After 13 years of being married to the same woman and working for the same employer, I had a crisis in motivation. My marriage, ended in an unmitigated emotional and financial disaster. In short order, my career path went awry as I was ‘reorganized’ out of a job. My life seemed to be a study in chaos and failure. I felt somehow cheated. At 38, I was too young to quit, but felt too old to start over. I'd strived to be the devoted husband, model citizen, the über employee. Still, I lost. Or did I? How was I measuring success? Weren’t my efforts to be my best worthwhile? These are questions most of us will struggle with a few times in our lives. How we answer them will either fuel us for further progress or immolate us in a bonfire of self defeatism.
Dan Marino never won a championship. In pee wee, high school, college, or professional football, ‘Dan the Man' never won it all. How is that possible that the greatest quarterback ever to pick up a football retired without "the ring"? How in the cosmic order, could a person excel so well at what he does and come up empty-handed? How then, can success or greatness be defined?
"It's not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game." To anybody who's ever really competed in anything, that aphorism is as hollow as a jack-o-lantern. We all want to win. We're hardwired for it. The traditional model of winning always involves direct competition. Today, though, ‘winning’ has morphed into beating countless, faceless 'others' in anything--having the hottest relationship, most impressive title, or the most money in the bank.
The truth is, however, we all don't get to drink from the victors' cup. This reality should encourage us to consider motivations that transcend besting others.
Personal excellence is a more consistent and accessible motivator because it comes from within. Achieving excellence in the pursuit of our goals isn't about the mark others set. Excelling is about us reaching our own best marks. When you excel, you win the only game worth playing.
When I was 22, I was with presented a definition of success that forever changed my outlook. "Success is the progressive realization of worthy goals." How revolutionary! You mean that I wasn't a success only when completed to goal, but while I still was attaining it? This meant for me that success was no longer tied to winning the race, or even finishing it. Success and winning were about running the best race that I could.
Could it be that easy? Why not? You can have abundance and joy in your life by setting your bar as high as you can dream and excelling at your own game. There’s no competition, but infinite rewards. By this personal standard, I had two successful 13-year runs. The marriage may have ended, but I stayed committed and remain a loving father and loyal friend. The career my have taken a surprising turn, but I added value to the organization and still do my work and serve my customers with distinction. Score: Me:2 Other People's Standards: 0. Game. Set. Match.
Most football fans know that Dan "the Man's" records will last the ages. When asked what drove him to play so well for so long, his answer was simple and profound. He loves to throw balls. The actual act of launching a ball the best he could was his greatest motivator. It's amazing what towers we can build from the most humble of stones. When we pursue our passion, we find our purpose and become great along the way. The world may never see it, but we become champions nonetheless, enshrined forever in the halls of destiny.