Eggardon & Colmers View
Success, but at what cost?
I am writing this in the middle of the Olympics 2020, held 12 months later than originally planned. There have been many successes, and many failures, I suppose you could say that there have been many losses for every win, as there is only one gold medal for each event. I once heard it said that ‘silver is the first of the losers’. No wonder there is so much unhappiness, disappointment and mental ill-health. There have been several sportsmen and women who have pulled out due to mental health problems at these Olympics, as well as other sporting events this year.
There is a natural instinct to only celebrate victories, and to regard anything that is not a victory as a failure. Failure in today’s world is easily attributed and so damaging. Yet these elite sports people have already achieved the top flight of whatever their sport, already far exceeding whatever I could achieve from the comfort of my own arm chair. It makes we wonder how even the person who came last could be deemed to be a failure. Probably the most famous person to come last was Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, yet for him the success was the fact that he was able to compete, and he had to overcome many obstacles in order to be able to do so.
To be World Champion, Olympic Champion, to be the best, requires being better than everybody else in the world literally. That generally means training harder than everybody else, putting in more hours than anybody else, sacrificing more than everybody else. This competition to train harder and harder and to give more and more is what takes the toll on people’s mental health. Because to be the best, you need to train so hard that other things have to be sacrificed. Early morning and late evening training become the norm, to the exclusion of all else. But that medal will make it all worth it, or will it? I have met many people who acknowledge that success in their sport or career has cost them their family or their marriage. Some regard that as a price worth paying, others not. A quick Google on ‘the cost of success’ will produce many motivational articles about the need to sacrifice all if one wants to succeed at anything, often mentioning that if a relationship needs to be sacrificed, then that is OK.
Just have a think about what it is you are good at, and then what it is that has made you so good. How far are you prepared to go to succeed? A little raw talent is never enough. That talent needs to be worked on and developed. I have found that generally, and I know it is not always helpful to generalise, that there are some people who are naturally talented at something, some who are average, yet work hard at the same thing, and occasionally some who are naturally talented and work hard. These are the ones who are usually the stars, the ones who stand out above all the rest.
You can lose a lot on the path to victory. Victory isn’t everything, but an Olympic gold medal will sit on your mantlepiece forever. And that’s the dilemma for so many, is the sacrifice worth the success? To this, there is no easy answer and everyone is different; and we never do this on our own. While we are all important as individuals, it is together that we make up our communities. We need everybody, and we depend on each other. As John Donne put it, ‘No man is an island’ (One of my school teachers would give a bonus mark for anybody that could fit that into an English essay). So when we press on towards our individual goals, be also mindful of the community of friends and neighbours around you.
So what about the spiritual part of success? The criteria of success here is completely different. Jesus tells us that all we need to do is believe in him. Believe that he died for our sins and rose from the dead. I’d argue that we are required to do more, to go to church, to love our neighbour; but that is because of our belief in him. There are no winners or losers in heaven, so there is no competition about who does or does not make it, there is room for all, we can all have a gold medal.