Taking the Plunge and ‘Doing a Thing’!

In the Spring of 2022, Tom Rogerson set off from his home to drive to the Polish-Ukrainian border. Accompanied by an old school friend, Tom brought with him forty ukuleles stuffed full of sweets which he had resolved to donate to Ukrainian people crossing the border into Poland. It should be noted that he also took with him essential items such as food, toiletries and blankets. The ukuleles might have seemed like a pointless or frivolous gift but Tom’s intent was not merely to provide light-hearted entertainment for frightened and exhausted refugees fleeing their homes. He wanted to demonstrate the importance, as he put it, of ‘doing a thing’. Tom leads a school community and he felt that at a moment which seemed to be filled with desolation and despair, it was necessary to take decisive action and to show young people that it is always possible for us to make a positive contribution. We should not and need not passively accept that which we know to be wrong and we should never allow ourselves to surrender to a sense of helplessness. Of course, Tom’s incredibly kind and rather novel gesture received considerable media attention and there is no doubt that his actions encouraged and empowered others to think that they too could do something to help those in need. As Oskar Schindler famously stated, ‘he who saves one life saves the world’. We should not let the limitations of what we are able to achieve stop us from doing what we know to be right. 

Of course, it is easy for us to feel overwhelmed by the challenges that we face in our own lives. Life can be very tough and there are moments when I think that we would all prefer to curl up into a ball and hide away from the world and there is surely a time and place for doing just this. All of us feel weak and vulnerable from time to time. For some, the challenge of forthcoming public examinations might seem like a mountain that they would simply rather not climb. Sometimes, it is easier for us to make excuses and settle for a gentle stroll in the foothills rather than lacing up our walking boots, putting on our crampons and setting out for the snow covered peaks, yet when we decide to settle for what is average rather than striving for what is truly excellent, we inevitably end up selling ourselves short and underachieving. 

You may have watched the new Netflix documentary about Manchester City’s 2022/23 season. Early on in Manchester City’s most successful season to date, a lacklustre performance from City resulted in an away loss to Southampton. As a consequence of this loss, City were knocked out of the Carabao Cup. Given that City had its sights on winning the treble, this loss might have seemed something of a blessing in disguise. However, Pep Guardiola was absolutely furious and in an explosive post-match changing room debrief, he berated his players for simply not being hungry enough for a win. It makes for slightly uncomfortable but really electric viewing. Pep’s success as a manager is built upon his personal charisma, emotional intelligence and his remarkable ability to inspire players to strive for excellence at all times. He is not prepared to compromise or accept anything less than total commitment from his players. Pep is right to demand nothing but the best. If you are prepared to ‘settle’ then your achievements will undoubtedly be modest. If your effort is second rate then your outcomes will undoubtedly be second rate. Nothing of consequence has been achieved by those who have comforted themselves with the thought that ‘second best’ will do. 

Of course, achieving excellence requires dedication, passion and hard work. It requires confidence, courage and determination. There is no empirical measurement of what constitutes excellence but we achieve excellent outcomes when we push ourselves to our limits and when we hold fast to our dreams and ambitions. Excellence does not necessarily constitute a row of A*s at A level or the perfect score of 45 points within the IBDP. Pursuing excellence is not about achieving specific goals, it is about adopting a positive and ambitious mindset. It is about ensuring that you make the most of the extraordinary gift that we have all been granted – the gift of life. 

The pursuit of excellence requires us to stiffen our resolve and to demonstrate resilience. It means that we need to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when we stumble. Excellence requires a commitment to overcoming obstacles rather than simply avoiding them. Those who achieve excellence actively engage with that which they know they need to overcome; they do not look for shortcuts or excuses. They do not manage their expectations downwards for an easier or quieter life. We should not fear failure but recognise that it is a necessary step on the path towards ultimate success. By reflecting upon where things have gone wrong, we can learn, refine, and, where necessary, adapt. 

There are times in life when resolute action is the only sensible option. Last week, I took it upon myself to take a dip in a freezing lake in Iceland. The air temperature was minus eight and the floating chunks of ice made me hesitate for a moment. There was no earthly reason why I needed to descend into the icy lake other than curiosity and the fact that I am a bit of a show off. Once I committed to the challenge, I knew that I needed to see it through – not least because too many people were watching. Gingerly dipping a toe in the water did not seem an option and there are some moments in our lives when we simply have to ‘go for it’. Sometimes, you just have to take the plunge. There is a time for contemplation but there is also a time for decisive action. 

We can always find reasons to shy away from challenges but I hope that you will use the weeks ahead to dive right into your academic work, co-curricular activities and social life. Give a hundred percent to all aspects of your life and do not compromise because you are afraid of failure. Do not give into the temptation to withdraw from life’s challenges but grapple with them in the sure knowledge that you will undoubtedly grow from doing so. Finally, there are times when you simply have to ‘do a thing’, a time when there is a good deal to be gained by favouring action over words.   

Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School