The Day "Success" was Completely Redefined.
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
The day was 2nd August, 1992 and it was in the summer Olympics, Barcelona, where Derek Redmond completely redefined success. The semi-final of the 400m sprint was underway and Redmond was more determined than ever to win a medal, he certainly was one of the strongest competitors in his category. The race went off to a pretty standard start where Redmond was ahead. But almost halfway into the race, and in just one moment, thinks took a completely different turn for Redmond where he tore his hamstring and fell on the race track, unable to compete further. And in that single moment, his chances of winning the race had become naught. All his life’s work, the training and things that defined him as a person and gave him meaning and motivation was taken away from him, in that single moment.
What made this moment iconic is not that he had an injury but what happened immediately following the injury. He got up, fighting through the pain from not just his torn hamstring but the fact that everything he sacrificed for this race had been for nothing. He kept trudging forward in pain and, his dad made it to the track through the huge crowd to tell him he doesn't have to do this. But he was very determined to finish that race, regardless of how long it took him. The fact that he kept moving forward in spite of the huge difficulty thrown at him and went on to finish the race is what made that moment iconic and an inspiration for all of us. It gives a strong message to keep moving forward in the face of adversity. While this message is truly inspiring for millions of people, as it should be, I want to focus on something else from that day. Something equally as inspiring but greatly overlooked.
By every measure of that race, Redmond was far from successful. What the race committee and organisers see is a number and that number alone defines success. This number as you would guess, is the time it took to finish the race. This definition is all too familiar in not just Olympic races but in every walk of life. Be it exams scores for students or critic's review scores for artists or article citations for scientists. In every walk of life, people are subjected to a number that is meant to capture their success in their respective fields.
Redmond was the highlight of not only that race but the 1992 Olympics itself. Which is very confusing because he's far from a winner in that race. What do you call a person that received a standing ovation from 65,000 people and is remembered to this day as an inspirational figure and is invited to give talks about that day in hopes to continue to inspire many more with his story? Here we see success being redefined.
Redmond’s story is just one of many that illuminate how deeply we have misunderstood what success really is. What we have done is defined success by a single number and while this is a very convenient way to define and rank many individuals in all walks of life, it doesn’t capture the full story at all. What I want to achieve through this blog post is not a criticism on that number but a change in perception of what that number means. Our misunderstanding of what that number means has truly become toxic because we take it to mean everything when it fact, it only means one thing and that is your metric in a very specific aspect of something, made up by people who only care about that one aspect. That is all this number is meant to say, but because of our misunderstanding and overestimation of what that number means, recruiters as well as ourselves only look at that number – missing out on all other aspects which also define success but isn’t captured by that number.
There is a big another big illusion amongst society which Redmond's story illuminates. People don’t react to your number but to your story. Take your favourite character in any movie - the reason that this character is memorable to you is not because they excelled in everything they did with zero obstacles thrown at them. You remember them because of the fact that they kept pushing forward inspire of the obstacles. People care about the winners but they care an infinite amount more about the story. And this is because it is the story which captures other aspects of success, those that people care an infinite amount more about. Because who remembers the winner from Redmond’s race in the semi-final of the 400m sprint in the1992 summer Olympics in Barcelona? Who even remembers the winner in the final?
Success is not your number. Success is your story.