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The problem with chasing gold medals

Posted in the following categories: Motivation

Jason Alexander (famous for playing George Costanza on Seinfeld) was nominated 8 times for the Emmys.

He never won.

Glenn Close was nominated 8 times for the Oscars.

She never won.

Carl Sagan was nominated for membership in the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors in science.

He was rejected.

Most of the academic establishment disdained Sagan for popularizing science and voted against his membership.

Isaac Asimov didn’t hit the New York Times bestseller list until his 262nd book. That’s not a typo. That’s 43 years of writing 261 consecutive non-best-sellers.

Does this mean that Close and Alexander are bad actors? That Sagan was a lousy astronomer? Or that Asimov’s first 261 books all suck?

Of course not.

Yet, in our own lives, we often define our worth by referring to the number of proverbial medals we have collected along the way. We want to be chosen by the people who were chosen before us. We want the external validation, the pat on the back—the gold medal.

So we chase vanity metrics that don’t have lasting powers. We pursue goals that are unaligned with our north star. We try to control outcomes that we can’t control.

Alexander, Close, and Sagan can’t control how the academy members vote.

Asimov can’t control how many people buy his books.

You can’t control whether your boss gives you a promotion or whether you get the job you want.

If we were assessing people based on outcomes outside of their control, every lottery winner would be a genius.

A simple question for you: Is this within your control?

If the answer is no, let it go.

Focus on the inputs—what’s yours to shape—and ignore the rest.

The gold medal isn’t the point—it can’t be—because all of our time is spent on the journey. And if we let it, the journey can be the most rewarding part.

As long as you enjoyed the journey—and as long as you created things you are proud of—who cares if no one gave you a gold medal?

You’ve already won.

P.S. If you want to get better at focusing on the journey, I recommend Dorie Clark’s excellent new book, The Long Game, which came out this week. It’s packed with actionable advice on how to be a long-term thinker in a short-term world.

P.P.S. My friend Khe Hy is hosting a free virtual event called the $10K summit, where you’ll learn how to get more done by working smarter. It will feature James Clear, Rachel Rodgers, and many other high-performing executives and entrepreneurs. Like everything else that Khe puts together, I’m confident it’ll be a remarkable event. You can register for it here.

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