Dare To Dream, Then Comes The Excelling

By Lydia Chan

September 2023 FEATURE
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EXCELLENCE IS MANIFESTED through our desire to be the best and to achieve perfection. When we were students, we studied hard to get an A+ or to be the top student in our rank. Those inclined towards sports toiled tirelessly to be the best football player, fastest athlete, swimmer or badminton player. Later, our aim shifted to getting into the “best university”. As adults, we hope to excel in our careers by “climbing the corporate ladder”. We are not satisfied with an average salary, so we work hard to get promoted to get a bigger paycheck to buy a swankier car, to live in a bigger house, to wear designer clothing. The list goes on.

If we have children, we want them to achieve the same. From my experience as an educator, this definition of excellence is not achievable for everyone. Instead, it leads to unhealthy comparison and competition, and a focus on self-centred ambitions and desires.

Excellence, however, is not about perfection and not just about being the best. It is a noun birthed from putting your whole heart into what you do. If I may stretch the term, excellence should not just centre around selfish gains or ambitions; alternatively, the benefits of the said excellence must overflow to the community and society. This kind of excellence makes one stand out, inspiring others to follow suit, thus creating an outstanding community and society. According to John W. Gardner, the former US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. This is the excellence we need in society today. However, we must not forget the work involved before one can excel.

Though there are many factors that lead to excellence, one such factor is the ability to dream.

The Art of Dreaming

Raising a new generation of dreamers involves several approaches, and one may begin to do this by cultivating the art of dreaming.

As I have had the privilege of working with children and youths, I have, on many occasions, asked, “What dreams do you have for yourself?” or in simpler terms, “What do you want to be when you grow up/ finish school?” I am often met with answers like “I don’t know” or “Not sure.”

If we are to excel as a community, as a nation, for generations to come, we need to start sowing the Art of Having Dreams. One can begin by sharing personal dreams as insightful stories. If the young share their ambitions with you, encourage them to have those ambitions and, if you can help, introduce them to others who can provide inspiring narratives.

Those who are in frequent contact with the younger generation should guide them in uncovering their passions, gifts, talents and capabilities, not yours. And if they fail, remind them it is not a lost cause. Teach them to embrace their failures as learning opportunities, aid them in assessing missteps and adjusting their course when feasible, or extracting meaningful lessons when it is not. Dreams require perseverance and diligence to bear fruit.

If possible, brainstorm options with them and guide them to make choices that will “stretch” them. Of course, it must not remain “all talk, no action”—expect them to commit to those choices.

Dreams Dimming Away

Everyone dreams. We have dreams that come and go each night—those are visuals that our minds create while we sleep and do not change us or our future. Here, I am referencing dreams where we envision our life journey, which can change the trajectory of our future. These dreams inspire us and are the driving force behind our striving for excellence.

I dreamed of starting a kindergarten that would provide quality and holistic preschool education for children from all strata of society—one that would provide a positive environment for the physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development of children in their early formative years.

This dream set in motion a search for the best preschool model, facilities, types of equipment, teachers, curriculum and ideas. This was just the first step on this journey, and it would take a decade for the dream to become reality. Nevertheless, it all started when I dared to dream.

After investing decades into a field involving young people, I have observed something that has become a growing concern—parents faltering when it comes to nurturing dreams among their kin. Rather than fostering an environment that encourages them to follow their interests, some project their own unrealised ambitions onto their children instead. Instead of pursuing their dreams, the children are being cloaked by the implanted desires of their elders.

What happens then?

The motivation to dream and to try new things (and daring to fail) is dimmed. What is left is a next-generation that is passive and lethargic. They are provided with tools to succeed at what they are told to aspire to become, with no chance of dreaming of who they want to be.

Committing to Dreams

Here, I expound on the commitment toward realising a dream. When you are committed to your dream, you will take action—jumping in and moving forward with enthusiasm. Once a commitment is made, there is no “Should I or shouldn’t I?” or “Will I or won’t I?” It is akin to a skydiver who has jumped off a plane. It involves doing whatever it takes, propelling you forward on your journey. It puts you on the path where you are set to overcome obstacles. Being excellent does not mean being the best in every aspect of life. Instead, it is to excel in areas where you really can make a difference—leaving your mark in the world.

It would be very sad if people stopped dreaming. A person who does not dream is complacent and contented with his or her current state. A person without a dream or vision has no motivation to excel or work hard. Henry David Thoreau once said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Mediocrity and status quo. Predictable and familiar. Meaningless and boring. To stay in your comfort zone may feel safe, but it may not be safe.

To be successful with any endeavour in life, we are required to make choices that propel us outside our comfort zone—to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Our dreams stand as a beacon that will keep us (and our community) on the lifelong road of continuous improvement. Excellence, in fact, happens to be a moving target.

Lydia Chan

is passionate about teaching. She desires to see people, especially children and youth, grow, mature and take on responsibilities and leadership. She also trains children workers and teachers around the world, equipping them to be passionate, effective and creative educators.