Dear members of the Earlscliffe Community,
I hope this finds you well. It is a beautiful spring day here in Folkestone. Whatever the weather is like where you are, I hope you are enjoying your day.
I have been away for a couple of days this week at the Boarding Schools Association Head Teachers’ Conference in Oxford – one of my favourite cities. It was a lovely chance to step back a little from the hurly burly and reflect on some issues relating to boarding education. I caught up with a few other head teachers whose paths and careers have crossed with mine, and met a former student who now works at Oxford University, having had a distinguished career as an oarsman, eventually representing Great Britain at olympic level, as well as an impressive academic career, studying at LSE, UCL and Oxford.
We ‘tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky’. He was a boy in the boarding house that I ran at Abingdon School, as was his younger brother, and we had a lot to catch up on. During the conversation, he described himself as perhaps ‘Great Britain’s least successful rower’. He explained that, in over ten years as a national-level athlete, he had been the ‘spare’ or reserve for the first crew, more often than any other oarsman.
He made the first boat many times, and won world championship gold medals, but for much of his time, he had been ‘in the wilderness’. I asked him how he had kept going, and not given up, as many others in such a situation had done. ‘Even when training on my own, I was where I wanted to be, and had a purpose which kept me going.’
I have a profound distrust for the idea that if you want something enough, and are willing to put your heart and soul into it, your dreams will come true. Clearly sacrifice does not always lead to the reward you want. Life is not that simple. Destiny does not respond to bumper-sticker philosophy. What we do know, is how important grit – sticking at it – truly is. A life well lived is going to require grit when times get hard. Times will get hard. Grit may not guarantee success, but it does guarantee character.
I respect and admire this impressive and thoughtful man. After all, it is easy to respect an olympian. But I respect him more for sticking at it through the dark times than for any victory, or accolade, or medal. I cannot say that I always knew he would go far, but it brings such joy when your path crosses with someone in whom talent is combined with dedication and true character.
With best wishes,
Joss Williams, Head Teacher