Success is about more than just Olympic gold medals

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Ever since Michelle Kwan announced her decision to withdraw from the Olympics, all we’ve heard from the media is how tragic her story is. True, Michelle has been on the quest for the so-called “elusive” gold medal for about a decade. Indeed, it’s saddening to hear of all the injuries that she’s sustained in her noteworthy journey. However, we must consider that maybe withdrawing from the Olympics may not be as bad as the press makes it out to be.

They say that it’s better to fail than to not try at all. In Michelle Kwan’s case, she tried, she didn’t fail, but she didn’t win the Olympic gold medal either. In the minds of her fans, Michelle is a winner.

If anything, Michelle Kwan’s big decision to withdraw from the Olympics tells us that it’s okay to just walk away. Sometimes, something as great as the opportunity to win the Olympic gold medal is worth passing up when circumstances prevent you from doing the things that you want. I’m not going to lie, though. Seeing Michelle courageously face the media with tears glistening in her eyes was hard for me too. It’s difficult — if not downright discouraging — to see someone walk away from the very thing she’s worked so hard and so long to achieve.

Seeing someone’s dream getting crushed is a disheartening feeling. It makes you wonder whether we ourselves are chasing after our own elusive gold medal. And if we are, should we just give up, or continue plowing bravely forward, knowing that the chance for failure greatly exceeds our one and only chance for success?

I find the concept of the American Dream to be unrealistically optimistic. According to this model, as long as someone is dedicated and hard-working, in the end, anything is possible. Based on this model, all dreams can come true, regardless of how extraordinary they are. All you need is “x” and “y” to reach “z”. It’s as simple as that — until reality sets in.

I’m not saying that the American Dream is impossible. If anything, hard work and dedication will get you results. Results in what, though, vary by the magnitude of the dream, and are to be determined on an individual basis.

What people need to realize is that the American Dream is merely a model for success, and as a model, it fails to consider the occurrence of random events such as injuries, deaths, or other hardships.

No model is perfect. No dream is unachievable. What these two seemingly contrary ideas tell us is that life is just a series of random events, thrown together so that sometimes you end up with a winning streak, and other times your luck runs out.

In Michelle’s case, it wasn’t that she didn’t work hard enough. It wasn’t that she wasn’t 100 percent committed to her goal. Her luck simply ran out at an inopportune moment. Nevertheless, her humble exit from the race for the esteemed gold medal proved that at that moment, Michelle Kwan was not someone who gave up out of fear, but someone who bowed out gracefully out of respect for the game. That in itself is worth more than a hundred Olympic gold medals.

Not everyone can be an Olympic gold medalist. Not everyone ends up being the CEO of Microsoft. But when people like Michelle Kwan get passed up for a gold medal, I find it more and more difficult to believe that hard work and perseverance is the formula for success. Especially because the Olympic gold medal is such a prestigious symbol of achievement, when it is denied to a highly-deserving individual, for me, the gold medal starts to lose its value and appeal. After all, we should know by now that greatness cannot be reflected in a single piece of cold, hard metal.