Not all accomplishments are equal, and not all accomplishments are duly recognized for what they are worth. For example, consider the driver’s license examination.
When you pass that test and are issued your license, everyone in your life congratulates you. It’s a big deal. A major step to adulthood and independence.
And the prize is one of the best that you will ever receive:
The freedom of unrestricted, self-selected vehicular movement.
The status that comes with being able to drive an automobile.
The sheer joy of sitting behind the wheel with the windows rolled down and the radio blaring your favorite song on a summer day.
It is a momentous occasion in the life of a young person.
Then two or three months pass and it’s over.
Nobody cares about your passing exam score anymore. Everyone around you is getting their license. Everyone older than you already has a license.
It become yesterday's news. Or worse, it was never really news at all.
Even the joy of driving has started to wane under the cost of gas and repairs, the annoyance of stop-and-go traffic and the erosion of the newness of driving. What was once one of your greatest accomplishments and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream has now become just another aspect of everyday life.
Nobody cares that you drive anymore. Not even you.
By contrast, I was a Truman Scholarship Finalist in 1998. I was one of eight college students in the country to make it to the final interview with the board of review.
Sitting in the waiting room with me that day were three students from Harvard, two students from Yale, a student from Dartmouth, and a student from Princeton.
I was attending Manchester Community College at the time.
I was outclassed, out-muscled and out-brained, yet somehow I had made it to the finals.
This was a major accomplishment.
I did not go on to win the Truman Scholarship. My journey to become a Truman Scholar ended that day in New York City, but just sitting in that room with those young men and women was an accomplishment worthy of recognition.
In contrast to my competitors, I was working 60 hours a week managing a fast food restaurant and serving as my college’s Treasure and President of the National Honor Society. The fact that I had made it as far as I did in the competition was remarkable, and yet after I lost, even I didn't consider my accomplishment noteworthy. I remember riding in a cab back to Grand Central Station that day thinking about how lousy second place felt.
How meaningless it was.
Throughout my life, I have been the king of second place finishes.
No one really cares about second place.
Not even me.
No one cares that I was a finalist for the Truman Scholarship.
No one cares that I passed my driver’s examination on the first try.
They did for a minute, but that was it.
Two major accomplishments long since forgotten, and for good reason.
There is great truth in the question, “What have you done for me lately?”