Why just pass, why just be good enough? Why not excel?

Have you ever been told you can’t do something?

“That’s unrealistic”
“Aim smaller”
“It won’t work”

I hear people told this over and over. After beginning my own personal journey into entrepreneurship I’m starting to see that there are many things that make good businesses, good leaders, good management, even good artists, musicians, sportspeople or quite frankly anyone who is willing to take a chance on themselves.

A hugely influential factor is that they face their fears for what they believe in. They retain their fearless childlike ambition.

A Realisation

Fear is what stops many people from moving out of the standard way of doing things, the conventional way, which sometimes is the mediocre way. I think society has an unpleasant way of breeding a mentality of mediocrity and skepticism; in fact we’re actually teaching it each other.

Looking retrospectively at my own life (so far) I have started to come to the realisation that fear to achieve, like an illness, infects us from a very young age and we train ourselves very well during life to avoid any chance of curing ourselves.

Let me explain.

Do you ever think back to school and wonder why so much effort was put into doing better at the things that you didn’t enjoy, rather than pushed to excel at the things you were naturally akin to? I do.

I remember everyone around me being so fearful that if I didn’t achieve what I needed in Maths, Science and English that I couldn’t function in the real world. My best friend didn’t even get a Maths GCSE and he has a solid career in a bank.

I can’t help wonder, what if all that time with extra tuition, stress and heartache to get my C in Maths had been devoted to not passing a particular subject but excellence in another? I had always been good at English but my weaknesses always seemed to get the limelight.

Enjoyment and Passion

When you look back at “the greats”, Einstein wasn’t revolutionary in physics AND product design. Shakespeare wasn’t considered a fantastic play write AND also a marvellous botanist. They were great at one thing and they were passionate about it too.

Teamwork and collaboration are at the bedrock of our civilisation, nobody achieves anything riding solo, it’s been that way for centuries, none more so than in the 21st Century. Every idea is already taken, it’s only personalisation and perspective that will facilitate differentiation, it’s only teams blending ideas together to produce something truly original that succeed.

So why is a niche or a specialism in our young lives so stigmatised? Surely the best chance to succeed is to follow something you truly enjoy.

Society is totally dynamic, full of varied job roles, a plethora of hobbies and interests and we all have different personalities… but the primary output in education is to reward those who achieve A-C’s across the board and punish those who don’t. Is that right?

Does education make the grade?

The number one stress related issue for young girls (12–18) in the UK was exam results (57%) and making decisions about the future (37%).

I understand schooling is a route for us all to explore a variety of subjects, it’s a form of discovery not just academically but in building relationships, forming disciplines and finding interests but surely a time of such youth and possibility shouldn’t be so heavily burdened? What kind of decisions are they going to make when they’re so worried about the result?

I still can’t help feel that when we’re young, in fact even when we’re older, we perceive “intelligence” to correlate with exam passes. That good citizens conform and utilise memory well in examinations and if you fail you’re not as good a candidate for society as the next guy.

Remember that fearless ambition you had as a child?

It started with what you wanted to be —

“I want to be an astronaut”

“a veterinarian”

“a musician”

“an artist”

“an athlete”

“a chartered financial account” (it’s possible)

When did we decide to settle for anything less?

I’m not the type to cast blame, I’m passionate that we all shape our own futures but it’s important to consider the pillars of fear that form around us as we journey into adulthood, and why.

· The fear from schools that if their students don’t achieve great grades they will be referred to as “bad” schools, which equals less funding from the government to operate. 
Note — Governments obviously work on the preconceptions of parents.

· The fear from parents that their child may be a failure because Margaret’s son from over the road is performing “exceptionally” in all classes at school and young Jonny “won’t amount to anything”.

· The fear from society that this human who has entered our civilization can’t possibly provide value because he/she hasn’t been classified with the highest merits from schools.

All the time, “fear” transfers to our children, who as a result experience stress and anguish, based on the conception that they are only as good as their school grades. Again, I don’t blame anyone I just think it’s important to consider that our best of intentions can dress fear with practicality and convention which stifles individuality and passion.

The long term affects

A recent study from the University of California has shown that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain that can be associated with mental problems such as anxiety and mood disorders later in life.

Last year, 2015, the NSPCC reported a 200% increase in young people seeking counselling about exam related stresses.

Oh but of course it’s worth it — “You’ll get a great job and you’ll receive plentiful rewards and live a happy life.”

Actually, when I left University I was faced with:

1. What experience do you have?

2. What value can you add to my business?

3. Why should I hire you?

For some reason — Maslow’s hierarchy of needs didn’t quite cut it. I had to work for free for a few months to prove my value and I haven’t stopped over delivering since (like I’m sure many of you do).

If you think about it, how can it possibly be that after 18 years of education, a person can be deemed “worthy” or not worthy for the world based on classification when the world is so dynamic? 
The world we grew up in at school probably evolved a million different ways during those 2 decades before we even really saw it for what it truly is, and it’s certainly not like a textbook.

Sir Ken Robinson says it best when he refers to the education system we have now as being “created for the industrial revolution of the 19th Century” something referred to in his hypnotic talk at TED in 2006 — Do schools kill creativity?).

To put that into perspective, the education system we have today is predicated on thoughts generated from over two centuries ago. However, within 10 years (5% of that time), Facebook went from an idea of a 23 year old to a platform that now has the biggest population of humans on the planet (1.5bn+) and has recently been valued at nearly $200bn.

There’s something not quite right here.

‘The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit’

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not against schooling or exams. Public education is a marvellous thing. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my loving parents, great teachers, great friends and a dose of adversity thrown in.

However, what I’m saying is a person should be driven to learn for the love of learning, not from the fear of failing exams.

The battle of life continues long after school; so the decision to choose something worth dedicating your life to is critical to your happiness, forget about making a mistake. Go all in on what you’re good at or what you enjoy.

If you haven’t found it yet, keep searching, don’t settle because it’s out there — I promise you.

“Don’t aim for success, if you want it; just do what you love and believe in and it will come naturally.” — David Frost

Fight Fear and Face the Future

Fear is the most crippling state of mind. It prevents us from doing incredible things we didn’t think possible of ourselves. It tells us “no you can’t” when everyone who has ever achieved has said, “yes I can”.

And it isn’t just for “young people” or careers for that matter.

Learning should be a constant across the ages, a career change can happen at any age, a new dream can be dreamt at any time and our life is more than just work, it’s our interests outside of it that count too.

There are more innovative ideas happening right now across the world because people are taking a chance.

People are dreaming up, executing and creating 1000’s of new initiatives all the time. Creating a better planet, better societies and better lives for everyone, which in turn creates further opportunities for everyone.

· A “sea bin” that helps remove rubbish, oil, fuel and detergents from the waters of marinas — designed by a couple of surfers in Australia.

· Air Bed and Breakfast (commonly known as AirBnB), created by a group of people who found it practical to offer a friend the use of an air bed and some brekkie, is now revolutionising the tourism industry, valued at $20bn.

Don’t live in fear. Question everything, be disciplined, work hard in the right areas, delay gratification for the things you want to achieve, live for your dreams and passions and not other peoples.

Be kind, be respectful, be generous, be supportive and I firmly believe your just rewards will all come back to you.

Oh and, don’t allow the old paradigms of classification and society affect you. If there’s something positive you can bring to the world, go for it… no matter what! And here’s my validation for that

· Richard Branson — started an airline to visit a woman he didn’t want to let down while running a music label

· Walt Disney — fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas”

· Michael Jordan — after being rejected by his high school basketball team he ran home, locked his door and cried

· Steve Jobbs — sacked from a firm he helped create falling into depression at 30 (the rest is history)

· Albert Einstein — unable to speak until he was almost 4 and his teachers said “he’d never amount to much” (it’s all relative though).

· Abraham Lincoln — his fiance died, failed in business, had a nervous breakdown and was defeated in 8 elections before becoming 16th President of the United States.

They all left education early

Yes, of course they’re exceptions, but I know what message I’d rather my children grew up with.

“Everything around you was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it…” — Steve Jobbs
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