by St Paul's Collegiate School

Starting small on the road to the top

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” Caleb Weck (Year 12) delivered the sermon at a recent Clark House chapel service. He spoke about the rocky road to achieving at the highest level.

Whether it be on TV, the internet, or scrolling across social media, we see certain types of individuals every single day, people who have reached the very pinnacle of their chosen field, our nation's sporting superstars, the geniuses revolutionizing modern technology and people who are positively influencing our planet. The majority of us here would remark about them as perfect, in positions that cannot be conquered, but we are blind by the reality that just like us, they were once high school students, with similar opportunities and decisions placed in front of them. It wasn’t just natural talent and ability being the leading factors that allowed them to gain the opportunity to compete and be recognised on a national or world stage, it was their will to practise and train and consistent discipline that enabled them to climb to the top.

I’m sure that a lot of us here have heard the famous speech - “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” And William McRaven is absolutely correct. Once we leave school, we are faced with endless opportunities. But so is the person next to you, the person in front of you and the person behind you. My point is that if you are striving for something big, how are you even going to come close to overcoming that something if you are consistently failing to do the little things right. There are a vast number of people out there striving for similar goals and aspirations that would be more than happy to overtake you without a second thought.

For example in the sporting world, how can people in the hope of representing their country achieve this if they are failing to deliver the basic skills? You may have the best stature or be the fastest player on the field, but how can you expect to be selected if you cannot get the small things right - the catch, the pass - the fundamentals that we have been taught from day one. Small tasks like making your bed accumulate to become bigger, and it’s the attention to detail that separates the good from the great.

Our goals can be compared to running races. Each competitor is given an equal opportunity to succeed, beginning on the same starting line, running the same distance, and finishing at the same destination. However, in most cases, the winner has already won, the difference between first and second doesn’t just come down to this very moment, it comes down to the training, the preparation and the small things consistently being done right. It’s the small jogs during the summertime, the struggle to stay on that healthy nutritional diet, and the accumulated small extra hours of training per week that has already steadily shaved off precious seconds, and has already separated the winner from the rest of the pack.

In life, it is inevitable that we are faced with setbacks and obstacles and sometimes it feels as though our goals have been taken away from reach. This could be due to an injury or failure to overcome something you were aiming for. The book of Jeremiah, chapter 8 verse 4 states that “When people fall down, don’t they get up again? When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?” It is these setbacks and failures that create character, and they act as opportunities to come back stronger, and with more knowledge than ever before. When striving to achieve something, risks are crucial to be taken, how else is our full potential to be met? A quote from John Shredd really underlines this, as he states “A ship in the harbour is safe - but that is not what ships are built for.” In the book of Corinthians, chapter 16 verse 13, it reads “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.” Yes, it may be a reference to the faith in God and belief in Christ, but what about the faith within ourselves. The only way we can achieve the goals we set is by having faith and belief within ourselves that if we set our mind to something, we can accomplish it.

Our greatest desires are definitely not easily overcome, and if they do come handed to us with no struggle, we know deep down that we have not aimed high enough. Adversity is inescapable in the eyes of people in the hope of overcoming and achieving greatness. But it is the people with the will to train, and put in the effort to work hard under fatigue and push through the mental torment that are able to strive and reap greater reward than others. You can look at Sir Edmund Hillary - placed in front of him was a challenge that humans had yet not realised was even possible to overcome, the ascent of the tallest mountain in the world. He battled face to face with adversity, all the glaciers and crevasses, the instantaneous weather changes, and excruciating cold temperatures; all this under the nausea and fatigue of exploring altitudes that had not yet been encountered. But it wasn’t these physical obstacles that he found most difficult - it was the mental state of mind, quoting “It is not the mountain we overcome, it is ourselves.” It is the mind that torments us with the easy option of giving up and letting go of everything we have worked so hard for when times get tough. But it is these bumps in the road that build the challenge, and it is these obstacles that teach us to stay grounded and humble and makes success so much more satisfying.

Before we go out onto the sporting field before a big game we are often told to keep a “cool head.” When our goals are within reaching distance, we cannot get ahead of ourselves and forget what is really important in life - the love for family, friends and respect for all those around us. In the book of Corinthians, chapter 1, Jesus states “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” At no stage can we lose track of what really matters, because if we do, it is as if our achievements have not built us up, but pushed us down. When we all grow up, we leave home, often start our own families in the hope of achieving what we have set our minds to do in life, but our parents are still always there and our friends are still always there and it is important that this is not forgotten or taken for granted.

Being at the top is a hard thing to define. As you reach the top of a mountain pilgrimage, you are seen as at a point in altitude where you are higher than all others. A stag is classified on greatness by the number of points it carries on its set of antlers, and in our school system, it is often the amount and quality of NCEA credits that we receive within a particular year or performance on a sporting field or arts stage that people go on to judge our success. However, it is also the things that aren’t on pen and paper that play a part in overcoming goals. It's humility, love, character and inner satisfaction that at the end of the day overrules our physical aspirations. It comes down to the recently adopted motto in Clark House - ‘Never above, never below, always alongside.’ It may seem like when our work results in accomplishment that we are climbing higher and higher in reach of achievement, but we must stay level to who we truly are.