Today is September 13 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you waiting for external validation?” People who navigate the chaos wait for validation for no one. The pursuit of one goal after another, of translating dreams into reality, and of traveling the path of life requires no validation. If you are searching for someone to give you permission, to give you the green light, or to tell you how important you are your ability to navigate the chaos will most likely be hindered. Norbert Schemansky demonstrates someone who never received the external validation he so wanted, and therefore, struggled to navigate the chaos.
Schemansky was recognized as one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time. “What Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis are to boxing, what John Grimek and Arnold Schwarzenegger mean to bodybuilding, and what Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky represent in hockey, Norbert Schemansky is to Olympic weight lifting,” Richard Bak wrote in his 2007 biography of Schemansky, “Mr. Weightlifting.”
He began his Olympic run in 1948 in London, where he won the silver medal in the super heavyweight class. Yet for all his success, Schemansky was consigned to stardom in a sport that drew little notice in the United States. Even his hometown, Dearborn, seemed indifferent, particularly before and after the 1952 Games.
“I was working at Briggs Manufacturing, and I asked for time off,” Schemansky told The Detroit News in 2002, “and one of the guys from downstairs said: ‘Give him all the time off he wants. Fire him.’” Schemansky quit, went to Helsinki and won the gold medal.
When he returned home, a gold medal in his bag, no one was there to greet him. Only an airport porter recognized him. “The bus porter said, ‘Nice going, Semansky,’” he recalled. “He mispronounced my name, but he knew who I was.” Schemansky took a bus home alone. It was not an unfamiliar experience. As he told Strength & Health magazine in 1973, “The worst part of competing was coming home.”
In 1952, in Helsinki, he won the gold in the middle-heavyweight class. He missed the 1956 Games, in Melbourne, Australia, while recovering from two back operations to repair damaged disks. But the injuries did not deter him.
He returned to the Olympics in 1960, in Rome, to win the bronze as a superheavyweight, and then in 1964, in Tokyo, to bring home the bronze again. Schemansky could be ambivalent about the fame and fortune that never accrued to him in any great measure. “Norb himself is an anomaly, a man of contradiction,” Strength & Health magazine observed in 1973. “He appears to disdain recognition, yet he feels he should have it for what he has done.”
Twenty-three years later, his attitude remained the same. “I always thought something good would come out of it,” he said of his career, in an interview with The Detroit Free Press, “but nothing ever did. I thought it would help me get a better job. When I worked for Stroh’s Brewery, I asked for a salesman’s job. They said, ‘We’re not hiring athletes.’ Then, a couple of months later, I find out they hired a football player. You give up so much. Yeah, sometimes I wonder why I did it.”
In its September 9, 2016 obituary The New York Times wrote “Norbert Schemansky, one of the world’s greatest weight lifters and the first to win medals in four Olympic Games, all while scraping to make a living in a hometown, Dearborn, Mich., that more than 60 years ago greeted his achievements with a shrug, died Tuesday. He was 92.”
Schemansky failed to see his Olympic success as something good in and of itself because was looking for external validation and rewards he never received. Today’s reflection challenges us to assess our self-awareness, challenge our assumptions, and reflect upon what is important in life.
As Dr. Ilene Strauss Cohen wrote in a July 2018 Psychology Today article “When others’ acceptance of you impacts how you make decisions about where to spend your time, you lose awareness of what’s important to you, what drives you, and what makes you happy. You might feel stuck doing work you don’t particularly enjoy and continue habits that are counterproductive. If this feels true for you, it’s time to focus your energy on getting in touch with what really matters to you.”
Traveling life’s path and navigating the chaos demands that we reflect upon who we are and what we want on a regular basis. You cannot catch yourself seeking external validation if you lack the level of self-awareness required to understand your own behavior.
As the adage, often attributed to Confucius, notes “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” How often are you waiting for external validation of your efforts?