Winning new awards, titles, roles, degrees and opportunities is a great feeling. At first, we all enjoy the celebration and recognition that accompanies these things. We might work toward getting into a prestigious university, earning a professional designation, becoming a distinguished alumnus and so on. However, these successes can also be dangerous, leading to a complacency that prevents us from continually stretching our limits and making positive contributions to the world. We should never let these successes get in the way of our responsibilities to ourselves and to the world.
A few months ago, I was admitted to two of the world’s best universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Because of a scholarship, I selected the latter, and now write this from a coffee shop in the City of Cambridge, just outside of Pembroke College. It is a beautiful place, and is one of the most inspirational places I’ve experienced in my short life. Indeed, it was a tremendous feeling to be admitted to these schools; however, the admission brought with it a fear that these successes early on in life would encourage me — even subconsciously — to slow down and take things easy. On this note, there’s a saying about Rhodes Scholars that they “have a great future behind them,” something I was told in my interview process — by a former Scholar, no less — back in November 2013. That saying has yet to escape me, and continues to strike fear in me that successes early on in life will encourage me to slow down, just ever so slightly.
I much too often see people who ease their pace, losing their entrepreneurial spirit, once they feel they have “made it.” For whatever reason, they work hard through high school and university, and eventually lose their energy and desire to give back to the world as they age and collect trophies and achievements. I don’t mean to generalize, as there are many great leaders in the world who pursue their goals and visions with boundless energy, only rarely becoming caught up in the world around them. These are the people who inspire us: men and women like Eric Newell, Ryan Holiday, Pascal Finette, Sheryl Sandberg, Anna Murray, etc.
It’s hard to find a balance between taking time to experience successes, really enjoying them, while also realizing that one should never spend too much time thinking about what they have helped accomplish. In football, the question is “what have you done for me today?” A quarterback can throw four touchdowns in the previous week, but a poor outing the following week means that their job is on the line. And this makes sense; past successes and achievements only matter in that they show what a person or team is capable of doing. They build a trackrecord and open opportunities for the future, and more profound contributions — later down the road. Simply put, it’s consistent and imaginative spirit — what you’re doing today — that matters. There is simply too great of a need in the world for collaboration and creativity for any other approach.
As we experience successes and earn our degrees, roles and certifications, we should be proud of the work that we’ve done. However, we should keep in mind that these successes are merely achievements, and nothing more. Tomorrow is a new day, where we have a responsibility to give back to the world with as much energy as we can muster. Indeed, it’s worth giving ourselves a pat on the back, enjoying successes for a few hours, but the real test is in our ability to keep going, day after day, week after week, year after year.