By ROSHAN THIRAN
In 2008, a 13-year-old swimming enthusiast met his idol when the United States swim team paid a visit to Singapore to train prior to the Olympic Games in Beijing. The youngster in question was Joseph Schooling, and his idol, Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
If someone had suggested to the 13-year-old that he would one day compete in the same race as his hero as the world watched on, he might have thought they were mad. If the same person said, “Hey, kid, I’m telling you – all you have to do is believe in yourself and I bet you could go on to win your country’s first-ever Olympic Gold medal by beating your hero in record time,” Schooling would have been sure of their craziness.
To be fair, it all does sound a bit crazy. Just look at Schooling when he first met Phelps in 2008 – I doubt many people had any idea that, one day, the young Singaporean would beat his hero in the most spectacular fashion.
Photo credit: The Online Citizen
And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Schooling, 21, beat Phelps to win the Gold in the 100m Butterfly final, in record time, as the world watched on. It’s hard to imagine the emotions that ran through the young Singaporean’s mind as he touched the wall for the win ahead of the greatest Olympic swimmer of all time.
For his Olympian efforts, Schooling will receive USD1m from Singapore as part of the country’s Foreign Sports Talent programme – that’s the prize for bringing home a Gold medal. Schooling’s name is now known throughout the world. He has all the fame and adulation a young athlete could wish for, and he’s set to do very well financially. Perhaps, for some, this would be enough.
But for the young swimmer, it’s just the beginning. Already, he has his eyes fixed on the next Olympic Games, to be held in Tokyo. Commenting on how he plans to spend his substantial windfall, he said: “I’ll let my mum do that, she’s good with money.”
All of his focus is on pushing himself to improve:
“When I’m 25, I’m going to be at my peak. I’m going to be a lot stronger than I am now.”
The Olympic Games are wonderful at teaching us, time and time again, that there’s no such thing as a crazy dream. They show that, when the odds are stacked high against us, it doesn’t mean that we have an impossible challenge to overcome; it just means that the stack will make a louder noise when our belief, passion and perseverance combine to knock those odds to the ground.
When Schooling received a hero’s welcome on returning to Singapore for a victory parade, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the youngsters, and throughout the world, will be inspired by his example, just as Schooling was inspired and motivated by his Superhuman hero, Phelps.
It just goes to show that while dreams can often seem challenging or insane, they are never impossible. Schooling achieved his amazing, wild, and challenging dream, and his memorable victory over one of the greatest ever Olympians reveals three key insights into how we can work towards achieving our own dreams.
1. ‘Impossible’ is just a word
When we’ve had an idea or a goal in mind, how many of us have had thoughts of, “This will never work”, “It’s too difficult to achieve”, or “There are much better people out there than me”? ‘Impossible’ is a word that is often thrown around – but that’s all it is, a word. Just ask the football players at Leicester FC, or look at the unlikely story of the young Boris Becker, or Graeme Obree – the man described as a “genius” by Sir Chris Hoy.
2. Don’t ever doubt yourself
Sure, you might fail… but you also might succeed, and at the root of all success is having belief in yourself – especially when others don’t. You have to know there’s something special within you; it will need developing and some fine tuning, but your potential is there, waiting for you to unleash it so you can bring joy and be of service to the world.
3. Have fun
The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said that, if you ever feel that what you’re doing is very important, then you need to take a holiday from your seriousness. Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein both talked about the importance of play and imagination – they are key in helping to unlock our creativity and innovation. When we have a goal or a dream in mind, it’s vital that we have fun with it, that we enjoy what we do. It’s our passion and verve that bring about the very successes that over-analysis tends to kill. Have fun – life’s too important to be taken so seriously.
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Article first published on LinkedIn.