Years ago, during the Occupy Wall Street movement, Adam Carolla came out with an epic rant of tremendous power, in which he referred to the problems of modern America stemming from participation trophies. Browsing around on Facebook, I was reminded of it from this comment:
It’s the truth, and I can say that I have experienced the same sense of profound disappoint that many others did when they learned that the world just doesn’t care about you or your feelings. Oh, you can pay a therapist to care, but it is a hollow thing. You can go to an echo chamber full of other people who are “suffering” from a variety of imagined ills, as the SJWs have done. But if there is anything I have learned in my short time on this Earth it is that there are very few people in the world who genuinely give a damn about you.
Of course, friends and family care. And, ironically, these are often the people we sell out and distance ourselves from in effort to be popular, famous or rich. But, the point is, the world is not a great big fan club for you. Most people genuinely don’t care if you succeed or fail. Unlike the paranoid, not everyone is out to get you. And on the same token, neither does everybody necessarily like you (nor should they — SJWs, I’m looking at you).
On the matter of trophies, my father earned a number of them in High School for various things. He was a very talented athlete and won a number of track and field events. Those old trophies were kept in this dilapidated old bag, and every year he would look at them and ponder whether he should just chuck them in the garbage for being a waste of space. Each time, I would convince him to keep them, because I was proud that my father had been a talented athlete.
But I guess what was really eating me was that I had squandered my own athletic talents. His trophies were proof to me, since I had the same genes, that I could do it if I really wanted to. My meager participation trophies were enough, I thought. But they really weren’t, and so each year I would try to convince my father to keep his trophies around. It puzzled me back then that they didn’t mean anything to him.
Finally, one year he overrode my objections, and into the garbage they went. I asked him why he would throw them away, and in typical fashion (for my father is not a man of many words), he explained that the trophies didn’t matter. What matters is that he knew he won, and he could carry that knowledge without the corresponding waste of garage space.
It took a long time for me to understand his wisdom. The piece of gilded plastic was meaningless. Only the achievement really mattered. The paragons of Participation Trophy culture have everything exactly backwards. When it finally hit me, along with a number of similar revelations, I wound up lobbing my own trophies into the garbage, even the few that were meritoriously earned. Basically, who cares if some organization recognizes your achievements or doesn’t. You know whether or not you have done well.
Awards aren’t entirely meaningless, or at least they ought not to be, but in today’s “gold star, everybody gets a trophy” environment, they often do a lot more harm than good. The last time I ran a 5k and they handed out the obligatory medal to every participant, I wound up using the ribbon and metal as material for one of my steampunk creations. It wasn’t good for anything else.
I know a lot of Leftists in my generation just can’t seem to make the transition away from Participation Trophy culture. It’s too comfortable for them, for they never have to confront the fact that they haven’t even failed at life, because they have done nothing noteworthy at all. In their minds, they are (as Vox Day often calls them) Secret Kings, people worthy of pomp and circumstance merely for existing.
I used to do a lot of work on Deviant Art, and it was of mediocre quality. I am a decent designer, especially when it comes to User Interfaces for software and the web, but I am not a terribly talented artist. There is a spark of some kind that I am missing there. And so my art was of acceptable quality, but not very inspiring. People would, of course, tell me exactly what I wanted to hear. But, deep down, I knew it was hollow. Like my father chucking his trophies into the garbage, I decided to delete them and remove myself from the various art circles I had previously been a member of.
Some would say all of this is depressing, but it wasn’t to the previous generations. People knew, once upon a time, that they would not be good at everything, and there was no shame in trying and failing. But, and this is the important part, framing failure as success is the path to self-delusion.
Even as I gave up on my digital art, so have I redoubled my efforts at writing. I will fail fast, and often. Indeed, I may never go to the places I wish to go with it. But neither will I accept the false reassurances of the Paladins of Participation Trophy culture.
We are not all winners. And this might be the most important life lesson of all.