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“Achievement” • GATHER Talk by Dr. Scott Erickson

  • Head of School

On Friday, September 8, Head of School Dr. Scott Erickson delivered a talk on achievement – the second in a three-part series addressing challenge, achievement, and competition.


Today I have a poem, suggested by Ms. Knoth called “almost competition,” by Charles Bukowski:

the higher you climb
the greater the pressure.

those who manage to
that the distance
between the
top and the

and those who
this secret:
there isn't

And when I get to one, you can open your eyes. Three, two, one.

So last week, we talked about challenge. Do you remember that? We talked about challenge. And we talked about PBS being a big learning adventure, just like the travel adventure of Odysseus. So full of twists and turns adventure, there are ship wrecks along the way, you get thrown off course, and there are really big challenges.

And we learned that there is nothing to be gained from having an easy, straight line. We want challenges, because here is your job: embrace the challenges whether you choose them or not, learn to navigate that course through the challenges, and never give up. That's your job, right.

So today, I have some props and some ideas to help us think about another concept, and that concept is achievement.

What is achievement, really? We need to think about that carefully because you're being asked to achieve something all the time. For example: to win a soccer game on your league team, to successfully achieve a multiple-step science experiment in the lab, to take an idea and draw it in the art studio, or to read music notes and perform them in music, to solve a math equation and to say how you solved it, to concentrate and really listen to this talk. Now, that's an achievement!

So those achievements are obvious, really obvious. You see them, their results, they're really clear. But I'm asking you to think with me a little bit about a meaning of achievement that is not so obvious. It's gonna be more difficult to figure out.

And so as a starting point, I have a definition, and this definition is gonna sound a little strange, but if you stick with me, you'll get it by the end, I promise. Here's the definition: “Say yes to yourself because saying yes means you have the courage to be your best, saying yes means you have the courage to grow and improve.”

So let's take a look at these props to see if they can help. The first one is this really heavy, beautiful medallion. It was given to me because of an academic achievement when I was in college. No one at PBS has asked me about this academic achievement. No one has checked my college grades to verify that I deserved this achievement. No one has said that this achievement is necessary for me to be your head of school.

Now, I remember studying hard in college. And I remember being really proud of the achievement that this medallion represents. But here's the deal. I have not worn this medallion since the university president put it around my neck at graduation over two decades ago.

Wow, right.

(audience laughs)

The second prop: some of you know that I am an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. This hat, looks good, right?

(audience laughs)

This hat is sometimes worn by ministers, particularly in England, for those of you who've been there. It represents an achievement: lots of classes, mountains of homework, passing examinations and interviews with lots of people and loads of challenges, lots of challenges. I worked hard to be able to wear this hat. I am proud of this achievement.

But here's the deal. Actually being a good minister has nothing to do with this hat. This hat has nothing to do with being a good minister, and in fact, being a good minister has very little to do with all of those examinations and all of that homework. So the second prop is this hat.

The third prop: I have another another hat. Whoa, yeah, Henry, you like that?

So you call me Dr. Erickson, right? This is the doctor in Dr. Erickson because it's the hat that was placed on my head when I finished all the work and all the tests to be doctor. This was the hat. It's a hat that my university in Sweden has been using for over 500 years as an achievement symbol for getting a doctorate.

So today, I have very little fashion need to wear this hat. You don't see me walking around PBS wearing this hat, do you? And you don't need me to be wearing this hat to know to call me Dr. Erickson, do you? Third achievement, third prop.

So my friends, I wanna tell you this. I am really proud of my achievements. I am proud of the achievements represented in those props. And you should be proud of all your achievements, too. You all work hard to achieve things like win the soccer game, conduct the science experiment, solve the math problems, draw your ideas on a canvas, perform a beautiful musical selection.

But here's the problem: the problem is that these props and those achievements are just the obvious results. They are only the obvious results of achievements. Now, I don't want to minimize the results. Results are important. But at the same time, I am most proud of something else. I am proud of you for all the work you do to get those results. 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.

My friends, the real achievement is not the results, it's the learning that happens on the road, not the results at the end of the road.

So back to that definition: say yes to yourself, and saying yes to yourself is the courage to be your best and it's the courage to grow and improve. This definition comes from a guy named Paul Tillich. He wrote a book called The Courage to Be. Now, it's a huge achievement to be able to read and understand what the heck he's saying in this book. But here's a summary, part Tillich, part Erickson. Here it is:

If achievements are only the results, then all you have is a bunch of anxiety and worry because what you want is more and more achievements.

In other words, 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?

So here's the solution, part Tillich, part Erickson: Say yes to yourself, say it, yes.

(Audience: Yes.)

Saying yes means you have the courage to be your best; it means you have the courage to grow and improve. My friends, you're on a learning adventure at PBS. I see your motivation, your appetite. I see your appetite to take on learning challenges. That motivation is saying yes to yourself. I see your drive to grow and improve. That drive is your courage to be your best. I see your hard work. That hard work is your courage to grow and be your best self.

So this about this, my friends. I want you to get high results for all your hard work. I want you to have props like these some day. I want you to get high results as a reward for your motivation to be your best.

But here's the message. Let's not chase the results. Let's not run after and simply chase the achievements. Because the real achievements will happen if you say yes to yourself. The real achievement is saying yes to yourself, say it.

(Audience: Yes.)

Saying yes means you have the courage to be your best; saying yes to yourself means you have the courage to grow and improve. One more time, yes.

(Audience: Yes.)

Thank you very much.

(audience applauds)

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