On the Nature of Achievements

My wife and I were talking this morning, about various goings-on in the world, news, the Olympics. It got me thinking about the achievements we humans pursue, and why we pursue them.  I’ll preface the rest of this entry with an open invitation to live your live the way you want to live it; that’s the nature of free will, after all – for good or ill.

With the obligatory hand waving out of the way, I’ll start with a value judgment.  Some things are more valuable than others; therefore, the pursuit and achievement of those things must also have value that varies.  Where does value come from?  In this sense, I offer a basic subjective definition that a thing that is desired has value.  It raises the question, of course, of why a particular thing is desired, which is perhaps the real purpose of this short note.  For now, let’s agree that if you want something, it has some value to you.  Our tightly focused definition also leaves out the notion of objective value – that a thing has some degree of value regardless of your personal feelings about it.

This brings us to the question of achievement – reaching some end you were pursuing.  Winning the championship, losing that last ten pounds, starting your own business, getting a new job, publishing your first (or thirtieth) book – all are examples of crossing some sort of threshold, of completing something.  So why is it that some achievements are so much more valuable than others?

One element is the amount of difficulty involved in achieving a thing; more difficult things can (sometimes) have more value, simply by dint of their challenge.  And yet, not all difficult things have high value – sometimes they’re just hard and not worth doing to you.  So there must be more to value than how difficult it is to accomplish.

Utility, the idea that completing a thing brings value into the world, or enables it, also drives value.  Building, say, a chicken coop is an achievement with some value, partly because it allows you to safely house chickens, which then produce eggs (or perhaps just enjoyment), all links in a chain of value.

Well, I can’t say I’ve offered any answers in this, but it’s given me the opportunity to at least put a few things down to think about.