized Mr. Krol’s class was just one small step towards not just great things in the future for me as a designer, but for the rest of my life. Mr. Krol was teaching me not just how to draw and paint, but he was teaching me about life and what can happen when you put in an extra 10 percent.

As you can expect, I decided to commit to Mr. Krol’s Commercial Art class for the remainder of my time in high school. Yes, it had its struggles, but as a senior, while others were trying to figure out what colleges they were going to apply to, I had already figured it out by my junior year. And while many were working fast food jobs to pay for gas, I actually had a few tiny paying clients. When I graduated from high school with a scholarship to my college of choice (The Columbus College of Art & Design), I was honored to invite Mr. Krol to my high school graduation party as not just a teacher, but as a friend who helped me get there.

Today, I still keep in touch with peers from high school and generally the difference between them and me is still that extra 10 percent of drive. Whether I’m running, goal planning, working on client projects, my portfolio or this blog, the difference has always been that last bit of effort I put into a project at the very end. It’s that extra drive I know I can count on.

Yes, I still talk to Mr. Krol from time to time, and the last time he stopped in town we laughed and reminisced about this story and others. We talked about his future and mine as we overlooked the Columbus skyline at night from the rooftop of the Greenline Creative office with a few beers in hand. For him it was a moment that I feel showcased everything he worked so hard to instill in his students. For me it was a way to say thanks for everything and enjoy.

What I’ve Learned about the Extra 10 Percent:

  • It’s not easy: Putting in that extra 10 percent is not easy. You have to fight off many distractions or short term influences that will try to stop you from going the extra mile. If you know what you want and have a clear path to getting there, you go for the small wins to propel you to the larger goals.  
  • You can make it a habit: Once you learn how to go for the extra 10 percent, you can turn this thinking into a habit. Habits are very powerful because once something becomes a habit it’s done without your brain needing to be told to do it. This then frees your mind up for thinking about the end goal, vs. the sacrifices and late nights to get you there.
  • It makes a difference: Some things in life have shortcuts, but unfortunately reaching your goals or becoming the best you can at something often requires hard work, reputation and an extra 10 percent to get there. This is where the difference lies. Many choose not to put in the extra 10 percent. Almost everybody has the same potential, The difference is in the ability to grind. Perhaps an example of this is when I decided to re-do the format of my senior portfolio two days before the career fair because I felt what I had was not unique enough to my brand or would set me out enough.
  • It’s a secret weapon: You’ll find designers in your career who are far superior than you. You’ll also come across people who are much smarter, natural born authors and sales people. However, if you know how to work hard and put in that extra 10 percent, you can still come out ahead. Think of the people you admire. Has it been easy for them? Were they the best at first? Working hard and putting in that extra 10 percent is a skill you can develop. Once developed it can become a secret weapon.
  • It can get you into some trouble: As with all positives there is a negative for putting in an extra 10 percent on everything. Believing that everything has to be the best and working hard can really weigh on you. It’s important to stay in perspective. Your health should always be your number one priority. Sure, stay up late a few nights or so to get that project done, but don’t sacrifice too much sleep. The other aspect of health that can be overlooked is stress. Striving for more and going the extra 10 percent can be stressful. It’s important to listen to your body and make a decision if a particular project, client or job is worth that extra 10 percent in the very end.

My Takeaway:

Going the extra 10 percent is a skill that I take pride in. I may not be the best designer or writer today, but by continuing to strive for more, I know it will only make me better. It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. Sure that number probably flexes depending on the skill, but it shows me that often times it just takes time and passion to keep pushing through the hard struggles until you reach the other side.

There’s no secrets or shortcuts towards reaching your goals. It takes sweat, tears and hard work. I know that I can’t count on the fact that I’ll be the best designer on a given project, but I know deep down I can count on the fact that I’ll put forth the effort needed to deliver the best results I can without sacrificing too much of myself in the process.

So this week ask yourself, “Am I putting in the extra effort needed to reach my goals?” Nobody is perfect and I too have to work hard to fight and balance short term satisfaction for the long term gain. But it is important I at least try to put in an extra 10 percent. Because I know that even if I fall short, I’ll still surpass those who didn’t even try in the first place.

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