One of my dreams as a freestyle player was being named Player of the Year (POTY). Winning big titles was important too, but there was something special about the idea of being POTY. The one person people remembered as making the most impact in a given year.

Usually these awards are subjective, so you never know whether you’re making the right impact. In freestyle, there were years when I thought I had done enough, when I was named to the shortlist but not given that coveted POTY honor.

I remember being disappointed, wondering what more I needed to do for it to be enough. Why others were being seen in ways I wasn’t. Yup,like most people I have an ego that likes attention. Among those of us who aspire to high performance, the ego’s voice is often way too loud.

In the end, I was named POTY. I might have even won it more than once. I don’t remember. As lovely as that POTY pat on the back was, the feeling was fleeting. It wasn’t the primary goal (world titles!!!) or a process goal (improvement, speed, strength, endurance, leadership). It was an outgrowth of the other goals.

The Surprise

Fast forward to December of last year. I’m reading the wrap-up of the year in DDC (my new primary sport), and I read “Arthur Coddington is our player of the year.”

Huh?

Exciting news! But, huh?

I didn’t even expect to be in consideration. I had a breakout year, placing 3rd or better in every event I played, but I never won. In freestyle, it was traditional that you must win a major title to be on the shortlist. Here I was with no title, yet I was now POTY.

Excitement. Happiness. Confusion.

I learned late in life to accept compliments gracefully, even when I did not think they were deserved. So, I took a moment to let myself be excited and thankful.

After letting it sink in, I noticed some things.

Controlling the Controllable

We are not in control of how people see us. We can only control the controllable. Be ourselves, live honorable values and pursue our goals to the best of our abilities.

Our Perception Are Probably Wrong

The standard we set for our success might be wildly different than the standards others set for us. People have shared their worries about job performance only to learn that everyone’s talking about the tremendous value they bring. Sadly, sometimes the opposite is true, and people who think they are doing great suddenly learn they were falling short. Communication is the only way we’re going to find out for sure.

We Create Our Own Meaning

We can hear compliments and forget them. Dismiss them. Diminish them. Keep our expectations muted.

I could define this honor as unearned or allow myself to invent cynical reasons why I won. Or, I can use it to move myself forward.

We can hear compliments and harness them, even if we might not fully believe them right now.

That’s the path I chose. I’m proud of my performance last year, and it feels great to be seen. It feels like an embrace from the community. I am choosing to live in the spirit of POTY: pushing my limits, teaching others, and enjoying as many moments along the way as I can. This part is in my control.

Others See Our Horizon Better Than Us

I took the POTY award as both an honor and a responsibility. If someone’s going to go to all the trouble of naming me POTY, I should try to live up to that standard. I kept working at my skills through the winter. A few months after the award was announced, I played the first major tournament of the year. Arguably the deepest and most difficult event to win.

It’s a one-day, marathon event. Four rounds played over almost 8 hours, with virtually no breaks. My team progressed through the first round undefeated, which qualified us to play every other team in the top 10. We won all those games to qualify for the semifinals – and choose our opponent as the team with the top record. We chose well and won our semifinal in two straight games. That set up a finals match with the #1 ranked team (we were #2).

In the past, I might have succumbed to doubts playing a major championship final against two legends of the sport. But with our record that day and the honor of being called POTY, I had evidence that I belonged on that court. No need for doubts. Just play. And we did. We won the first game handily, then overcame a large deficit and tight finish to close out the match in two straight games, going undefeated through the day and winning my first major title in this sport.

Taking Action Around Praise

What do others think about you, and how can you find out?

How are you responding to feedback or compliments? Fighting it? Forgetting it? Or hearing it deeply and using it to propel you forward?

How can you propel someone else forward with praise?