In some corners of Twitter, who is “The Prize” has become an official battle royale of sorts. In one corner, we have those convinced that women are the prize – after all, they are the fairer and sought-after sex.
On the other side, we have those that insist that since men are, in general, the providers, protectors, and leaders, they wear the crown of the most prized. These are both solid positions, rife with entertaining debate and conversation.
But on a more serious note, what is this argument really about? And, what can we learn from it?
I remember years ago, while coaching my son’s basketball team, him coming up to me and excitedly sharing the news he just heard: “Daddy! If we win the tournament, we get a trophy!” Smiling, I responded, “Yes, my son, you do get a trophy. But the real goal is working hard, and winning, not the trophy.” Honestly, he was confused. In his mind, the purpose of practicing his free throws and layups was to bring back that shiny, golden statue–the prize. He couldn’t understand how the trophy was merely a symbol of his victory and not the purpose of the victory itself.
And this understanding was befitting of a 9-year-old starry-eyed boy. But as he matured, he laughed at this exchange, realizing that the reason we put in so much effort is to be the best we can be, and reap the pleasure of that hard work. Not for the shiny, plastic trophy which will ultimately sit on his shelf for a few years and then eventually be sold in a future garage sale.
When we apply this lesson to our relationships, we understand that on some level, we all want to be desired. We want to be seen, valued, and appreciated for our worth, for who we are as people. Most of us spend a lot of time polishing our outward appearance and persona so as to be most attractive and appealing, on social media, at work, and in our real, personal lives. We want to be seen as “the prize.”
But sometimes, we mistake our external worth – our shiny, beautiful appearance, for what’s really important – the values and character traits that make us special. It is not always our accomplishments and status that make us valuable. Most of the time, it is the lessons we’ve learned along the journey we’ve taken that really make us shine. Courage, strength, perseverance, patience, love, vulnerability, fear, and humility. These are the ingredients of a true catch, a true prize.
I saw an interview with Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame a few years back. The journalist was sitting face to face with a man worth north of one-hundred billion dollars–Jeff made more money during the brief 15-minute chat than he did the entire year, by a wide margin. At one point, the journalist asked “You have become the wealthiest man in the world – is that a title you really wanted?” Jeff’s response was eye-opening to me: “I can assure you I never sought that title….I would much rather if they said ‘inventor Jeff Bezos or entrepreneur Jeff Bezos or father Jeff Bezos. Those kinds of things are much more meaningful to me.” Obviously, Mr. Bezos is a man who had his eye on the prize, but not for the prize itself.
On a deeper level, when we forgo the prize, or even the race for the prize, something remarkable happens–we achieve self-acceptance. And this is where the magic happens. Because once we accept ourselves, once we understand who we are – our strengths and our weaknesses – and come to terms with our humanity, that’s when we can love ourselves, unconditionally. This doesn’t mean that we don’t see our faults or even gloss them over. It doesn’t mean we don’t continue growing and striving. But what it does mean is that we fully separate our self-worth, our inherent, G-dly worth, from our accomplishments. We see and love ourselves for the work-in-progress that we are, today. We realize and internalize that we are worthy and deserving of love, exactly the way we imperfectly are, right now.
And it is from this place of true self-acceptance, true humility, that we invite and allow others to deeply connect with us, and to love us as well. Because authentic, confident, genuine people are the kind we love to be around, love to open up to, and love to befriend. Our strength in our vulnerability – that is the most attractive part of who we are – the part that everybody desires and wants a piece of – the true “prize.”