I’m a huge fan of stand up comedy. Huge fan. One of my favorite routines is actually Jerry Seinfeld’s I’m Telling You For The Last Time. It’s very different from my usual tastes but it’s so expertly crafted that I love it. He does a piece about the Olympics that I find particularly interesting.
“The silver medal is basically the medal that you get for losing best. Nobody lost better than you. You’re the best…loser.”
I thought about this a lot during these last Olympics and I’ve tried to keep it in mind as I watch events like college football and the World Junior Hockey Championships. What about the losers?
We celebrate these incredible feats of athletic ability and cast aside anyone who doesn’t end up on the podium, but many of these contests are decided by 1 100th of a second…by 10cm over the course of 200m. While occasionally we are treated to incredible performances like Katie Ledecky beating the pack by more than a body length in the pool, most of these contests are too close to call. So what are we celebrating and what are we dismissing?
What I’ve really started to think about and look at more closely is the concept of “personal best”. While I’m still thrilled by the medal winners, what really drives me now are those that obtain their “personal best” at the Olympics. Maybe they swim faster than they’ve ever swam or they jump higher than they’ve ever jumped. Whatever the case, I’ve now started to look at how athletes perform against themselves rather than against the “field”. And I’ve started to carry that over into my work life.
I build websites, help manage social media and create written content for clients. I am not the Usain Bolt of websites, the Katie Ledecky of social media, or the Rosie MacLennan of writing. But each time I look at a WordPress dashboard I think, “I’m better at this than I was before.” Each time I plan a social campaign I think, “This will get more traction than campaigns I’ve run in the past.” Every piece of content I write I think, “I’m a better writer than I’ve ever been.” I can’t build websites as well as Chris Lowe. I’m not the social media powerhouse that Ross Simmonds is. I’m a better writer than Gary V… but now one’s ever going to know that because he’s too damned popular on social. The point is, I’m doing my absolute best and I’m getting better.
I like it when I win the gold. I love it when a client, and even more so a peer, are impressed with my work. I don’t mind the silver. I’ll even take bronze in a pinch. But for me, it’s about “personal best”. Take Derek Drouin.
Derek Drouin won the gold medal in men’s high jump at the Olympics a couple years back but what I love, above all else is the way in which he did it. First off, he was perfect. He never missed a single jump through his first five jumps. When his opponent failed for the last time, Derek Drouin had won the gold medal but he didn’t celebrate…not too much anyway, because Derek Drouin wasn’t done. Having just won the gold medal, he decided that he wanted to achieve a record in the jump so despite the fact that he didn’t need to in order to take home the gold. Derek jumped again…and failed. The first look on his face after missing that jump, just for an instant, was disappointment. Like any great athlete, Derek wasn’t satisfied with the win. It wasn’t enough that he was the Olympic champion. Derek Drouin wanted to do the best he possibly could. Satisfied that he had, he went home an Olympic champion.
The next time you’re working on something, don’t think, “Am I better than everyone else at this”, instead say to yourself, “Am I sure this is the best work I can do?” If you can answer that question with a yes, you’re winning. If not, the end result is irrelevant.