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?
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.