In a time when everyone who participates is a winner, something interesting happened in the Nike Woman’s Marathon in San Francisco this past weekend. Arien O’Connell ran the fastest time, didn’t cheat, and was not declared the winner because she did not enter the event as an “elite” runner. Arien defeated the field by 11 minutes, had a personal best marathon by 12 minutes, and her reward for being the fastest runner in the race was stripped because of a technicality.
It is just as important that we learn from others as we do from ourselves and this is a perfect example of even when we are the best in class, we won’t necessarily reap the rewards we deserve.
Going unrewarded is something that happens every day in life, and should never be an indicator of how we choose to perform the next time. On a daily basis we perform hopefully at our highest level in every sphere in life and our reward does not have to be handed to us in an external form of recognition. In fact, the greatest reward we can claim is the internal satisfaction that we achieved a personal best as a worker, parent, friend, significant other, athlete, etc. When we choose to perform for ourselves and not the recognition of others, we gain a heightened sense of personal satisfaction that no trophy can provide.
Take a hard look at the message we are sending people today when it comes to recognition. You participate; you are rewarded. You run a company into the ground; you are rewarded. You lie, cheat, and make promises you have neither the ability nor intent to keep; you are rewarded. And we wonder why the next generation of leaders, workers, and followers believe they are all entitled to the same rewards/recognition in the name of equality and fairness.
Reality creates rule in life, and we must create an understanding that even your best will not always produce recognition; it will eventually produce recognition. The only guarantee of recognition in life is the internal recognition you gain from knowing what you did; even if others weren’t looking or a rule prohibits you form being recognized.
Through continual personal excellence, our external recognition will come whether it is through a good deed being returned to us, through verbal and tangible rewards, or in Arien’s case public outcry (notice I did not say Arien’s outcry). Even Nike eventually came to their senses a little bit and declared Arien “a” winner of the marathon even though she was “the” winner.
Arien’s response to her finish was pure joy followed by “personal best” tears, not anger and demands. This is something that only happens when you are focused on the journey and therefore allowed to relish in the outcome; recognized or not.