Obama Is a Touchstone Against Which People Measure Their Success or Failure

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The news that President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize is sure to set off another round of praise, hand-wringing, scorn, awe, judgment, jealousy, pride, and so much more.

One thing is certain: Barack Obama is a singular figure in our lifetimes. And as such, he is a touchstone against which people measure their own success or failure. I know, because I do it.

I met him in 2004 when I worked for John Kerry. Foreshadowing the fierce 2008 campaign, our brief conversation was about the power of the Internet. When I worked for Hillary Clinton -- someone who is also such a touchstone -- I worked to defeat Obama. But I also admired him. He is disciplined, smart, bold, he takes risks. He has a wonderful family. And importantly to this pick-up basketball addict, he is a hoopster.

It's a truism that Barack Obama is proof we can achieve big things and fulfill big dreams.

But there are constant questions:

What constitutes greatness? What is success? Failure? What does it mean to be 'important'? Is anyone really more important than anyone else? Where is the recognition for those courageous souls who endure deep suffering with great dignity? Does it matter whether they're recognized? Is their achievement any less significant because it goes unheralded? And what is achievement? Is it material? Is it the attainment of our own arbitrary goals? Is Obama's success really achievable by everyone? In our society, is it attainable by a woman? By the oppressed and disenfranchised around the world? By the voiceless?

Some of the answers are not what we'd like them to be.

I lost my father a decade ago, but his lessons were those taught by so many fathers: dignity, loyalty, hard work, honesty.

I look for those qualities in other people and measure myself against them. I admire those who give selflessly, those who stand for something, whose beliefs matter to them, whose life's purpose is to make the world a better place.

A shining example: Sérgio Vieira de Mello. His story ended far too soon.

But Obama's is being written before our eyes. And we are helping to write it. Let's make it one of true greatness.