On my way home from the Multifamily Executive Conference in Las Vegas last month, I ran into (what else?) a gambler.

He was in front of me on the airport security line, and in the scurry to take off our shoes, take out our laptops, keys, etc., he almost forgot his wallet on the table. When I pointed this out, he joked, “Won’t do me much good, anyway. I lost all the money I was going to spend. But it’s OK; I come to Vegas knowing I’ll lose.

“If everyone were a winner, Vegas wouldn’t exist.”

That seemed like a pretty healthy attitude regarding games of chance. But it also applies to games of skill—if you won all the time, what’s the point of ­playing?

And it made me think about my old mentor from college, Professor Shea. Shea was “old school” through and through, spoke dead languages, and wrote books about ancient poets. He was tough, and he ran his classroom in something of a military style, leading some students to nickname him “Shea Guevara.”

Professor Shea would almost always give my essays the ridiculous grade of B+++ or A---. And he would follow up that cryptic grading system with six words I came to dread:

“Too good not to be better.”

I would grit my teeth and with a mix of anger and respect (I guess you’d call it passive aggression), I would start working on the next essay thinking, “Screw that old man: I’ll show him!”

Looking back now, I appreciate what he was saying, and how he said it—challenge yourself, don’t let yourself off the hook. Let your reach exceed your grasp. Good enough ain’t good enough.

There were plenty of younger professors that wanted to be your friend. But I’m not sure I learned as much about literature, and life, from them. And when it came time to pick a mentor, to advise me on my thesis, I bypassed the nice professors and picked Shea. Though I hated his rigid formality and constant prodding, in the end, I craved the challenge.

The winners of the 2012 Multifamily Executive Awards, highlighted in this issue, know something about craving—and meeting—a challenge too. As you’ll see beginning on page 16, they’ve produced some of the most stunning, creative, and visionary communities this industry has ever seen.

Clearly, the winners were all highly deserving. But when the judges and I sat down to hash through all 200-plus nomination forms, there were many disagreements, polite rebukes, lobbying, cajoling, tie-breaking. I can’t remember too many categories where the winner was a slam dunk, head and shoulders above the competition.

All of which is to say that those who weren’t chosen were also highly deserving, and the distance separating a Grand Award winner from an also-ran was often nearly imperceptible, a photo finish. Sometimes, the scales were tipped by a small detail or two, elements that, to a layperson, might seem like nitpicking. But to our judges—battle-tested members of the multifamily community—those details spoke volumes.

So, I want to sincerely congratulate the winners, all of whom represent the best of the best this industry has to offer. You’ve outdone yourselves and raised the bar. You’ve provided a high-water mark to which we can all aspire.

In short, you knocked our socks off, and we salute you. But to those who didn’t win, all I can say is, you didn’t lose by much. Let this issue be your A---. “Too good not to be better.” MFE