October 10th, 2009
07:08 AM ET

Dear President Obama #264: Beware of the shiny medal

Reporter's Note: President Obama has won the Nobel Prize, sparking what seems to be a worldwide debate over whether he should have. I have a similar, albeit smaller, debate every day over how long I should keep writing these letters with no response. So far “one more day” keeps winning.

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I heard a story a long time ago. I have no idea where, not can I remember whether it is real or made up. A young man is the only son of fabulously wealthy father. His dad dies when the son is in his early twenties, leaving several million dollars, and the boy begins contemplating what he might do: Retire even before he begins working? Buy a business? Invest?

He seeks the advice of a wealthy old friend of his late father, who startles him. “Spend it. Spend it all,” the old man says. “Go on lavish trips, pay for outrageous parties; gamble, buy things you don’t need; and don’t stop until it is all gone. Because you have not earned this money. You don’t really know what it is worth. It’s not your fault, but it will never mean as much to you and you can never respect it the same as money you make with your own sweat.” The son took the advice, had a wonderful year or two, then came home and built his own fortune from nothing. He became successful and happy, and prospered all his life.

I’m not going to dive into the raging debate over whether you should have been given the Nobel Prize or not. I noticed, however, that you said you don’t really feel that you belong in such illustrious company. So here is my advice: Put the medal away and forget it. Great success, too early, has a way of sucking all the air from the room, and snatching away future success. It can take the fire from your soul and leave you empty, wondering what else there is to strive for. Put your medal away as if it is made of Kryptonite and don’t take it out again, until you feel that it does belong in your hands, whether that is in two years, ten years, or never.

Your critics will say what they wish no matter what. This is about protecting your own sense of the value of things; about not letting that shiny medal become a millstone around your neck. There may be no bigger challenge for anyone in a high place. But true champions, in the words of Kipling, “meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” Build your own success on your own terms, and don’t be beguiled by early praise.

Oh…and call me.



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Jessica

    This was beautifully writtten. Thank you.

    October 10, 2009 at 2:25 pm |
  2. Ellen

    Tom – great advice, well-written, steeped in integrity.

    October 10, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  3. Balazs Schreil, M.A.

    President Barack Obama;

    Enjoy bearing the Nobel Peace Prize, its way cool.

    October 10, 2009 at 12:50 pm |
  4. paula

    Loved your article. WOW

    October 10, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  5. Soledad Gomez

    Maybe the people who choose the winner of this honor wanted to help Obama out because he's a good man and people sometimes behave as though he's not.

    October 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  6. Helen

    I would really hope that the President could read this. Wonderful advice, and important. I believe the President is a man of many talents, one of which is heeding sound advice, another of which is taking his own counsel. Those two may save him from his "friends" who would do more harm than his enemies. I say, Congratulations, Mr President. Now let's get to work!

    October 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  7. Linda B., Ga.

    Why in the world can’t we just CONGRATULATE Pres. Obama instead of being so dang opinionated and negative about it? We are always so “quick” to criticize, My God we should feel honored that our President won the Peace Prize.

    October 10, 2009 at 11:50 am |
  8. Elizabeth

    Really profoundly wise words. I hope the President reads this. Thank You!

    October 10, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  9. Kory

    Absolutely wonderful. What a perspective!

    October 10, 2009 at 11:15 am |
  10. Elizabeth Heir

    Great letter for all of us! Thank you.

    October 10, 2009 at 11:14 am |
  11. Shawn

    sage advice.

    October 10, 2009 at 10:30 am |
  12. Erica from GA

    I love this letter Tom. Great advice you are giving our President.

    October 10, 2009 at 9:44 am |
  13. Frank

    I bet you a nice shiny new nickel that Mr. Obama reads your leters but just does not have the time to respond. Anyway, I enjoy reading them and I hope you will continue writing.
    Betcha, He'll answer one day.

    October 10, 2009 at 8:41 am |