January 22, 2017 – Participation Trophies and Contradictions

Today I may seem like I am contradicting myself on participation after yesterday’s post, but I think there is a harmony between the two if we look at it in greater detail.  Participation is a good thing, but, in my opinion, participation trophies are a bad idea.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to encourage and support our kids as they try new things and as they stretch themselves.  We need to be there, cheering them on, celebrating their efforts “in the arena”, but I think our efforts to protect their egos and psyche from the concept of losing and failing is misguided and, ultimately, harmful.  No one likes to fail.  Losing sucks and, in that moment, we are confronted with raw, painful choices.  It is these choices and these moments, however that create the most growth.

Failing forces us to evaluate a lot of things and brings out character traits in us, some good and some bad, that we rarely see in just day-to-day life.  In some of my most significant failures (and there have been more than a few), I have learned a lot about who I REALLY am, not just the person I wish to be, and that provides me with a good baseline for improving going forward.  In those dark times, I have seen the part of me that wants to just give up and never try again.  I have seen a more mentally tough side of myself (it sounds better than stubborn) that resolves to get better, try again and find a way to succeed.  I have seen a side of me that says “Edison failed 10,000 times before making the lightbulb” and another side that says, “I can’t deal with the hurt that many times.”  I have experienced the self-doubt, the insecurity, the fear, the depression, and the hurt…and it has made me a better person, because it forced me to realize that failure and losing is an event, not a characteristic.  Once I realized that going through bad things doesn’t make me personally bad, my eyes became open to the possibility that bad things can sometimes be the best thing for us to experience.

It seems contrary to logic for bad things to be good, but there is a special relationship between what appears to be opposing sides.  In reality, contrary positions tend to be complementary. Contrary positions provide contrast.  By experiencing the pain of losing, we better understand and appreciate the joy of winning.  We understand the darkness of the color black by its contrast with the color white and vice versa.  We understand valor because of cowardice.  Participation trophies, however, rob our kids of this learning experience and rob us of the ability to help them and support them as they go through it during a time when failure is not as catastrophic as later in life.  In seeking to protect them, we put them in a more vulnerable position later in life and then, when they are adults, we leave them to face these things on their own and without the tools necessary to cope with how to turn failure into growth, and ultimately, we force them to gain the understanding that losing doesn’t make them a loser at an age when it is harder to believe.

We are now 22 days into the new year and, if you are like me, you have already failed at something or dropped the ball on something, and if it happened in the first month, arguably it’ll happen again.  My advice and encouragement to you are this.  Embrace the feelings and understand them for what they are.  Embrace the truth that you are not the sum total of your failures and that tomorrow is a chance to start again. Finally, embrace the reality that although failure happens, so does victory and recognize that to truly understand the joy of victory, you have to understand the pain of defeat.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and remember, the race isn’t over yet.

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