Friday, January 13, 2017

Too Many Trophies

"Shadows and Light"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

A few weeks ago, while visiting family for the holidays,  I sat on a couch with my son and his little boy (my two-year old grandson) as we watched a TV cartoon about a car race aimed for a “toddler” audience. At the end of the race every car was awarded a trophy - they were all winners.  I then laughed out loud when my son turned to his little boy and half-jokingly said “But in real life it doesn’t work that way, in real life everyone doesn’t get a trophy.”

I told my son that I thought he was giving his child some excellent advice and hoped he would continue to raise him with this wisdom.

I am reminded of a letter to the editor written by a parent that appeared in our local newspaper:

When we look to sign up our kids for after-school programs,
here’s a piece of advice:
Whether your kid loves Little League football or soccer, gymnastic or swimming,
always ask the program organizers this one question:
'Which kid gets awards?'
If the answer is, 'everybody gets a trophy,'
find another program.

At first this may seem like an odd and perhaps even a harsh piece of advice, especially in an age where building a child's “self-esteem" is so highly prized. Furthermore, shouldn't school and after-school programs offer opportunities for teaching kids how to succeed in life? 

The problem is that when everybody gets a trophy, nobody ever experiences failure and so when these kids do inevitably run into difficulty in life, they are unable to handle it. When they lose in life they think of themselves as “losers;” and yet the truth is that failing, and losing and making mistakes are all necessary ingredients for leading a happy and successful life.

You learn how to ride a bike by falling off it a few times – failures in life are often our best teachers. 

Furthermore, learning how to embrace failure also helps to prepare us for the fact that everything in life doesn’t always happen as we want it to happen – sometimes you don’t get accepted into the program or you don’t the big promotion, sometimes you just have to accept what comes along.

There is another reason why I think it’s important to embrace failure in our lives:  when we are afraid of failing we are unlikely to take any risks in life and taking risks is always a necessary ingredient for living fully, boldly and creatively.

The author Paul Coelho once remarked:

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve:
the fear of failure.

I really do believe we give out too many trophies and I’m very glad that my son is teaching his child that he won’t always get the trophy he hopes to win -  but that doesn’t ever mean he will be a loser.

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