Tuesday Morning Press 18 — Achievement Vs. Recognition


One of my favorite moments in the film, “A Beautiful Mind” was when the Judd Hirsch character Dr. Helinger (who was the department chair at Princeton where Russell Crowe’s character, the protagonist John Nash), took an agitated and confused doctoral candidate Nash to the mathematics department tea room at the university.

In the hallway just at the entry to the tea room, Helinger and Nash discussed Nash’s lack of work, which resulted in threatening his PhD candidacy as well as his appointment to a coveted position at the prestigious Wheeler Institute at MIT after attaining said PhD.

Helinger interrupted Nash’s clucking and excuses and barters for more time and he tersely instructed him to look at a gentleman, presumably a senior mathematics professor of some countenance sitting alone at a table covered by a draping ecru linen tablecloth in this gorgeous room of soaring coffered ceilings, wrought iron glass windows, Norman moldings, and cherrywood walls.

What they were witnessing was “the ceremony of the pens” which I just learned this very second upon researching it that it was completely fictitious. Well… that sort of blows the moment, doesn’t it?

ANYWAY, in the now-discovered fictitious moment (despite its significance to me and this post — this revelation is totally killing my buzz on the movie, by the way), the ceremony was to make big noise deal to smart someone teacher long time who’d done has math real good at college the.

Shit, I don’t even feel like writing well anymore.

What the what?! Really? Resist urge to edit and start all over. This is not what I do… I write IN the moment.

Excuse me a moment. Please hit play:

ONWARD… there is a point to all this: Nash is frantic, begging for more time; Helinger essentially says shut up and watch the now entirely fictitious frigging ceremony of the #)(%@_! pens.

When the fictitious ceremony was over, Helinger immediately asked Nash what he saw. Nash supposedly blurted reflexively, “recognition.”

Helinger supposedly corrected him and firmly said, supposedly thrusting his fake right fist, “No. Achievement.”

Hell, I don’t know what to believe. Curse you, director Ron Howard! I do know that Hirsch did thrust his fist for emphasis at the Nash character in that building when the cameras were rolling to show a moment of truth whilst witnessing a completely made-up ceremony at an Ivy-League university.

On Mars.

The point is, as it doesn’t matter what I’ve researched since starting this post (honestly, I was just trying to get the name of the Hirsch character and to learn the real name for the fake ceremony of the pens), is that achievement is more important than recognition.

Because Judd Hirsch said so.

This brings me to my current moment of self-actualization (and  the post would’ve been a lot shorter had the entire ceremony not been made up…I’m letting this go…NnnnnnNnN).

My point: yes. Achievement matters more than recognition. Recognition is a construct of the ego; it requires outside validation and external gratification and it will hardly ever be enough; it’s constant and never ending. Think Madonna. Think Schwarzenegger and Stallone at the Golden Globes:

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 10.33.18 AM

Better yet… don’t. My apologies. Wow. That’s gonna stay in my mind for a while.

It’s all well and good to want to be recognized for our work; but that shouldn’t be the goal.

Achievement is an actual experience: it is quantified and reliable internally and measured by a sense of accomplishment and pride by creating something or doing something that matters to us. It is largely a private experience. Achievement and accomplishment can build upon themselves as well and that’s good. We want to feel good about what we do; it’s nice… but does lack of recognition invalidate our achievements? No. Who cares if no one notices. Really… think about it. Like this: because that pens ceremony was completely made up does its message take away its significance? Maybe. No.

So this leads me to another self-acutalization, not based on a fictitious ceremony (sorry, I’m still pretty steamed about that): in order to build more pride and more enthusiasm for what we do (I’m really talking to myself here, you’re just sticking around to see if I come up with anything of any real value): we need to feel good about what we have done. I’ve been noticing this:

When someone asks me what I do, I usually sigh-speak, “I am a SAHM, but…” and that’s wrong. I need to build value and esteem into what I do here as a mother of three boys, because guess what: this gig is tough. I vacillate on this, clearly, I’ve written about it before, but the point is this, and I’m feeling closer now than the last time I dipped in this pool: I’m doing a good job. My kids are healthy, smartasses, and clever. They have friends, they have outlets and they don’t return the tools they borrow or bring their laundry down. This is all normal behavior. RIGHT?!

Instead of kicking a rock every time I think about the entirely huge reality that my book won’t outsell the Bible (especially not if I never publish it a*hem, Molly…) I need to be OK with the fact that I wrote one because that’s a big deal. (But… it would be nice to put it to bed and see what happens… Nnnn. That’s semi-recognitionistic isn’t it?)

These are the ideas that are floating around my head since giving up Facebook for Lent. I’m pretty cool with that decision; I haven’t thought in status-update mode yet today.

So here we are. Feel good about what you Have Done so that you will feel good about what you Will Do. We all have to start somewhere. I’m not looking for a pen medal (that’s good, because now I feel better that John Nash doesn’t have all those pens because… that would be wrong). But Nash did win the Nobel Prize in 1994.

I’m looking for self-satisfaction. That’s tough these days what with everyone seeking their 15 minutes of fame. It’s hard to know the difference. Or it used to be… I think I’m getting a handle on it. Self-satisfaction with personal achievement means you’re good with what’s going on; that if you kicked the bucket, you’d be OK with how your life has turned out, based on your own assessment.

If you haven’t seen the film, you should. It’s largely true; Nash did have schizophrenia and he has overcome it, and he is still affected by hallucinations. Here’s a nice moment that likely never happened:

The take away is this: be happy and proud of what you’ve done. If nothing else: it keeps the flow of good energy going in the universe and that, my friends, is HUGE.

Thank you.

18 responses »

    • oh! thanks, Kim! i hope it brought you some peace or clarity… it was fun to write. i didn’t start it out that way. sometimes, well, i’m grateful now that it was a fake ceremony or i wouldn’t have had as good a time with it. i hate it when i get too serious. xoxo

  1. This is such a funny post about a very serious topic. I have been chuckling all the way through it. I think the distinction between achievement and recognition is incredibly hard to make sometimes. Even in the movie, the achievement is validated through the recognition. Without recognition the achievement may not be attained. For instance, without some recognition or validation of your writing at some point in your life you may never achieve writing a book. On some level, our achievement is reflected back to us through the eyes of others recognizing our talent. It’s positive reinforcement. It encourages us to do more of whatever we are doing. At the same time, achievement without recognition is still valid and important. I fixed the roundabout in our kitchen yesterday with my tools. Nobody noticed or cared, but I am still really proud of it. It’s so complicated and blurry. Our culture is set up so that achievement can only happen after recognition. There are people on the brink of scientific discovery, but without recognition from others they may not get the financing they need to do it. If you want to be president of a company you will need to be recognized by the company for your achievements in order to keep achieving. Fame can open all sorts of doors to achievement. Look at Paris Hilton or any celebrities. Through recognition they have more opportunities for achievement. The worst part is we recognize the wrong achievements and just keep giving those people more opportunities instead of putting the recognition on important achievements. I am rambling. I hope this makes a small amount of sense. Great post. Really thought provoking!

    • yes, i believe that they feed each other. why do we work: for money and that’s recognition. why do we work harder? for more money… but then… if it’s no fun, or it doesn’t bring us *some* form of growth, then what’s the point? me… i’m one of those people who you *might* want to gag at a cocktail party. i’m fun and i’m deep, but sometimes i just wanna leave me at home.

      it ended up being a kick in the pants to write this post. everything unfolded as i wrote it. as you know, that’s my gig: i write in the moment, i discuss the cleaning ladies, i drop a pen, i find out something is fallacy and keep going. gotta make lemonade.

      you make excellent points, especially about the scientific stuff; Nash was obsessed — i don’t think he did half of what he did because he was totally in it for the recognition because even though the competition portrayed in the film was real, it wasn’t that competitive, apparently. everyone had their own boxes to check and so it was more about the communal good than independent greatness (as i’ve read in the multiple articles debunking the film…NnnNNnnn).

      paris hilton. >gasp!< Lillian! i hope she has a shred of talent; i want to believe she does. she's famous because she has money which enables her to get access to events and stand on a red carpet. but i know where you are going. yes: fame helps. and if famous people use their powers and recognition for good over evil, then they have my heart and best wishes. but, if they are boneheads like Kanye, i dunno.

      i am glad you chuckled through it. i certainly didn't intend it to be so silly, but yes… i am really glad it ended up as much.

  2. Really love this post! I have so many of the same feelings!

    First favorite part:
    Instead of kicking a rock every time I think about the entirely huge reality that my book won’t outsell the Bible (especially not if I never publish it a*hem, Molly…) I need to be OK with the fact that I wrote one because that’s a big deal.

    —Why does it have to outsell the Bible?? And, it is a big deal to write a book!! Congratulations!!!

    Second favorite part:
    Self-satisfaction with personal achievement means you’re good with what’s going on; that if you kicked the bucket, you’d be OK with how your life has turned out, based on your own assessment.

    —I love “based on your OWN assessment”, so important and gets so easily lost!!


    • Hiya HappyFamilyTravels!! you ranked favorite moments! HOW COOL ARE YOU?!

      it has to outsell the Bible because that’s the most popular book ever. (which i have many copies of but have never actually read: i always get hung up in Numbers, aka, “the begats” but i will allow myself to concede that many copies of the Bible sit unread in hotel rooms, and some creepy ones at that.) but yes, i do need to allow myself some perspective.

      yes — our own assessments: this is the key. “compare and despair” they say…

      thank YOU for stopping by and taking a moment to share your thoughts!


    • Patti! ditto me. these little moments help keep me in check. we’ve been conditioned to look at the report cards. look for the As. that’s how we stand out… but that’s not the true test of the lemonade… an A is important; but so is happiness… so hard at times, though, huh? it’s all in us. we make our own happiness. or we try at least. 😉 xo

  3. I loved this. What an important lesson. We had our eldest daughter when we were dumb barely-out-of-our-teens kids, who had not business having sex or a baby. Anyway, we fumbled through raising her and had a couple more, when we felt more capable–whether or not we were remains up in the air. When said child graduated from high school last year, a fancy-schmancy private school offered her a scholarship. I’m not gonna lie, we did a lot of of dancing, high-fiving, and cheering, because it was not only a recognition or how exceptional she is, it was kind of like a validation of our parenting efforts. Our baby is on the fast track to prison, though, so the afterglow was short lived.

    Anyway, enough about me. Writing a book?? Freaking awesome. Even if no one ever reads it, you WROTE A FREAKING BOOK. Raising three boys? Wow. Have you taken a look at some of the grown men in our society? I take raising boys very very very seriously, cause I sure don’t want to send another jerk into society. You’re raising three. God bless you.

    • Your daughter is a testament to your commitment. Your baby is not an indication of any lack of commitment, but s/he is a different soul, with a lesson to learn. Be good to yourself. Dynamics exist that we can’t control so I try to do what I can to beat the crap out of myself for not being strong enough, quick enough, smart enough, psychic enough and tough enough. They, these people we raise, have a way of making their own way whether we like it or not.

      As for raising boys, I am with you. We have enough of an “advantage” (not) of raising three white American males…. It will be harder for them in the 21st century than it ever was for my father and my brothers. I call them “gentlemen” and I insist on kindness above all, which is hard for me to decipher as the sole female in the house and in my family of origin. My mom was an elegant woman, very smart, but not terribly strong, so I have come to associate her brand of femininity with weakness, how inaccurate I was! She just chose her battles, based on her abilities, so she was …. Efficient, loyal to herself. Hard to explain, but I had a few female role models and they were only human too, so I am trying my own way. My boys are good kids, slightly spoiled, but rewarded for their achievements and I know the world they inhabit is different than my younger world, so it’s harder in different ways.

      But above all, they must perform and be honest. I accept nothing else… And when they fail at that, then they face my wrath. I’m not cool with dishonor and deceit.

      Thanks for reading what I write. I love these exchanges.

  4. Worse news … Hellinger was also fictitious. In fact, most of the movie is fictitious. Nash never had visual hallucinations (schizophrenics rarely do). Nash and Alicia divorced, and only remarried again after the film was made. Oh, and Nash didn’t win a Nobel prize, but co-won an economics prize sponsored by the Bank of Sweden and administered by the Nobel commission.

    • Gah!!!! Nooooo! You mean to say that Hollywood has stretched the truth? I learned of discrepancies in “American Sniper” as well and then some crazy elaborations or half-truths in “Unbroken.” Why can’t these stories be enough on their own?

      Thank you for sharing your news. 😊

      Thanks also for reading and even more: commenting!


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