Robb Capital | Forbes & Entrepreneur Contributor | CMO at Marketing Real Estate
In ancient Greece, athletes, musicians and poets were presented with a crown of laurel leaves—a tree associated with Apollo and Zeus and considered to be sacred. Laurel crowns marked their accomplishments and signified victory, power and glory. The subsequent celebration and public adoration confirmed the specialness of the wearer—at least until a new champion was crowned.
Many winners mistakenly consider their achievement the end of the journey rather than a single step in the ascent to true greatness. The temptation to rest on one’s laurels affects everyone, but competitors, hungry for their own laurel crowns, do not rest or quit. Remaining king of the mountain is a daily battle with self-satisfaction, egoism and complacency.
Winners And The Truly Exceptional
In every human endeavor, there are those who set standards for greatness. Many golfers win tournaments, but only the best of the best win major championships. There are hundreds of company presidents directing businesses with billions of dollars in assets, but only a few—such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk—have changed the faces of whole industries. The difference between the good and the great is the latter’s constant pursuit of improvement, ignoring obstacles to reach goals that the average person considers “impossible.”
The capacity to be great is in everyone, but the challenge is in how to awaken one’s natural gifts. Resting on one’s laurels is a state of mind that is always self-defeating. Fortunately, there are principles and strategies that can be learned and practiced to counter the hubris of vanity and temporary achievement. Implementing this three-step process will remind you that the journey is just as important as the goal.
1. Rest and recharge.
Too many people focus on the ultimate objective, minimizing the achievements along the way. Athletes know that the best training method is a cycle of hard and easy sessions. Continuous maximum effort leads to failure and burnout. Runners in training cycle through days of speed work (sprints), endurance exercises (slow jogs) and then forced idleness, letting their minds and bodies recover before beginning the next cycle. Authors may spend days of continuous activity, writing four to six hours each day to complete a book, and then step away from the computer or office for an equal amount of time to regenerate their creativity.
Allowing ourselves to celebrate the small victories keeps us refreshed, motivated and moving forward. Everyone needs a break from time to time to rest and recharge. Temporarily indulging in the rewards of success is appropriate and even healthy, so long as the party ends before self-confidence degenerates to self-importance and turns enthusiasm into entitlement.
2. Recalibrate your goals.
A goal, once achieved, is no longer motivation but the confirmation of ability. As we grow and learn, our horizon of what is possible expands. What seemed impossible yesterday is achievable today and commonplace in the future. In the past century alone, humanity has taken to the skies and airways to shrink the world and solar system. Humans worldwide regularly celebrate their 100th birthdays, thanks in part to advances in medical technology. Dangerous physical labor is being reduced as intelligent machines replace humans, and so on.
Rather than rest on their laurels, winners pursue a series of escalating goals. Progress requires continuous monitoring, analysis and adjustment as goals are reached, and obstacles overcome. Understanding what works and why it works is as important as analyzing failure, and emphasizing the positive often minimizes the barriers to success.
3. Double down on mentors.
Growth comes from experience, whether personal or learned from another. Isaac Newton, in a letter to a friend in 1675 about his scientific breakthroughs, wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Very few people achieve greatness by relying only on their own effort and experience. Each of us benefits from the lessons of those who had walked the paths of success before us and shared the wisdom they gained.
Mentors—experienced and trusted advisers—provide those they advise with valuable lessons drawn from their own knowledge and advanced experience. There are many benefits to having a mentor, not the least of which is constructive criticism. Sometimes, success can blind a person to their own faults, sowing the seeds for failure over time if there is no one to guide them and help them refocus. Mentors also provide words of encouragement and act as sounding boards, enabling mentees to test their assumptions and logic. They encourage mentees to test themselves and stretch for goals that may at first seem out of their reach.