The 1990s comedy film Cool Runnings is about the first-ever Jamaican bobsled team aiming for Winter Olympics glory.
They’re coached by an American gold medalist, portrayed by John Candy, who once sought the same validation they now crave.
During a scene, Candy gives them some advice that I think about frequently: “A gold medal is a wonderful thing,” he says. “But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”
My life has been filled with a yearning for gold medals: getting admitted to elite colleges, landing prestigious jobs, and writing bestselling books.
Each gold medal, I believed, would erase my self-doubt, and the sense of “I’ve finally arrived” would emerge.
I know I’m not alone here. We often believe that by changing our external circumstances, our internal struggles will magically dissipate. We assume finding a new partner will soothe our feelings of insecurity. We assume getting a promotion will give us the validation we crave. We assume making more money will calm our sense of unease.
But no external patch can truly fill an internal hole. Each achievement feels hollow because the real void isn’t the deficit of gold medals. It’s the absence of internal self-worth.
What’s more, if your self-worth is externally sourced—if you let other people’s “yes” or “no” determine how you feel about yourself—that source of power can be withdrawn at any time.
When the world says you’re good, you soar. When it doesn’t, you plummet.
This emotional rollercoaster then becomes your life, and the power and peace of consistent self-worth remain out of reach.
Real power stems from an internal engine—one that’s immune to the world’s changing views. That engine burns clean. Its energy is pure, sustainable, and isn’t contingent on the fleeting “likes” or applause from others. If your validation is internal, no external force can deplete it. You have an infinite supply of it within.
What’s more, external circumstances often mirror our internal state. Our internal dialogues, whether empowering or limiting, shape our external realities. If you radiate insecurity or self-doubt, the world will send it right back to you.
Here’s an example. An artist might be exceptionally talented, but if they’re riddled with self-doubt, they might be reluctant to showcase their work, fearing rejection. Their internal narrative of “I’m not good enough” can project outwards, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as they miss out on potential gold medals.
It’s only when you begin to develop internal self-worth that external opportunities reliably follow.
A gold medal can be a wonderful thing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting one.
Keep sledding toward your goals, but remember: If you’re not enough without a gold medal, you won’t be enough with one.
The real victory lies within.