Be Proud But Not Satisfied

Some of the best advice that I can give about dealing with success and maintaining motivation is to "be proud but not satisfied."

Athletes face a dilemma when reaching success. Do they become satisfied and enjoy their success? Or do they skip the celebration and get back to work chasing new goals? It can seem like you have to choose between happiness in the present moment and continued long term success. Do you want to be happy now, but risk failure in the future? Or do you try to maintain success without ever getting the chance to enjoy it?

Fortunately, it is not an either-or choice. There is a way to choose both of these options! It just takes a certain attitude. This attitude is summed up with the phrase "be proud but not satisfied."

It's OK to be proud of your accomplishments. Being able to celebrate and feel good about yourself (and your team) is one of the main reasons why athletes train hard. All the hard work isn't worth as much if you are unable to enjoy your success. It is perfectly fine to be happy after reaching success. The only problem is when your happiness crosses the line and you become "satisfied," meaning you no longer need anymore success to be happy and fulfilled. If you are truly satisfied, then you won't have the motivation to continue to work hard and reach more success in the future. The problem with this is that no one is truly satisfied indefinitely. When you win a championship, you are thrilled. It is one of the happiest days of your life. However, these emotions don't last forever. After a few weeks, your excitement may die down. After a few months, your excitement lowers even more. After years, you may not even care anymore. Bragging rights only last one year. Once someone else has taken the title from you, your pride lowers drastically. 

The problem with this is that once you finally become "unsatisfied" and are motivated again, it is too late. You've already wasted too much time. While you were celebrating and taking time off to relax, you could have been training. During this time, your competition was working hard. By the time you get back to training, you are far behind and are usually unable to catch up to your competition. This often ends in a disappointing season.

To fix this, you have to maintain motivation after reaching success. You cannot be satisfied. After reaching success, you can celebrate and be happy for a day or two, but after this, you need to get back to work! After you reach your goals, you need to create newer, bigger goals in order to maintain your motivation to train hard. After one championship, strive for another. After a second championship, strive for a third. Always want more. Never be satisfied. Always find ways to challenge yourself, even when it seems like you've reached your peak and have accomplished everything.

Just like how you can be too satisfied, it is possible to be too "dissatisfied." If you are too extreme with your dissatisfaction and desire for future success, and you never celebrate for even an hour, then two things will happen. First, after you retire, you'll regret that you didn't enjoy yourself as much as you could have. These regrets can weigh more than a shelf full of trophies. After all, life is not just about collecting trophies. Life is more about collecting experiences and good memories. Your athletic career isn't as memorable if you never celebrate your success.

Secondly, being too dissatisfied can actually backfire and lower motivation. Athletes are sometimes afraid to celebrate because they don't want to lose their motivation for bigger goals. But ironically, if you never celebrate, you'll lose your motivation. Why should you work hard for a second championship if the first championship wasn't even that fulfilling? It is the memory of celebrating a championship that helps motivate you to get another one. You want that feeling again. But you can't want this feeling again if you never truly experienced it the first time. Athletes or coaches who are too dissatisfied and never celebrate eventually burn out because they never experience the happiness that is needed to balance out all of the stress of training.

As you may be starting to see, the answer, like to most of life's problems, is balance. You must balance satisfaction with dissatisfaction. Happiness with wanting more. In other words, be proud but not satisfied. One way to apply this wisdom is to give yourself a time frame for allotted celebration. After reaching success, give yourself a day or two (maybe even up to a week, depending on the level of success) to celebrate and be happy. During this time, live in the moment, celebrate joyfully, and share your happiness with your teammates, friends, and family. But after this, you need to create new goals and get back to work! You also need to be careful of celebrating too hard and emotionally draining yourself. Leave yourself some emotion to create new goals. As a coach, it can be a good idea to have a meeting with your team and warn them about the dangers of being too satisfied. During this meeting, your team can talk about new goals.

An important thing to understand is that happiness doesn't just come from these championship celebrations. One reason why athletes are OK with being dissatisfied is because they already get most of their happiness from the grind itself. When you love the process, you don't need a big celebration to justify all of the hard work. The process is a reward in itself. Loving the grind along with occasional celebrations is the best way to have a long, fulfilling career that provides many great memories.