Awards, Achievements & Actions to Help Others – No One Cares

Winning a track race

My oldest son found a music box my dad had given me when I was very young, tucked away and honestly forgotten in a safe place, in the same beautiful condition it always has been in, and packed to brim with award ribbons and medals of achievements.  I went for many years, to a Christian school who would give out award ribbons for sports activities, art competitions, and even (in Elementary years) ribbons for having good qualities like a positive or encouraging attitude.  As a result, I accumulated many ribbons while at this school – some not so deserving of an award in my opinion, and some that I know I earned through either talent (painting or writing children’s stories) or hard work (medals for hurdling).

My son is fascinated (or maybe a little obsessed?) with this box.  Ever since he found that it even existed a few months ago, he has enjoyed taking it out, laying out all the color ribbons, holding up the heavy medals and inspecting the designs on them that represent track and field or musical instruments.

My parents were wonderful growing up, they were very attune to things I was naturally good at, or inclined to succeed in, and therefore they encouraged me to go in those directions.  They also curiously encouraged me to go in directions that challenged my nature and innate talents, which in the end, has made life so much more interesting and fulfilling to me rather than had I only stayed in my comfort zone of doing well at things that came too easily.  They are both musically, artistically, and intellectually fascinating people, and I do not for one minute discount or seek to take for granted the beauty of life they aspired me to enjoy living.  But seeing my son handle my past (and forgotten) awards and medals with such longing and fascination has made me realize something: No One Cares.

This is not me trying to diminish achievements, but to intentionally point out how hollow many achievements in life truly are.  No one cares that I may have a box tucked away with now decade old awards and past achievements; people might have mild (polite) interest if I were to display them in some kind of showy case, but when it comes down to it, no one really cares about things like that.

Awards & Achievements, while they may boost our own confidence and add greatly to our own life experience, and while our children or grandchildren might greatly appreciate them/admire them, to onlookers or friends in our lives, they take a very back seat place in the trunk of the car that is driving and traveling our life.

My son’s first academic medal

Our oldest son is very athletic.  He was doing crunches with his dad and yoga with me when he was only 2 years old.

This last summer, we decided to let him play soccer on a team that would have practices and games every week.  We are, hands down, probably biased parents, but it was amazing watching his ability come alive on the field, with his teammates, and his raw success

He was so determined and yet had such a great attitude of teamwork and humility.  A natural leader, he was not afraid at all to make the scores, to encourage and even hug his teammates if they didn’t do as well.  A grandfather of another player pulled him aside after one of his games and told him to his face that he was the star on the team.  How does a 4 year old handle that kind of achievement?

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He is the fierce looking one second from the right.

We live in a day and age where every child gets a medal if their parents sign them up.  Every child on my son’s team, whether they were at practice (or games) or not, received a medal of achievement.  While I didn’t at all want to make my son arrogant, I wanted him to explicitly know that he actually earned his medal through his dedicated hard work (and yes, even at 4 he was dedicated and played his little heart out on the field).  We watched one game where he was called upon to play for more than his share because the other kids were either throwing a tantrum or absent that day.  We watched him curl up and relax in a little hole in the ground beside the field, sweating profusely & trying to get relief, only to be asked to come back in and play because his substitute was having a tantrum, and our son, with his amazing attitude and genuine love for the sport, got up, and went back in to do soccer battle.

He undoubtedly, hands down, earned that medal.  And he is rightfully proud of it and knows it’s worth all the more because of his dedication to achieving it.

This sounds like a depressing post from the title, however, that is not at all the way I’m intending it to be.  How can I help my son understand that these medals, any achievements in life really, even though they might have been acquired through the beauty of hard work and dedication paired with raw talent, are ultimately meaningless and forgotten or unappreciated?  Unless they are paired with having also lived a life of integrity, they are only slightly (sometimes greatly) admired at best, or can lead to arrogance and pride at the worst.

How can I help him understand that even if he achieves great feats in science, literature, or medicine, and consequently ends up helping millions of people, he will still face those who will refuse his help, misunderstand him, or may end up completely forgotten in time?

It might be a harsh lesson, but a critical one to living a full, well-lived life.  Our awards, achievements, even our earnest efforts to help others are only great in that they add meaning to ours and other’s lives; they are only fulfilling when we ourselves are built on foundations of principle and morals.

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12 thoughts on “Awards, Achievements & Actions to Help Others – No One Cares

  1. Why does a medal matter at all in youth sports? Why does playing for “more than his share” count as a sacrifice?

    When I played soccer I wanted to be in every second of every game. Being on the bench was frustrating and being on the field was a joy. I rarely won trophies, but I didn’t care about the trophies themselves. Playing soccer wasn’t something I did for kudos. It was something I did to win and simply because it was a joy to do.

    I could’ve never gotten a single award and never spent a second on the bench. All that mattered was playing and winning to me. In that order. Participation medals regardless of achievement or actual participation completely undermine the whole purpose of sports: to teach children the joy of moving their bodies and competing above all else.

  2. I know, I don’t get why it matters at this age really. I almost wish they wouldn’t give them medals this young – they really should just be playing for fun and that’s what we told him when he was starting the season last year.

    But he ended up scoring most of the goals for his team, and his last game, he scored all of the goals – which was quite an achievement for a little 4 year old. He got the medal right after that game because it was the end of the season, so it worked well with teaching him that he earned it.

    I’m not sure if I agree that medals/trophies/awards completely undermine the whole purpose of sports, otherwise why would there be so much purpose behind winning? So much satisfaction in winning? That is one of the motivating factors why athletes compete. The award represents that win, that success. And people love watching sports not to just watch them play – but to watch their favorite team win. Think of championships – when your favorite team wins a major championship, you feel like you have a high. The trophy represents that win.

    Think of the Olympics… the athletes are not there for mere fun. They may have immense joy in competing in the sport, but they are for sure competing to win. The medals represent their win – all the hard work and dedication.

    Every single sports team exists so that it can compete… and not just “compete” for the sake of it, but to actually compete to win – no team that is taken seriously is there just to be there.

  3. The medals represent their win – all the hard work and dedication.

    This is confusing the importance of the simulacrum with what it actually represents: the accomplishment of winning. If you take away the win, the trophy means nothing (hence the reason participation awards are patronizing and stupid), but if you take away the trophy the experience of winning is still amazing. It is a reward unto itself.

    Additionally, all that ultimately matters is what you can continue to do, not what you did in the past. Trophies create a focus on what you did in the past as being important, but the world only cares what you will do going forward. The award might tell them what you’ve done, but it’s what you do in the moment and the future that determines your importance to others.

  4. Having coached young kids sports, let me inform you a little bit about how this is supposed to be seen. “Leagues” for 4 year olds, and really up until they are 10-12, are about “skills development”. Winning or losing is not terribly meaningful when most of the kids don’t know how to kick the ball, yes? So winning at that age should be de-emphasized. The games should be thought of as what are called “scrimmages” – games that are played for practice. And ribbons/trophies for participation or winning at that age will never mean anything to anyone because they don’t signify any meaningful success. That’s why they are unnecessary, they don’t mean anything and never will. They are for the mothers – as this is an innately female concept.

    In fact, if you are just playing to win before you actually develop proper skills, you will never become a good player at anything. Example. In basketball, if you have young kids play zone defense they will likely prevent more baskets from being made against them, but in fact if they played man-to-man defense, they will develop more and better skills. This is why some youth basketball leagues have “no zone defense” and “equal time” rules for the kids. Sadly, even then, most coaches cheat – I know, I coached a team in such a league for my daughter.

    Do you want to know what part of the problem here is, Girl? Sports leagues have been feminized. Women really shouldn’t weigh in on any of this. If sports were left to men to coach and run, this garbage wouldn’t happen. But instead women have to make sure their “voices are heard”. Like you here, when I read your article I realize you don’t have the first clue about how a sports team should be run for young kids. I didn’t hear anything about skills development etc – all things anyone who’s actually coached a team would know.

    You see at age 4, what your kid should be getting praised for is getting his foot on the ball the right way. For making a pass well, for defending – learning the skills. Only when he’s actually developed the skills can he then compete in a meaningful way. Men know this. And women don’t – they should try listening when we try to explain it but in today’s FI soaked world, there is no chance.

  5. “Leagues” for 4 year olds, and really up until they are 10-12, are about “skills development”. Winning or losing is not terribly meaningful when most of the kids don’t know how to kick the ball, yes? So winning at that age should be de-emphasized. The games should be thought of as what are called “scrimmages” – games that are played for practice. And ribbons/trophies for participation or winning at that age will never mean anything to anyone because they don’t signify any meaningful success.

    I actually totally agree with you here. And no, I wasn’t in sports when that young at all, I first started sports at around 12 almost 13, so all I’ve known was (of course, learning the skills first) but then also real competition that got more intense in high school.

    You see at age 4, what your kid should be getting praised for is getting his foot on the ball the right way. For making a pass well, for defending – learning the skills. Only when he’s actually developed the skills can he then compete in a meaningful way. Men know this. And women don’t – they should try listening when we try to explain it but in today’s FI soaked world, there is no chance.

    I agree with you – and yea, I respect your opinion and advice – not sure why you think I don’t.

  6. In my studio now I’m looking at 7 Addy awards I’ve won over the years. I’ve got them for branding, design, campaigns and even vehicle fleet graphics. In my work studios I’ve got another 9 various awards for team and individual accolades, and you’re right, no one cares.

    Even when I’m doing self-promotion I never mention them. The reason why is that at the end of it all it’s my body of work that sets me apart. Awards are given in lieu of real commensurate compensation in the hopes an ego stroke will be some kind of payment. Fuck that.

    What I create is my ‘award’, and the act of creation and its successes or failure is more valuable to me than any award someone else hands me.

  7. “Awards, Achievements & Actions to Help Others – No One Cares”

    Am I missing something? The article doesn’t mention doing any action to help others, just getting awards for doing stuff you like doing anyway, hobbies and sports and art.

    If you had helped others then someone would have cared, those you helped. So why did you lump that in with recreational activities done for your own pleasure?

  8. “This sounds like a depressing post from the title, however, that is not at all the way I’m intending it to be. How can I help my son understand that these medals, any achievements in life really, even though they might have been acquired through the beauty of hard work and dedication paired with raw talent, are ultimately meaningless and forgotten or unappreciated? Unless they are paired with having also lived a life of integrity, they are only slightly (sometimes greatly) admired at best, or can lead to arrogance and pride at the worst.

    How can I help him understand that even if he achieves great feats in science, literature, or medicine, and consequently ends up helping millions of people, he will still face those who will refuse his help, misunderstand him, or may end up completely forgotten in time?”

    He’s way too young to understand this. You see things he doesn’t but you need to be age-appropriate in what you dish out to him. At this stage in his development let him have his dreams, joy an illusions about life. The time will come soon enough when the harsh realities about life on planet earth bite him in the butt and he becomes jaded like the rest of us adults. But for now he is a child living in a magical wonderland that is his mind and his own personal perception of how things are and should be. Let him have this innocent, care-free time.

  9. I reread and still saw no trace of “helping others” just hobbies and sports for yourself. Nothing wrong with that! But why bring “helping others” into it at all. Again, when and if you help others, it will not go unnoticed or forgotten by them. And if it does, so what? The Gita says that giving charity or giving of yourself to others quietly, not expecting reward, is giving in the mood of goodness. There is also mood of passion and ignorance, both of which expect reward.

    And of course all of us will go “completely forgotten in time” at some point. We’re not special snowflakes, just ordinary beings in a world of trillions of other ordinary beings, all of whom are born, grow, then die someday. Cycle of life and death. But your son is too young to get all of this now, even many adults don’t get it.

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