Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom on being awesome
I recently read a book by Matthew Syed called ‘You Are Awesome’. It’s all about helping young people find their confidence and dare to believe that they can be brilliant at (almost) anything. It’s an excellent book: very readable for young people and available in our library for pupils who are keen to read it. In Chapel this term I’ll be exploring some of the key themes from the book in both Junior and Senior Schools. There are lots of really interesting and positive messages in it, but I’ll also be including an element of critique of this study of ‘growth mindset’ and encouraging pupils to think about wider spiritual dimensions beyond individual success.
In the first chapter Matthew Syed asks us to imagine two different children, both called Kid A. The first Kid A comes home one day to find that his parents have bought him a table tennis table. His dad offers his a bat and asks him to play, but then Kid A finds out that his dad is actually quite good at table tennis – every shot he fires at Kid A is missed. He tries a few times, but then thinks that he’s just no good at this and gives up. Kid A becomes Kid Average: he doesn’t want to practise table tennis with his overly competitive brother and the table gathers dust and never gets used. Kid Average just shuffles through life, seeing challenges as obstacles which are best avoided.
At this point Syed introduces the other Kid A. This is Kid Awesome. He rewinds the story to the point at which Kid A keeps missing his father’s shots, but unlike Kid Average, Kid Awesome doesn’t give up. He has a knot in his stomach; he wants to put up a fight and see if he can score a point against his dad. He tells himself that if he keeps trying he might just do better. So he picks up the ball and he tries again… and again and again. Years later with plenty of practice (after school, at the weekends, in the holidays) he finally makes it to the National Championships and wins.
Here Matthew Syed reveals to us that he was that child and that Kid Awesome’s story is true. He became the British Number One table-tennis player and even represented Britain at the Olympics. The key point is that he was just an average child from an unremarkable place: he had to learn his skills from scratch; he had to practise hard with dedication; he had to face plenty of setbacks on the way.
His message then is that no-one is ‘born gifted’ or ‘naturally talented’, but that it is possible for anyone to get really good at (almost) anything… and that includes each one of us. He encourages us to believe that dreams can come true and asks us to consider what areas we would like to be awesome in.
I think this is a really positive message for our pupils: the idea that hard work and determination are rewarded with awesomeness and that we need to keep going when we face setbacks. But I don’t think this message tells the whole story. The message is that the right mindset can help us to become awesome. Actually, I believe that you are awesome already.
The story of Jesus’ baptism in the Bible is the first main story of Jesus’ adult life. It takes place before Jesus has done anything: he hasn’t performed any miracles, he hasn’t taught anyone, he hasn’t gathered a following or publicly showed great compassion. He’s still an ordinary carpenter’s son from Nazareth. At his baptism he hears the voice of God saying to him: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ He hasn’t done anything yet and God says to him: ‘I’m pleased with you’. In other words, “You are awesome.”
Awesomeness isn’t dependent on our achievements, it’s a given:
You are awesome just because you are you.
You are awesome even if you aren’t brilliant at anything.
You are awesome even if you try really hard – the hardest you possibly can – and you still don’t become the best.
You are awesome simply because you are a unique human being, and no-one else within the whole universe is the same as you.
You are awesome simply because your heart has the capacity to love.
You are awesome because you are loved by God.