On Achievement

Notre Dame de Rodez illuminée telle qu'elle es...
Notre Dame de Rodez illuminée telle qu’elle est observable de la Maison des Anglais (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no greater honor than the feeling of accomplishment. Whether it involves attaining a goal, meeting an expectation, or obtaining a memento to commemorate some intangible victory, achievement of any sort is satisfying. It embodies a winner—the head honcho, the big cheese, the Grand Pubaa—that has conquered defeat, nature, and adversity. But what is defeat? What is success? What is achievement?

To tackle the first two questions, we must first answer the last. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “achievement” has two mainstream definitions. The first is “a result gained by effort”. The second is more rigid—“the quality and quantity of someone’s performance”.  The second definition measures the absolute, observable products of work, while the first relates more to the intangible ones that drive individual growth. In other words, the perception of achievement alter the definition of the term as well as what can be gained from it.

In the search for success, we often lose sight of what “success” truly is. We typically look for absolute success in the form of something quantifiable, such as the number of wins or the size of someone’s bank account. Perhaps it’s just a Western mentality; it may be something more. However, I think its origins are buried deep inside the human psyche. The desire for this type of achievement, that desire for absolute victory, stems from our burning necessity for social acceptance. That’s why many people strive to be millionaires—to display their power and ultimately validate themselves in the eyes of others. It is also the mentality behind all of the facades and material excesses in the world.

There are, however, exceptions to that rule. Success can also be defined as something relative, something intangible. This sort of achievement is experiential, based on improvements accumulated over time. This is, to me, the most beautiful and valuable type of accomplishment. It thrives on self-comparison. That is, the comparison of current performance to previous performance. For the healthy thinker, it motivates the sort of improvement that builds an individual’s self-esteem. Even if that person doesn’t earn unquestionable absolute success, (s)he still improves as individual and attains a higher level of performance. And this affects all fields, including sports.

This represents the crux of my argument—true achievement is relative and cannot be accurately measured solely in absolute terms. Everything absolute in philosophy is relative anyways, so why draw the line at the directly observable? It is important to realize this when we judge our own performance. To some degree, we do need observable successes to serve as benchmarks for future self-improvement.

At the same time, we must not dwell on our losses or revel in our successes. Such behaviors prevent learning from taking place. Furthermore, they hinder our abilities to accurately assess the very same observable improvements we were trying to measure in the first place. Only through constant learning do we mature into responsible people who know their limits and, even more valuably, know the limits of restraint. Achievement is the pinnacle of a mountain built on the skeletons of previous failures. Don’t let your failures bury you! And, even more importantly, don’t bury yourself in your perceived success! After all, it’s all relative!

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