Whether it’s a great athlete or a great comedian, the truth is the same. The better they get, the less they care about results. That’s not to say they don’t care about winning, or about success—of course they do—it’s that the longer you do something, the closer you get to mastery, the less external results matter in terms of measuring progress.
The comedian Dave Chappelle has talked about how he hardly even cares about the crowd anymore, and definitely not the money. What matters to him is doing the thing, at getting closer to perfecting his craft—even if it’s in ways that the audience can’t even notice.
Early on in a career, because we don’t know much about it or ourselves, we use proxies to measure ourselves. We care about the critics or we care about stats or we care about getting this honor or that one. But the better we get, the more it becomes clear to us how little control we have over those things. The more experience we get, the more it is evident how little our best work actually correlates with getting those external achievements.
As Marcus Aurelius writes, “Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you.” But real success, real mastery, real sanity? That, he says, comes only by “tying it to your own actions.”
The better you get, the more you are able to tie your identity to the only thing that matters according to the Stoics: your own choices, your own work, your own judgement. Everything else? The better you get, the less it matters.
Less than 2 weeks left to sign up for our New Year, New You Challenge! As Epictetus once said: “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”
When are you going to fulfill that potential that’s just sitting there? Make 2021 that year.