Winning versus Showing Up
TEDDY ROOSEVELT ONCE SAID (probably after one of his rougher rides) that it is “far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I’m pondering the words of such deep philosophers because, once again, we’ve aroused the spirits of competition by conducting our Top Doctors survey. Every year more and more doctors participate in our poll and tell us which of their professional peers they most esteem. And each year we get a handful of letters from doctors who are offended by the whole concept of polling to learn who is “best.”
I sympathize with both views. I’ve managed to attain a satisfying level of success in life without cluttering my own mantel with trophies. On the other hand, I can still remember the thrill of coming in second place in the wheelbarrow race in an elementary school field day event. Going up to receive that little red ribbon was a high point in my early academic career.
It seems like it’s possible to single out individuals and recognize accomplishments without belittling anyone else. Don’t the laurels on the brow of a winner give honor to all the players and show that all their efforts are for something glorious? But what about the doctor, or elementary school student, who never really strives for recognition? What of someone who simply works hard day in and out, and may actually contribute more to those around him (or her) than the blue ribbon wearers or trophy winners.
The truth is that winning is good and so is “showing up.” If our world were nothing but a great field day of competition, lots of important details would go unattended. Most of the work that people do is not for any kind of glory, but the glorious result is a productive and healthy and colorful community. On the other hand, competition and recognition inspire the quest for greatness, remind us that there are always new heights to attain in anything that is worth doing.
I was looking through some of my kids’ old school papers, art, and various honors a while back and I came upon a green ribbon with string tied through a grommet. Printed on it in gold ink was the word “PARTICIPANT.”
Now, my kids have earned their share of ribbons over the years. I’m pretty sure that this particular one was awarded to every child who entered the bicycle parade for an Andover 4th of July celebration. It’s no great tribute, but I liked it. It reminds me of all the worthwhile things my family and friends have done without any particular recognition. It hangs over my desk as I type these words. I think that Woody, and maybe even Teddy, would be proud.