It’s award time. At business school, it’s the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys all rolled together: scholarships, student awards and job offers are all hitting the table now for second-year MBAs.
It’s an awesome time to celebrate all the good things people have accomplished over the last year (kudos to MBA Cookie, who won a biggie). And if you win one of those awards, it’s wonderful validation that you’ve been doing something right.
But what if you don’t win anything? That’s a lot of no-validation coming your way, if you let it.
I’ve been on both sides of that fence. I’ve been the one up on stage getting the award and the applause and I’ve been the person sitting in the audience thinking, “What about all my hard work? Why wasn’t I good enough?”
It’s a lot more fun to win the awards, but I learned much more about myself and the world when I didn’t.
Sometimes not “winning” was the kick in the pants I needed to focus my efforts and set some goals. Seeing other people achieving things reminds me that it doesn’t just happen. You have to intentionally work toward the things you want, whether they are jobs, a high GPA or a perfect salsa spin.
But sometimes not winning simply means your goals and the awards being passed out simply don’t line up – and that doesn’t mean your goals aren’t laudable. For example, an art film director shouldn’t be upset about not winning an Oscar for special effects. It was never her goal to achieve the perfect car chase explosion scene. In the same way, an MBA student who came into school with the goal of switching careers or starting a business shouldn’t be all that concerned if she doesn’t win an academic award. Her focus and drive were directed elsewhere.
That’s easy to say and hard to live. So many of us on this track are competitive and externally motivated, and therefore not winning can feel like losing. That’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s simply that we chose not to compete in that arena. More often than not, the arenas we choose to compete in aren’t applauded. But that doesn’t mean the work isn’t important and fulfilling.
Life is about picking your arenas. You can pick them based on what the world values or you can pick them based on what you value. Sometimes the two overlap. Often they don’t. The trick is being wise enough and brave enough and strong enough to measure your worth on your own terms. Not the world’s.