Michelle Kwan may no longer be a household name. I am not even sure if many millennials remember her. She is probably the most decorated figure skater to have ever graced an ice rink. I watched her rise from a skinny teenager at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics to a confident two-time Olympic medalist, a 9-time US Champion and a 5-time World Champion and dozens of other titles in between. Anyone with this many honours should pat themselves on the back. Being as famous as she was, she was the favourite to win the Olympics in both Nagano (1998) and Salt Lake City (2002). For some reason, however, that Olympic gold medal proved to be elusive. More than anything, she wanted that gold medal to prove to her parents and friends that she was a true champion. An Olympic gold medal meant more than any other championship, not a US title or the being the best in the world from a World Championship. But that gold medal was just not meant to be. After withdrawing from the 2006 Torino Olympics, Michelle Kwan’s name gradually disappeared from our news coverage. But her experience is a lesson for me and probably for many others.
We sometimes work very hard to chase after a coveted prize, the so-called highest honour in a profession or an academic field. We even become blinded by the glitter of this prize so much that we forget the importance of our work and many accomplishments along the way. To get to this elusive prize, we are willing to sacrifice years of our life and countless sleepless nights. The Olympic gold medal in the academia is the Nobel prize; likewise the highest honour in Hollywood is the Oscar. But should a person’s entire career be judged by one award? Should an elite athlete’s worth rests solely in a piece of metal? Should a scientist’s worth be dictated by the vagaries of a selection committee? The answer is no. These prizes mean nothing if you do not already have a record of achievement, a heart dedicated to the profession and a desire to help others achieve. What is important is practicing your profession for the love of it and doing your personal best. Certainly, the rest will follow even if it’s not an Olympic gold medal or a Nobel or an Oscar.
To be able to compete at Michelle’s level and win every championship known to the figure skating world is beyond ordinary ability, more so than winning an Olympic medal, which depends on too many variables. To have her level of consistency is remarkable. Besides leaving a huge legacy, she has also inspired a generation of young women to pursue figure skating. She has every reason to be proud of herself despite not winning the Olympic gold. She is already the champion in everyone’s heart. More than a decade later, her name is still the one we remember and talk about, not the other Olympic medalists’.
There is a reason why some things in life are elusive. What is not yours should never be yours. That is because you are much more than the prize you are chasing after.