How do you define “success?”
Is it defined as some kind of concrete, measurable level of achievement or more of a warm, fuzzy feeling of contentment and peace?
Recently I was overhearing a staff person at my school talk about a grounds keeper employed with us who had, in his younger prime, actually tried out with the Washington Redskins and almost made the team.
Quite a cool achievement I thought to myself. Everyone I mentioned this too, was quite blown away. Just imagining that OUR own co-worker having had such a serious football career and almost making the Redskins. What a great story.
But removed from my work setting, the same kind of testimonial offered to casual sports fans gets a different reaction. More like indifference and boredom.
People with no emotional investment, who never knew the guy, preferred to look at it in a different way. “How sad that this guy couldn’t even make the team.”
The next week a conversation ensued between me and another staff person regarding a quote from former Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin the 111. I jokingly reminded him of Griffin’s oft quoted line, “You have to have pressure in order to make diamonds.” To which he retorted, “Well it looks he doesn’t do well with the diamond business since he couldn’t even stay on the Cleveland Browns.”
Truly, removed from social context and personal accountability, especially with sports–the heart of a fan is fickle and cold.
“Players only love you when their playing” Fleetwood Mac once sang. And this claim may be even truer when it comes to the cut throat nature of FANDOM.
And fandom, by itself, is just another manifestation of the old high school success formula that we were all taught to be into all those years ago.
Any way you want to slice it, the measuring stick for what is a great achievement gets obscured and reconstituted all the time.
One need only consider the strangely polarizing case of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Despite winning their 5th Super Bowl ring and producing the most amazing comeback game in Super Bowl history, I was dumbfounded at the tenacity of the rhetoric afterwards by people that still maintained that Tom Brady and the Patriots were cheaters and undeserving of any mention of greatness.
When emotions are high enough, any accomplishment or statistic can be distorted or rationalized. Even the loftiest feat and super star. Take for example, the ridiculous standards of an NHL player like Alex Ovechkin gets when one of his season scoring total is not record setting or league leading. Suddenly, due to his having reached his early 30s, the whispers come out early on his decline and soon to be demise.
All this makes me reconsider the old sports paradigm about legitimately earning something against ALL competition rather than just getting an award for participation or for some watered-down, trumped up set of circumstance.
When are we finally at liberty to say that we have truly earned a 1st place trophy and a blue-ribbon finish with NO fear of reconsideration or asterick?
What is “the real world” that we are preparing our youth for? Is it true competition or true compassion?
The problem with the absolute methodology of success is that it ignores the contextual and relational aspects of what constitutes personal achievement.
What is most meaningful in our lives, with the passage of time, is often the little things like sharing laughs and great locations with people we love.
Assessing mere statistics in life and sports completely overlooks all the daily challenges and triumphs that each person faces on a day to day basis.
Otherwise, our lives could be laid out there, very vulnerably, for all the world to see, to be examined and recast by all the lawyers and sports pundits of the world. And I would lose all those head to head sports fantasy challenges every time—like comparing John Bon Jovi’s (who is only a year younger to me) to me myself, John Watts. Heck, as John Watts’s go, I am probably below half on that aponymous list!
And no way can I compare myself to Jon Bon Jovi. I have no gold records and he has many.
Ah, wait a minute, maybe the act of COMPARING itself is valuable only in very limited circumstances anyway.
Because going too far down that road is a time tested, proven way to meet up with unhappiness and discontent.
There exists inside all of us, a gnawing, yearning need to be accepted–far beyond mere straight A grades or gold medals. Official praise decreed by men and praised to the heavens as being the peak of perfection—often becomes diluted and dismantled over time; and never more dramatically as Lance Armstrong’s erased presence in the history books or Bill Cosby’s.
It seems to me that we owe it to ourselves to have a foundational plan in place that is much more second nature for us than just a plan B. Because when the fickle fortunes of time blow us along our uneven pathway, it is good to know that we can feel successful regardless of how strict the judge is or whether some committee votes us in to the Hall of Fame or not.
In other words: One must turn to the INTERNAL in order to find the ETERNAL.
And therein lies the big secret of success—found smack dab in the middle between the extremes of participation and fame!