I have watched a very disturbing trend over the last couple decades. Unfortunately, I have to say it seems to have started with my generation of baby boomers. That is the phenomenon of trying to convince our kids that they always win, they always did great and basically that they leave the bathroom smelling like roses every time they go in there. We never want our kids to feel bad ever. The “we’re all winners here” perception quickly turns into we’re all whiners here in reality. I see it in little kids sports when every kid on the team gets a trophy at the end of the season regardless of how good or bad they did or how good or bad the team was. I see it in schools when they no longer award the valedictorian at graduation. Well, we wouldn’t want to discourage the kids who weren’t valedictorians now would we?
I understand this movement is well intentioned. We want good self-esteem. We don’t want our kids to think they suck. We don’t want anyone to feel badly about themselves. Well, guess what. We all know whether we are good at something or not. When Jimmy or Jennifer finishes last in the race or strikes out every time they go to bat, they know they didn’t win no matter how big or shiny their brand new trophy or finisher medal is. Reality is that none of us are great at everything we do. There are lots of things I suck at. The sooner I realize this, the sooner I can do something about it. Life will chew up and spit out people who have an exaggerated opinion of themselves and their abilities. How dare my kid’s new boss expect him to do his job correctly? Hey, he tried his best. That’s all that matters isn’t it? Guess again.
So, we give out trophies and medals to those who just showed up and put in a little time. Those kids get the same rewards as those who knocked themselves out trying their best to actually get better at something. We don’t acknowledge the achievements of the ones who truly did do something better than anyone else just so the ones who didn’t do that well don’t feel left out. It’s possible to fool some people into thinking they are great when they aren’t but it’s really sad to see them fool themselves. It is also extremely counter-productive. Once someone believes they are great, and have a big-ass trophy to prove it, there is not much incentive to work hard to get better. After all, they got great at whatever without even trying. So why work hard? They must just be great at everything.
Nothing truly makes you believe you are good at something like actual results. Sooner or later, life smacks everyone in the face. For me, my first memory of that was in third grade when baseball season started. It was a given that I would end up as a major league ball-player and third grade would begin the journey. When my mom or dad pitched to me in the back yard, I was a dominating batter. Then that day I looked forward to for so long finally arrived. The third and fourth graders made their way to the ball field across the street after school on that day in April for the first day of tryouts. Also showing up that day was a dose of reality. Turns out I was not destined for the majors after all. I along with many of the third graders (who just like me weren’t very good) got cut from the team. This is not to fault the coaches for not keeping everyone. You just can’t have 40 kids on a baseball team and have any reasonable chance of everyone getting a chance to play.
It turned out that some of the dads did a great thing and made a team out of all of us who got cut. We were terrible, but we did get to play every game and had a ball. We didn’t get participation trophies at the end of the season, but we did get to play a game we all liked and ate a lot of ice cream that summer. Yes, we lost every game, even to the other team that was made up of kids who get cut from their school team. But we all moved on from the devastation of being cut and learned a little resiliency. Life lessons can be hard, but you are going to get them sooner or later no matter how much your parents try to shield you. Nobody, needs to be cruel about them, but a little honesty goes a long way in the end. It’s just so sad to see a young adult get their first experience with expectations for a job well done at their first actual job. The boss might be a nice person but still expects the job to be done correctly. If the newbie on the job isn’t getting it done, they are going to be out of a job sooner rather than later. Too bad for their self-esteem and too bad for their bank account.
So. Where does running fit into all of this? Running requires determination. Although I truly enjoy it most of the time, many are the days I just don’t feel like I want to slog out my next run. I believe that people with the determination to keep running year in and year out, on good days and bad ones, when it’s convenient and when it’s not, have the right stuff to become winners. No, we won’t all be winners in running. But, we can all get better. I will never win the local 5k. And at this point in my life I won’t get any more PR’s. But we can all set goals and work to reach them. If a goal is realistic, and you put in the time and work hard and eventually reach that goal, then nothing can stop your self-esteem from building. I absolutely love watching the back of the pack come in during a road race. Many of those people are doing their first race. They set a goal of finishing the local 5k and THEY DID IT! Whether they get a finisher medal or not, they reached their goal. They know they reached their goal. They put in the work and got the results! That is what it is all about. It sounds a bit dramatic, but that moment can be life changing. The overweight middle-aged mom who has given up any dreams of her own to focus on her kids who are now grown and gone, or the non-athletic guy who never even considered playing sports growing up because he was intimidated by the cooler and more athletic boys now have something that can never be taken away. Achievement! That is forever. Trophies and medals are cheap trinkets that can be bought any time for a price. Reaching a goal you worked hard and sacrificed for is priceless.
Finishing just ahead of the walkers but reaching their goal
Alright, we aren’t all going to win at sports. But can we all be winners? I say yes because I define being a winner differently. I look at being a winner as being a winner in life. Winning some race or baseball game is fun, but not important in the grand scheme. Winning in life is all that matters in the end. Who is a winner in life? That is the person who makes the world a better place because they are here. It has nothing to do with how many trophies they have or how big their home or bank account is. I think about one of the girls who was on my track team a few years back. She was not even close to being a good runner. She actually got worse as the season went on, probably due to my poor coaching. But, this girl was just an outstanding individual. She was a great student, honor roll every semester. She was involved with several community projects such as visiting the old folks at the nursing facility across the street from the school and she was just plain nice. The world is a better place because she is a part of it. She is a winner. I want to surround myself with people like her.
Will I be a winner today? I’m going for a run after I finish this, but I don’t think that will make me a winner. But, can I make someone smile? Can I help someone with a problem? Do I have the determination to solve a problem even though it will take some hard work? I sure hope so. Most likely nobody is going to give me a trophy if I do that. But, I will know I did it. And that is all that matters.
Be a winner and be awesome!
Keep running my friends!