Define Success: Two Olympic Heroes

How do you define success for yourself? One brilliant moment, or do you strive to leave a legacy of small victories over a lifetime?

How many of you know who Jesse Owens is? Yes, he’s a major figure in American history. In 1936, Jesse won the Gold Medal in the 100 meter dash at the Berlin Olympics in Germany. Now, winning the 100-meter is not normally a historic event, unless that winner is you, I suppose.

But in this case, this was Nazi Germany, pre-WWII. Hitler was in power. And he’d come to power in part based on his whole Master Race theory. So, Jesse winning that race, basically shot a hole in that theory. It was a major embarrassment for Hitler and just an iconic moment in history.

And, of course, Jesse then got the hero’s treatment. Got the ticker tape parade. Got his face on the Wheaties box. First African American to do that. And got written into the history books. Most Americans have heard of Jesse Owens, and I expect will continue to hear about him for that unique moment in history.

There’s a more interesting story in that race for me, though, and that is the guy who came in second. He defines success for me. His name is Ralph Metcalfe. Ralph Metcalfe won the Silver Medal in 1936.

Jerry Seinfeld has a funny bit about the silver medal. He says, “Yeah, that silver medal. I don’t know. It’s like, ‘Congratulations, you almost won!’  ‘Of all the losers … you’re the best!'”

But that was not the case with Ralph Metcalfe. And the reason was, he had a strong sense of purpose. Ralph’s stated purpose in life was to serve. To serve others. To serve his country. And you can see that throughout his entire life.

After the Olympics, Ralph got his master’s degree. He served in WWII. He served as a collegiate track coach for a while. He became a successful businessman in Chicago.

Then, in 1949, he went into public service. He was the first African American alderman elected in Chicago, and ultimately went on to be elected to five terms in congress. And during his whole public service career, the thing he was known for was always being focused on helping people, on helping them improve their lives. So he just served and served and served, and it all came from that core purpose. He was able to define success for himself.

Now, when Jesse Owens died, it was a big story. But most of the talk was about “that moment”, that golden thing he had done 40 years earlier. When Ralph died, they mentioned his past, but most of the talk was about what he’d done since then, and what he might yet have done had he not passed away when he did.

Both Jesse and Ralph accomplished great things. But if I had to choose for myself, at the end of my life looking back, between being Jesse with a historic achievement 40 years in my past, or being Ralph, having accomplished great things 40 years ago, but still feeling my best was yet to come, I’d choose Ralph.

Jesse left us that historic moment. Ralph left a legacy.

I think Ralph offers better lessons for the rest of us because very few people get the chance to make history. But every single one of us can build a legacy. And the way to do that is, Clarity, Intention, Attention, Focus.

Define success for yourself: First, get Clarity on what you really want for yourself, for your family, for your life. Then, Intention. Break that vision down into waypoints, into markers you can reach — and that remind you you’re on your path. Then, come up with specific actions you intend to take to reach those waypoints. And, finally, Attention and Focus. Work your plan. Avoid the distractions. Adapt when necessary. Keep moving forward.

That’s the formula. And it’s all wrapped up in your purpose. Just like with Ralph Metcalfe, a strong purpose guides you from waypoint to waypoint, supports you through the whole process, and pulls you forward toward your dreams. That’s the way to build a legacy. And it will change your life.

So that’s what I hope for you, and what I want to leave you with today. Be like an eagle. No more winging your way through life. Find your purpose, define success. Work the four building blocks. Start building that legacy. And you’re on your way.

P.S. Want to learn more about this? Here’s a free excerpt from the book “Do Eagles Just Wing It?

This entry was posted in career, leadership, outcomes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>