I earned a medal today.
I ran a half marathon. No, not a full one. That's a bit crazy. Just a half.
I didn't win, or come in second, or third. I don't think I was last. I have photo evidence of people behind me, so definitely ahead of last. Not that it would have mattered had I been last.
I didn't win my age group. Maybe there was some other category I won. I don't know how many professional philosophers were in the race, but, if I were the only one, then I perhaps won that. Perhaps.
I didn't really win in any classical sense of the word "win," but I earned that damn medal today. And I'm damn proud of that.
I didn't run today for the medal. Like I said, the value is intrinsic. But it is nice to get the medal, since it is always going to remind me of the fact that I did something difficult and I flourished in doing it, without having to actually flourish according to any objective metric for flourishing within the event.
I don't even like running. Does anybody? I suspect some people do. I don't know why. I certainly don't.
But, here I am, having run a half marathon, for the sake of running it, and now having a medal to show for it. And it all makes me so very happy.
This sense of joy in an event that you know you will succeed at regardless of what happens (I neither did a personal best, nor as well as I did during training, nor even as well as I did for the first 9 out of 13.1 miles) is a wonderful thing in a world where so much of what we do is dependent on metrics that are often impossible for most of us (only one person out of 200 applicants can get that dream philosophy job, only 5% get their papers published in that top journal, etc.) and that are so dependent on the judgments of others (you may think you are a much better philosopher than those search committees that didn't hire you or those blind reviewers who turned down your paper, and you are often right about that, but that's not how these things work).
I've definitely had my share of success in philosophy, but it has always been coupled with so much rejection and failure, that you forget how to be happy when you finally get to the success.
But this half marathon, I went in knowing I was going to succeed (at simply finishing), and even when I was in mile 10 and my legs were hating me, I still knew I was going to succeed (at simply finishing). And it was a great feeling knowing rejection and failure weren't likely possibilities.
This one time, I knew I was going to win (at simply finishing). And I loved it.
The fact that sometimes people don't see why it is so important to give kids medals just for competing is a bit bizarre. We all need such medals in our lives.
Because sometimes success lies in the activity, and where it does, we often forget to be joyous about that.