On Sunday, I watched the Women's Soccer World Cup match against Japan. As anyone who watched the game knows, the US women scored twice, only to have Japan promptly tie the score immediately after, and then lose in a 1 on 1 shootout in overtime. As the cameras panned over the heartbroken USA team, the announcer blithely announced that it was "a heartbreaking loss...one that will take them a very long time to get over."
What had struck me a few moments prior was a little patch on the sleeve of Team USA's jerseys that said "live your goals." As I watched the final moments of the game play out, part of me was empathizing with the women for coming so far, only to face a disappointing loss. On the other hand, I recognized how gutsy their performance as a team had been. You could see the crush of disappointment on each woman's face as the Japanese team celebrated - a disappointment that only came from the culmination of every iota spent in the pursuit of a goal. What braver thing to do than pour 100% of your time and effort into a pursuit, let alone the pursuit of something so great as a world title, with no guarantee of the outcome, and no one upon which to rely except yourself. The kind of confidence one must have in oneself, and the kind of hard work required to inspire such confidence, should be inspiration enough of their accomplishments. Would the USA women rather have won? Of course. But to make it that far - to reach that level of skill - they have truly lived their goals. They have every right to the disappointment they surely feel after a loss of that magnitude, but I hope that they disprove the commentator's prediction, and that they are able to reclaim the fire that they showed in that game and continue to love their sport. But to me, the lesson hit close to home. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes of all time:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
How often am I my own critic? How frequently am I guilty of reflecting not on my accomplishments, but my slip-ups, and imprisoning myself within unrealistic, or even impossible, expectations? Being self-critical has its place - it helps us discern the good from the bad, and build on that good to improve ourselves, both in athletic endeavors and in all other aspects of life. But sometimes that voice has to be pushed aside to remember that we are only human, and part of being human means accepting that life, more often than not, has less than perfect outcomes. There is a distinct difference, however, between perfection and accomplishment, and that is the difference to which our 26th President refers. Perfection is arbitrary and elusive where accomplishment is the inevitable result of unbridled perseverance. Accomplishment is the outcome of aspiration - the mental state that does not allow one to make excuses or take shortcuts but pushes oneself beyond preconceived limits.
Accomplishment is living your goals.