‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; And treat those two impostors just the same.’
The quote above is taken from the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. I must admit that this line had confused me for many years. I couldn’t understand why Kipling was suggesting that we treat triumph and disaster just the same when we are taught exactly the opposite, that we should actively seek out opportunities to win in life and avoid disaster at any cost.
This is certainly what we are taught in academia. We are pleased when we receive high marks, proud when our books are published and celebrate when we obtain large research grants. But there is another side to this delight and that is the despair and disappointment that sets in when things do not go our way. When our marks are less than what we desired, when our manuscript is rejected and when we don’t get the research funding we applied for.
Although these might feel like entirely opposite experiences, there is actually some degree of overlap between the two. In both cases, that is the delight in our triumph and despair in our disasters, we have tied our sense of self to our achievements. One of the consequences of this is that our value and worth become entirely dependent on things outside of us.
While it is understandable to be delighted when things go our way and disappointed when they do not, neither should impinge upon our sense of self. For if we measure our value in relation to how much we achieve, we are setting ourselves up for a fall.
If we can begin to shift away from identifying ourselves with what we achieve, we will not only remove a major source of stress in our lives, it would allow us to reconnect with the passion and enthusiasm that drove us towards a particular path in the first place. It is easy to lose sight of this passion when we are busy chasing ‘success’.
It’s time to starting thinking of ourselves as valuable, not for what we do in the world, but simply for who we are, and to be grounded enough to weather our triumphs and disasters with an equal measure of grace.