I took my daughter, Caroline, last week to the orthodontist. It’s time for our eleven-year old to get braces. She was not very excited about the idea. Still isn’t. But the doctor, Kevin, did a great job explaining to young Caroline why she needs braces and what her teeth will look like after twenty-four months of metal and rubber bands.
I enjoy learning people’s story. It’s like a trademark of mine. I don’t like to just meet people. I want to KNOW them. So, I asked Dr. Kevin when he knew he wanted to be in the metal and rubber band business.
I was surprised when he told me he was an English major in college. And even more surprised when he shared why.
When Dr. Kevin was only twelve years old his mother remarried. He was not happy about this. And he gave his new step-father, Tom, a run for his money. Tom was a journalist for the Fargo Forum in North Dakota. Tom stayed the course and, eventually, made a tremendous impact on his step-son’s life.
Ten years ago, at Tom’s funeral, there was a memorabilia wall in the back of the church honoring Tom’s life with photos, letters and clippings of news articles. Dr. Kevin was amazed what he learned about his step-father that day. Especially when he read an article pinned to the wall that Tom won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing early in his career.
“My step-father won the Pulitzer Prize and never told me,” exclaimed Dr. Kevin. “He won the biggest award in all of journalism and he never once talked about it!”
And then Dr. Kevin said something to me in his office, with young Caroline by my side, that made a heartprint on both of our lives.
“I never really understood the impact my step-father had on my life until I read that article. The fact that he never told me about his Pulitzer Prize, is a testament to the power of humility.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about this all week. If a thousand-people won the Pulitzer Prize, nine-hundred and ninety-nine would tell the world. But Tom chose not to.
People are always touting their accomplishments. From – I got this degree, award or recognition to the bumper sticker on the back of their car that claims “My child made the honor roll”. Why do we feel the need to boast our achievements? Even more, why do we define our careers and our lives by them?
I have struggled with this my entire live. Still do. Finding my value and worth in my accomplishments versus having value and worth in my self and relationships.
I lived in Australia for two years earning my MBA degree, nearly two decades ago. What I loved most about the Australians is their humility. Boasting, bragging and self-promotion is frowned upon in their culture. They have a name for it – Tall Poppy Syndrome. The nail that sticks out the tallest gets hammered down the fastest. The tall poppy syndrome is embedded in the Australian culture. People that promote their high status are resented, attacked, cut down and even criticized. Australians are not achievement driven. They are relationship driven.
I think the world needs to learn from the Aussie’s. And we need to learn from Tom.
Accomplishments are more powerful when other people tout them. Not the other way around. And we shouldn’t measure ourselves by awards and recognition, but by the people in our lives that we love and serve.
Achievements have more of an impact on the lives of others when you read them on the back of a church wall – Pulitzer Prize and all.