I recently came across an e-card on Pinterest that said, “I’m afraid of a world run by adults who were never spanked as kids and got trophies just for participating.”

Equally frightening, in my opinion, is a world run by adults who were given trophies for being faster, smarter, and having better penmanship than everyone else.

Take it from one of the kids who was given trophies for being the smartest, fastest, and best at writing.

I turned out to not be anything special.

I have medals, pennants, plaques and certificates for every conceivable elementary-school achievement, from track to public speaking to spelling. These turned out to not be very good indicators of my future as a leader and world-changer.

(I didn’t even end up being athletic. My long legs, which got me at the front of the race as a kid, didn’t end up being much good to me when real skills were required.)

In fact, my fellow trophy-winners and I are all pretty pretentious. We tend to think we’re pretty awesome just because we got advanced degrees and have large vocabularies and read some really impressive books in our early adulthood.

We don’t know anything about what it’s like to have delays, disabilities, or difficulty concentrating. So we tend to have very little patience and understanding for those who do. We tend to develop curriculum and legislation that reward young people who are more like us.

Most of us trophy-winners, as adults, don’t have much in the way of imagination, character, or practical skills. We never had to develop these things — we were coddled and rewarded our whole lives just for being good at following instructions.

We trophy-winners tend to lose motivation when the rewards stop coming. We’ve forgotten how to do things just because we love them, and not because we’ll get an A+ or because we’ll get our drawing laminated and shown off to future classes.

[In fact, researcher Karen Arnold, after spending more than fifteen years following the careers of high school valedictorians, actually concluded that these people are not the people to look to for creative breakthroughs or becoming notable leaders in a particular area. They just know how to do school.]

As a lifelong trophy-winner, I grew up to be rather spineless and lazy, lacking creativity and ingenuity. I give up easily when things get hard, I have trouble relating to people who are different from me, and I’ve failed to do or produce a single original thing in my life.

You don’t want the world run by people like me.

You’d be better off in a world run by people who had to struggle and fight. People who have done hard things, even though they didn’t get any recognition. People who have experienced rejection and failure, and who kept trying anyway.

These people are much more likely to be compassionate, imaginative, and persevering.

I’d much rather live in a world where there were no trophies.

Where kids were encouraged to do what they loved, and to work hard because working hard to accomplish something feels good.

Where kids were corrected with patience and understanding rather than violence.

I want to live in a world like that. I think I’ll start with my own kids.

Image courtesy of Artsie Aspie


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  1. Beautifully stated — thank you. There’s so much entitlement, and THAT worries me more than any gently parented upbringing or encouragement.
    Sarah @ This Heavenly Life recently posted..Landon’s Pumpkin Patch Birthday PartyMy Profile

  2. Great Post, Kathleen! I agree. And I also find that those who succeed in school have a certain, very specific set of skills, which sometimes does and sometimes does not translate into real life. The real lessons that are important to learn however, are almost never rewarded with trophies.

    And let me finish with this, one of my favorite quotes from the movie Patch Adams:

    Hunter Patch Adams: Hi. Patch Adams.
    Mitch Roman: Mitch Roman. Georgetown University. I was awarded the William F. Thompson Scientific Achievement Award.
    Hunter Patch Adams: Mmm. Emerson Elementary. I once drew a picture of a rabbit that got me two gold stars.

  3. Ouch.

    “We trophy-winners tend to lose motivation when the rewards stop coming. We’ve forgotten how to do things just because we love them, and not because we’ll get an A+ or because we’ll get our drawing laminated and shown off to future classes.”

    That’s me, alright. I’m always complaining that I don’t like what I do for a living, but I have no idea what I ought to pursue because I don’t actually know what I love doing. Heh.

  4. Wow. Never thought about it like that, before. Great post.

  5. theresa gianna says:

    definitely me, unfortunately. wonderful post, thank you!

  6. I’m also a trophy-winner (but not valedictorian status). I’m smart,but I’m terrible at channeling that. I work in a position for which neither of my degrees is a requirement or compensated. I’m terrible about seeing things though, especially long-range projects. One of the few things I do for sheer pleasure is read, and it turns out that is of limited utility in the real world. I’m an excellent test-taker and essay writer, but I opted not to major in English *because* of the creative writing component. Without a deadline or someone depending on me I lack any real semblance of self-motivation. Most of the most useful skills I have I learned outside of school and as an adult. I know my parents felt they were doing the best they could with the information they had, but I pray I do better by my kids.
    Lily recently posted..Minimalism, Simplicity, and St*ffMy Profile

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