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Dr. Erickson on challenge, achievement, and competition

Michael Lavigne Jr., Communications Manager

On the first three Fridays of the 2017–2018 school year, Head of School Dr. Scott Erickson addressed the community on three interrelated and tricky topics: challenge, achievement, and competition. The talks are meant to spark ongoing dialog within the community on these ideas, which are central to the success of our students – both during their time at PBS and well after.


On challenge, the first topic on which Dr. Erickson spoke, he offered a definition of the difficulties all the members of our community face in and out of the classroom: “There are twists and turns. You will be driven off course. It’s not a straight line.”

This definition wasn’t drawn from Webster’s or the OED; it was adapted from the poet Homer’s telling of the story of Odysseus, a man who faced one or two challenges in his day. Dr. Erickson followed up his definition with a charge to those assembled: “And your job is to embrace challenge. Learn to navigate that course. And never give up. Never give up.”

To hear (or read) more about Dr. Erickson’s thoughts on challenge, including some of the challenges around challenge, you can watch the talk or read the transcript in our Videos section.


In his talk the following week about achievement, Dr. Erickson challenged the community to think beyond obvious milestone achievements, represented by three props he brought with him:

  • A medallion recognizing an academic achievement earned in college
  • A hat earned when he was ordained as a minister in the Episcopal Church
  • Another hat, this one earned when he received his doctorate

Though proud of the achievements these props represent, Dr. Erickson stressed that these “result” achievements are not the only types of achievements we should be focused on: “No one at PBS has asked me about this academic achievement. … This hat has nothing to do with being a good minister, and … you don't need me to be wearing this hat to know to call me Dr. Erickson, do you?” Instead, Dr. Erickson emphasized the importance of the journey, of the small achievements on the path to these milestones:

That's the real achievement I'm talking about here: the process, the learning adventure that makes the results happen; what you learn because of the challenges; the learning that happens when you navigate the shipwrecks along the way; the process of being driven off course and learning to navigate it to get back on track.

Dr. Erickson went on to point out a pitfall with achievement: “…if achievements are the only results you're after, then all you get is worry and anxiety, because all you want is more and more achievement. And why do we want all of that anxiety? Why would we at PBS want to be so worried about everything?”

The full talk is available in our Videos section.


Dr. Erickson’s final topic in this series, competition, is complex because it might sometimes feel like it is against our core values: 

That drive, that big-time desire, that competitive edge. Is all that against our core value of kindness? Can we be kind and competitive at the same time? … That drive, that big-time desire, being competitive: is all that against our core value of community? Is the competitive edge to win always at the price of the group? I mean, if someone is winning, someone else is losing.

Dr. Erickson continues, though, by explaining: “On the surface, it can look and feel like competition is unkind and anti-community. But I want to be clear. I do not think that's the case.”

Instead, he urged the community to consider that ultimately we are really competing against ourselves and to embrace our “competitive edge” as a motivation to improve, a drive to get better and better at our endeavors.

For more, watch the full talk in our Videos section.

Bringing it home

Dr. Erickson’s word on these topics isn’t the final one by any means. What were your reactions to these ideas? Do you have your own examples of challenge, achievement, or competition? Or thoughts on how they are inter-related? We’d love to hear them! Email to share your reaction to this series of talks.

Michael Lavigne Jr. joined the PBS team as Communications Manager in 2016 after serving in a similar role at St. James’ Episcopal School in Los Angeles. He cut his professional teeth at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., his high school alma mater. Michael is also a karaoke and musical theater enthusiast. (Musical-theater karaoke might be his favorite.)


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