The word "outstanding" can mean different things to different people. For some, it means the people way ahead of everyone else: golden boys and girls who are given all the honour and praise at every end-of-term ceremony.
For many people, being outstanding means the same as "excellence." Our celebration of outstanding individuals is often mixed with fear. But acknowledging others' excellence should not be scary.
Maybe we are scared that, if we are not "outstanding", that means we are "ordinary." After all, the number of "outstanding" persons must be limited. We fear that we will be ignored and forgotten if we are not outstanding enough to deserve attention. And who doesn't want to be noticed, loved and admired?
However, my three years in HKOSA has redefined my understanding of what it means to be outstanding. As the Hong Kong Outstanding Students Award celebrated its 30th anniversary last month, I took the time to browse through some reflections shared by our past award winners.
Some struggled with hard lives while others grew up happy and comfortable, but beyond their differences, awardees all say their success is due to family, teachers and supportive friends.
While many think of "over-achievers" as aggressive or only caring about themselves, HKOSA winners are humble, and openly recognise and acknowledge the significant people along their journey. And they aren't just giving credit to these other people in order to look good, or seem more humble. They really mean what they say, and are clearly very grateful for the help and support from people who helped them succeed.
In our HKOSA "family", I have met many very talented and accomplished people, who were brought together by their shared passion for service and humility. Our senior members inspire others in the spirit of giving. A classic example would be Wayne Chau Pui-por. Chau founded Agent of Change, a social enterprise which makes daily necessities affordable for poor Hongkongers.
Beyond charity work, I have been deeply touched by our members' generosity. They are always ready to offer advice and friendship, regardless of their high social standing or extraordinary achievements.
At HKOSA, we emphasise above all else our obligation to serve society. At the same time, we invite others to share our joy of service. Long before Corporate Social Responsibility and OLE Volunteer Hours became household phrases, HKOSA's social services officer coordinated volunteer services for our members. Last December, we finished our 11th Volunteer Training Scheme (VTS 2014). We have trained almost 700 volunteers to date.
To be outstanding may not mean to literally stand out from the crowd, or to make others feel small by comparison to your achievements. Rather, outstanding may mean being more understanding - knowing that all of your accomplishments are a combination of individual effort, and support from those around you. It is that second part that allows you to remain humble in spite of, or maybe because of, your achievements.
Perhaps being outstanding has more to do with an attitude that is often found in the leading figures in society: we do not become outstanding at the expense of others' opportunities to realise their potential. Quite the opposite: we become outstanding by helping others reach success. Maybe this is the way we should all start to be outstanding.