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How to Become Great

Many among us want to become great.

Others wonder what we can do to help the teens we work with.

When your circumstances are difficult, many around you will complain and struggle. It will seem like the world is full mediocrity.

How do you become an island of excellence in the middle of this sea of mediocrity?

1. self-awareness
2. discipline
3. meaning
4. collaboration

Listen in to learn what you can do today to become great.

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– Steve Gardner, Founder

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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.


Two weeks ago, I did a podcast asked about what you can do today to increase your chances of getting into Harvard or any great university, any highly selective college. And I talked about in that podcast, I think it's a good idea to go listen to it's, a quick one, about ten minutes long. But I talked about how you need to become an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.


And today I want to get into a little bit more detail about how we become that island of excellence. I think most students, if you look around at your high school, most students are trying to fit in. They're looking around themselves at others to try to figure out what they should do in any given situation, right? How they should respond to different situations.


And even the top students, even the most ambitious students for the most part, are looking around at others to see how they can be as ambitious as possible. They're comparing, right? They're trying to figure out, am I doing enough? Am I doing as much as these other people who are ambitious? Or am I falling short somewhere? And so even the most ambitious students, the top students, are often still looking outside of themselves to try to figure out how they should behave in any given situation. But that is not how you become an island of excellence in the middle of a sea of mediocrity.


The Robert Frost quote or the Robert Frost poem comes to mind. Perhaps his most famous poem was the poem The Road Not Taken. And the last three lines in that poem were, two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by.


And that has made all the difference. Like I said before, it's probably his most famous poem, and of course, he's one of the most famous poets in American history. But if everyone else around you is taking the same path because they're all trying to fit in and they're all trying to compare notes and figure out if they're doing enough to impress someone else, you then really stand out when you take that road less traveled by.


And so how do we become an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity? I believe that there are four parts to this. Number one, we have to have self awareness. Number two, discipline or self discipline.


Number three, we have to add meaning to this equation. Your life and your road that you're traveling must be personally meaningful to you. And number four, bring others across the finish line with you.


So bring others with you. So number one, self awareness. This is where your vision comes into play, as well as your self concept.


About three weeks ago, I believe, was the podcast where I talked about how the best way to learn new things is to actually teach those things. And students who shift their mindset away from being reactive, trying to please someone else, trying to do what they're supposed to do, to being proactive, being teachers and being guides and being what I called change makers at the time. Those are the people who learn the most.


So one aspect of self awareness is how you perceive yourself. Do you see yourself as a change maker or do you see yourself as a reactive student? Do you see yourself as someone who can and should go make a difference? Or do you see yourself as someone who is just trying to prepare for some other day, some other time, when you will be qualified and then you can make a difference again? The road most traveled by the Sea of Mediocrity is full of people who are preparing all through middle school because high school is coming. And they know that they need to work hard so that they can be ready for high school.


And I know I've said this over and over again on this podcast and my students, I mean, bless their hearts, I say this over and over again in my class, but life begins when you obtain this certain level of self awareness, when you figure out your core values. Life does not begin just because high school began. Right? You might notice that everyone who said you better work really, really hard because high school is coming, they kept saying it after that.


You better work really, really hard now because college is coming. And those of you who are in college or have been in college, you know that people are going to continue. You better work really, really hard because the real world is coming and the real world hits and your first job and you better work really, really hard so you can get that promotion.


And of course that's what everyone is doing. That's the Sea of Mediocrity to be an island of excellence. In the middle of that, you have to stop and say, hold on, I'm not waiting until some other day, some other time to start doing things that matter most to me.


I know that life begins as soon as I realize who I am and what I stand for. And so I am going to begin that journey now. Right.


Self awareness includes that self concept of who you are and how you fit into your community and your vision. Can you see yourself not just preparing for some day in the future, but actually making change and creating change today? The third thing that I would tie into self awareness is your willingness to make mistakes. The fact that growth only happens through struggle, through friction.


There's not a single thing on this planet that grows without some kind of resistance. The strongest trees grow on the side of the mountain with the strongest winds. And if we want to be strong and grow and be excellent, we have to be willing to enter into hard situations.


We have to face the friction and continue moving through that friction, which we'll talk about in a second. That's where self discipline comes in. But we have to be willing to make mistakes.


We have to be willing to be bad at something before we get good at it. And unfortunately, there are plenty of people who have success early on who, because of their early success, ironically, they stunt their growth long term because they develop this sense of that their worth comes from their success, that they're valuable because people keep praising them for being better than other people at whatever they're good at. And that can be music, that can be sports, it can be academics.


It doesn't matter. If I begin to believe that my value is dependent on my performance and my ability to achieve above and beyond what my classmates achieve, then at some point I lock into a fixed mindset and I start trying to reinforce that narrative that I am better at other people. And so I'm not going to be willing to do things that are hard for me, that demonstrate that maybe I'm not better than other people at this new thing.


And of course, that stunts my growth because we don't grow because we're good at something. We grow because we're willing to be bad at something first and work through that. And that leads us to the second key to becoming an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.


And that is discipline. Self discipline. We've already talked about how the only way you grow is by being willing to move forward in the face of friction and continue doing things that maybe you don't want to do.


Well, I would add to this a message that if you want to lead an easy life, you need to do hard things. And if you want to lead a hard life, then you can do easy things. And what that means is if you want to do the easy things sleep in, eat junk food, be lazy then that's going to lead to a very hard life.


But if you're willing to do the hard things today, be disciplined, wake up early, develop skills then that's going to lead to an easy life moving forward in the future. Discipline allows us to say, you know what? I might not feel like doing what I'm doing right now, but I know that this is the right thing for me to do. And that's because this thing is more meaningful and we'll get to meaning in just a second.


That's the third key, right? But self discipline says, look, even if I'm not in the mood, I know that the power plant doesn't just have energy, the power plant creates energy. And I can be my own power plant, I can create the energy. So even if I'm not in the mood to do what I know I ought to be doing right now, I am the power plant and I can create the energy that I need to go and do great things, I can be self disciplined.


And this is something that is going to pay dividends forever. So if the first key to becoming excellent is self awareness, the second key is the discipline to live up to that self awareness. Now, the fuel behind that self discipline, why are we willing to be disciplined? Because the third key to excellence is meaning or passion, right? You do these things because they matter to you, not because you think it matters to someone you want to impress.


And that can be the admissions officer or anyone else, right? But you are not doing the things that you're doing because you're hoping to impress someone. You want to do these things because they matter to you. And if they matter enough to you, then that's going to fuel you with passion and give you the requisite energy to be self disciplined.


Think about discipline just in a general way, right? How many people would love to get in shape, would love to eat better, would love to have better habits overall, but have a very difficult time getting started with that? I would argue that the vast majority of these people never sufficiently identified their why? They never sufficiently tied their goals, their objectives, right? Their desire to get in shape or to eat better or become more healthy. They never tied that sufficiently to something meaningful. I do know people who tried and failed over and over and over again to lose weight or to get in shape or to be more healthy.


And then they suffered a heart attack. And after a heart attack they looked at their children and decided that they wanted to be around for their children and suddenly there was meaning behind that effort to become more healthy and then they succeeded. I know people like that and that is the power of meaning.


Of course, as a teenager it can be challenging. You feel like so much of your life is out of your control. You don't choose how you spend most of your time each day.


You're in classes and you're in and out of meetings and you're doing things all day, every day that for the most part are chosen for you. And they're chosen for you because this helps you to develop that academic foundation that allows you to build yourself and become stronger and gives you discipline and all these other things. That is helpful, we understand, but still it's not really the day that you created for yourself.


And so for you teenagers listening in, this part is essential. We have to find a way to tie our objectives to something meaningful. And if you want to get great grades, you'd better tie those excellent grades to something that matters to you.


And that is where our self awareness, our discipline and meaning all come together under this umbrella of figuring out your core values. You have to understand what matters to you most, what's going to drive you internally so that you stop looking outwardly and trying to follow the crowd. And then that meaning can fuel the passion that provides exactly what you need, the energy source that you need to stay charged and disciplined.


Finally, we have self awareness, number one. Number two, discipline. Number three, meaning that leads to passion, that gives us the fuel that we need to be disciplined.


And number four, the key to being an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity is to bring others with you. You are the role model. First of all, that should be part of your self concept.


You should realize that there are people right now who are looking up to you and that depend on you to show them or to model for them how they can become an island of excellence. You are the role model. So take on that persona, take on that mantle and own it.


Have the self discipline to add meaning to your day and be the role model. The second thing is it's far more meaningful when we accomplish great things if we do them together with our tribe, if we build a community, and that community does it together. Of course, in the Ivy League Challenge, we also talk about the legacy that we want to leave behind.


Not just when we leave high school and go to college, but the legacy that we leave behind when we leave this planet, right? To think about in those long term perspectives, how we bring others across the finish line. Because when we bring others with us, it just adds meaning. It refuels us and allows us, again, have more passion.


That leads to greater discipline. It helps us expand our vision because we can see beyond our own selfish needs to see what others around us lack. And we can help to fill those gaps and we can help to solve those problems.


That all comes when we open up our mindset to include others around us, and we try to guide them along the way. Once you've figured out your path, turn around and help your friend. So two weeks ago, we talked about what you can do today to make yourself more competitive for a highly selective college, even Harvard College.


Today I want to get into the Brass tax, right? What exactly can we do to become that island of excellence? And this is it. Increase your self awareness. Become familiar with who you are and what matters to you, so you can stop looking outwardly and trying to follow others, to figure out how to perform in any given situation.


And instead look inwardly at your core values to guide you. Understanding those core values gives you the passion and the internal drive to continue to be disciplined. And that discipline is what allows you to outperform others in the long run.


As you perform, you also want to carry others along with you. Guide them both through modeling and showing them the way, but also through actually grabbing their hand and helping them across the finish line, supporting them in filling gaps in their journey so that they can also achieve success and meaning and discipline and self awareness as well. I'm excited to share this message because I have a lot of confidence in teenagers, and I believe that you have what it takes to be amazing, regardless of the circumstances where you begin.


Like we talked about two weeks ago, you may be in a school system that has all kinds of problems. That is nothing new. Still, some people are able to rise above that, and I think you can too.


Music for this episode came from we are here by declare P. I'm Steve Gardner. If you like what you heard, please subscribe and share with a friend.


Thanks for listening. You our channel.