Unsung Heroes: What if I Never Get the Appreciation I Deserve?

In our pursuit of excellence sometimes it can be difficult not to get caught up in wanting the limelight. We may become lost in our desires to be recognized and appreciated for the work we’ve done and the impact we’ve made. While this is not particularly a bad thing, it can become problematic if these things are the end goal. Below are three reasons why despite our best individual efforts towards excellence, we may not receive the praise we believe we deserve.

Previously Completed Accomplishments

Much of what we accomplish in life has already been done by someone that has blazed the trail. Many of us are conditioned early on that being a “follower” is bad and being a “leader” is good. However, it is inevitable that a significant part of your life will be spent conforming to norms that have been established by efforts of those that came before. We stand on the shoulders of giants and generation after generation is challenged to raise the bar once the baton is passed.

 Being Compared to Others

We seem to love record books and pioneering feats. Efforts to be the best version of ourselves may ultimately collide with the legacy of another person if we achieve that level of distinction. To some, this is an honor, but to others it can be daunting to walk in the shadows of someone else’s legacy. Also, some of our accomplishments might pale in comparison to others but this doesn’t make your impact less valuable. While I’m skeptical of the “Everybody Gets a Trophy” Approach, I am equally as skeptical about what seems to be an “If You Are Not First You Are Last” Approach. This approach may effectively stir people to exert maximum effort but it could greatly diminish the self-esteem of those that don’t reach that pinnacle.

 Lack of Attention

Sometimes people just aren’t paying attention. We live in a society that is, in large part, preoccupied with individual achievement. Therefore, people are often more focused on their own goals and journeys than they are with celebrating the successes of others. This breeds a competitive nature amongst individuals that is not always warranted or necessary. If one sees another’s achievement outpace their own they may be more inclined to try to achieve more rather than acknowledge, celebrate or even learn from that other person.

You might ask why these things matter. I believe it is important to center our pursuits of excellence on impact and personal development rather than accolades and affirmations. Doing so allows us to better position ourselves to make unique contributions to the world and positively affect our mental well-being. When we focus on the wrong things we fall victim to what I will refer to as, The Michael Jordan Effect.

Michael Jordan’s legacy as a basketball player is one that has reached mythological proportions. Countless individuals from multiple generations have tried to emulate his feats by trying to replicate his style and dominance but his legacy is almost impossible to surpass, even for other greats like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

While having a role model isn’t a bad thing, there must come a point where we pursue self-definition. When we are not intentional about carving out our own unique space in the world we become vulnerable to three clear dangers of The Michael Jordan Effect:

1. Chasing someone else’s dream

2. Chasing unrealistic standards

3. Walking in someone else’s shadow

As I was reflecting on writing this piece I had a conversation with my good friend he said, “It is easier, in some ways, to chase after other’s excellence because it lets you off the hook from having to chase your own.” Achieving the fullness of your authentic self is more fulfilling than being a replica of the excellence of someone else. The reality to life is that it more often requires us to be more like Robert Horry than Michael Jordan. We are expected to play various monotonous roles and stay calm and collected but still remain ready to step up in a clutch situation. Consistency coupled with discipline and preparation will allow you to capitalize when opportunity arises. This is true even if the excellence you pursue calls you to be more of a role player than the superstar!

Robert Horry did this better than anyone I can think of. In clutch playoff moments, he usually seemed to be in the right place at the right time when the ball came his way. Whether intentionally or by chance, he always knocked down the big shot, ultimately earning the nickname, “Big Shot Bob” (which he disliked). While his big shots helped bring home championships for his teams, had Robert not been excellent at what he did, the legacies of greats like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan could look differently. Essentially, he helped solidify the legacies of the superstars on his teams but that ultimately left him as an unsung hero. His individual statistics may not rival the NBA greats but he does stand atop the mountain with seven NBA championships, more than any modern-day player.

When I was a sophomore my high school football team was loaded with talent. With multiple division one prospects on the roster there were preseason hopes of a championship run. Despite all of the talent, we underachieved. Our season ended with a 7-3 record (which wasn’t bad but it was certainly less worse than expected) and a first-round playoff exit. The following year, with half the talent of the previous team, we finished with a 9-1 record and made it into the second round of the playoffs.

That year, our summer workouts and season carried the theme, “Be Accountable.” We even had shirts with this printed on the back. To us, this meant we were to be excellent at what we were supposed to be excellent at. If you were the quarterback, be the best quarterback. If you were the middle linebacker, be the best middle linebacker. You were to trust that everyone was on the same page because if you tried to make up for what you thought someone else was lacking, you would be out of position, therefore, leaving a void in the action. The ultimate goal was to win the game, not to become a star player.

There is a question that always resonates with me when I think about individual impact on the world.

Why are you doing what others can do when you have left undone what only you can do?

You are uniquely positioned and equipped to make an impact on the world that only you can. I encourage you to pursue that intentionally and urgently whether or not you are not recognized for your efforts. Let your purpose be the fuel that keeps you inspired.

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Written by Lamar Sykes

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