On Hard Work and Achievement
by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 04/21/15
I remember when I was first studying psychology in college we talked about how people have different needs, including a need for affiliation, a need for power, and a need for achievement. I recall that the need for achievement was the one that spoke to me. I never felt a need for power, despite ultimately being VP and then President of the Graduate Students Association, and then serving five years as president of my county's professional organization later on. I enjoyed serving on these boards and being involved in my profession, but was certainly not seduced by power to climb higher and throw my weight around.
And while I love and value my relationships with others, as an only child who is often a loner, the need for affiliation didn't speak to me. I know I need people in my life, and I have some dear friends who have been there for me for decades who I love very much, but I value my alone time and have never been one to strive for being the life of the party or ask a friend to tag along while I run errands.
It was that need for achievement that has always hit home for me. I was a bright kid who learned to read on my own and did well in school. My family didn't have a ton of financial resources, and I'm proud of my public college (CUNY) Bachelor's degree and always saw the value in paying for most of my own education, striving to reach that goal even if and when it wasn't easy. In my adult life I have pursued and obtained two post-doctoral degrees and set up what I consider a successful career in that my colleagues respect me, and I often hear that my reputation precedes me. Mine is not a household name, but when a colleague refers her own relative or friend to me, it warms my heart. I have achieved what I set out to achieve. I am not famous, but my work is respected, and that, to me, is a worthy achievement.
I just came back from a weekend in Las Vegas, where I went to see the FEI Jumping and Dressage competitions. For those who don't know, these are international equestrian competitions, the top riders in the world, on the most incredible horses worth millions of dollars. The horses jump fences of five feet or even higher, or engage in the dance of Dressage with their riders, moving their hooves in beat with the music and performing dozens of intricate movements that should not be possible from such huge animals. It was an adrenaline ride for sure, to see up close the riders and horses I've read about in magazines. Akin to watching Babe Ruth hit a home run.
I have a visceral reaction watching things like this--Olympics (in which many of these riders have performed in the past), Super Bowls, the final World Series game, the person finishing their degree, the performer winning that Oscar or Grammy. The team wins, and I get choked up. I don't get choked up like that watching romantic movies (that would be that need for affiliation) nor do I long for absolute power, but when a rider and horse jump a clean round (no rails knocked down), or scores a full ten points higher than her nearest competitor in Dressage and the crowd goes wild, the throat closes, the tears well up, and I feel I suppose a fraction of the pride that that winner does. And for those who have a disappointing experience, I choke up as well, thinking about all it took to get to this place, all the training and hard work, to go home disappointed, but yet also certainly feeling accomplished to have competed at such a high level and ready to do it again.
I will never jump five feet on a horse, I'm barely brave enough to jump 12 inches. I will never ride a million dollar horse, although school horses at lesson barns are worth at least that in their kindness, ability to teach us amateur riders, and forgiving nature when we do something wrong and they do their jobs anyway. When I do accomplish something on Dozer, my favorite old school horse who loves to be playful and silly and enjoys his job tremendously, maybe I feel fraction of the elation that the riders this weekend felt. What a rush it must have been to come from all over the world to compete with the top of the top. You have to wonder how high that need for achievement is in Olympic athletes, record breakers, Super Bowl winners....exponentially higher than it is in most of us, I'm sure. But we love to watch, because we love to live vicariously through them, wondering what it must feel like to stand in the winners' circle, get that medal or trophy, or take that victory gallop. As I rode this morning, and my buddy Dozer was behaving well and enjoying his job, and I was trying to channel the riders I had watched all weekend, I felt good. My goals as a rider are to improve my skills, strengthen my muscles, and have fun. Achieving those goals and having a good ride feels good. Even though I'll never win a trophy.
During one competition, a rider was waiting for her scores, and her horse, as if he knew we were there to see him, raised his head and looked out into the crowd, and I swear he smiled. The crowd laughed at his facial expression, some of us assuming he had seen himself on the Jumbotron, and attributing some anthropomorphized emotion to his reaction. Either way, we wanted to believe that this million dollar equine felt proud of himself and enjoyed the adoration and cheers he was getting from us. We wanted to share in that achievement and the pride he and his rider may have felt. For most of us in the audience, it was as close as we would ever come to such a rush. And what a rush it was.