The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is emphatic when he speaks about his high school experience, purposely getting mediocre grades so he could pursue his interests, including:

  • Attending lectures at the Hayden Planetarium, at which he’d later become the Director.
  • Serving as captain of his school’s wrestling team.
  • Becoming Editor in Chief of his school’s “Physical Science Journal.”
  • Studying astronomy, obsessively.

It’s perhaps because of, rather than in spite of, his mediocre grades that Harvard accepted him into its physics program (Tyson was also courted to Cornell by the godfather of astronomy, Carl Sagan).

We’re taught from a young age that an A is better than an A-; that 592 ‘likes’ is better than 591; that a thigh gap is better than touching thighs; that minutes played matters more than care expended; that winning matters more than excellence.

And all along we fail to ask the question: “Better for what?”