My last name is 潘 “Pan,” but the 元 “Yuan” is the Chinese character unique to my name.
Growing up, my Mom would explain how 元 meant “number one” or “first place.” In the days of Chinese emperors, there would be an annual Imperial Examination. Local province tests would culminate with a national test.
When the dust settled, the highest honors would be awarded to the 狀元 “zhuàng yuán” – the top scholar or “champion.” With the title and rewards came an advisor role to the emperor, an immense privilege and honor.
While I grew up as the youngest of three siblings, my Mom and Dad wanted to empower me with the belief that I could become the best. It wasn’t until much later in life did I realize the narrative they had created for me, from Day 1, helped side-step so many limiting beliefs.
My parents gave me an injection of self-confidence and self-efficacy, and from Mom’s limitless reservoir of patience and encouragement, I have rarely felt like anything is impossible.
I have since come to interpret 元 as my approach to becoming the best, but not in a predetermined competition with anyone else.
Rather, I see it as a reminder to achieve my own, personal best, an idea I often share with my students. You are simply competing to achieve a better version of “you” from the day before.
When naming our son, who recently turned 4 months, my wife and I went through a long process of whittling down a list of names. A few weeks before the due date, we started using the final-contender names in conversation, just to see how they felt.
One in particular started to stick more and more, and we eventually landed on a name we both liked and thought would serve him well.
As an added bonus, it just so happened that the English name also shared the same spirit as Dad’s name, meaning “the greatest.”
Hope this symbol serves as a reminder to always keep moving forward, “2 steps forward, 1 step back,” or “3 steps forward, 1 step back.”
Offer your best effort. Elevate yourself and those around you. Think and perform with a 元 mindset.
For more short narratives, follow along on Instagram @hueiyuanpan.