Going for the silver

Study of olympic athletes suggesting that Bronze medalists tend to be happier than silver medalists.

Likely because bronze medalists tend to compare themselves to all the people who didn’t place at all, while silver medalists tend to compare themselves to the gold medalist they lost out to. It’s sort of about what you consider to have been the most likely alternative outcome, the near miss that didn’t happen: is it that you just missed not placing at all, or that you just missed taking the gold?

That this applies to building other careers as well seems pretty obvious. It’s all about where one is drawing one’s comparisons.

Meaning it’s the difference between saying, “Cool, I got a personalized rejection!” and “Darn, the book didn’t sell!”

Or between saying, “Cool, I sold a book!” and “Darn, my book isn’t a bestseller.”

Or even, one supposes, “Cool, my book is selling hundreds of thousands of copies!” and “Darn, my book isn’t selling as well as those Harry Potter books.”

One wonders if one could learn to look in both directions at once. Because going for the gold is good for developing craft in one’s field and pushing oneself as hard as possible. But being devastated at not getting the gold when one still does truly admirable work hurts one’s craft, and one’s life as well.

Though better still would be learning to look inward, and to judge only against our own work. Tricky, sometimes oddly non-instinctive, but worth doing when one can. Because it’s harder to argue with with “I wrote the best book I possibly could,” really.

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