The Problem With Awards

People want to be successful in life. They want receive awards, medals, certificates, nobel prizes, and other success symbols. They want to accumulate a certain amount of wealth, buy a big house and a nice car, have a good job, and a solid retirement and pension plan. But why do we set goals like that, and why do awards shape our success?

After 19.5 years of life on planet earth, I have won medals in skiing, swimming, and soccer competitions, I have had “outstanding performances” in musicals, concerts, and other public presentations, I have won the talent show, and the art show of my high school, I have given drum lessons, and I have given speeches and teachings about education, family structure, and business-related stuff. I have also done some other crazy things in my life that are not going to be mentioned in this post… um…

Now, does all of that make me a successful young man? I’m an award-winning athlete, professional musician, artist, educator, and novelist (in the making). It seems to me that we like to link success with achievements. “If you’ve done this, then you’re successful.” We also tend to set goals in order to be able to call ourselves successful. “If I can accumulate one million dollars this year, I’ll be a successful man.”

I don’t necessarily believe that success is supposed to be dealt with like this. Sure, success is related to achievements, but I think that success shouldn’t be measured by awards, medals, and certificates. Awards should serve as a tool of recognition. Earning a PhD, for example. If you’ve earned a PhD, it means you know your stuff, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve reached your end goal. If you’re good at something, don’t let medals and awards make you think that you’ve reached your maximum potential. That’s what tends to happen. We achieve something great, and then we look back on it and view it as a nice memory. “I won the gold medal in skiing. Good times.” Why do awards stop us from moving forward? Awards and such shouldn’t be the goal. They should, instead, be the springboard for more greatness to follow. Obtaining your PhD enables people to recognise that you’ve made a great achievement. This, in turn, should enable you to continue achieving far greater things using the doctorate you have earned.

Standardised awards lower the expectation of our potential. It’s almost like fleas in a glass. Fleas are capable of jumping up to ten inches high, which is much higher than the average glass. If you put fleas in a glass and cover the top, the fleas will jump and hit the top. After a while of jumping, they conform to the height of the glass and only jump as high as to not hit their heads anymore. Even if you take the top away, the fleas won’t jump higher than the cover you put on the glass, because they came to the realisation that they cannot jump any higher than that, otherwise it hurts. We are capable of doing so much more than what people tell us, but we believe the things that people tell us, because we don’t seem to believe in ourselves.

John Wooden once said something incredibly profound that really shook my view about life in general. He said, “your reputation is who you are perceived to be whereas your character is who you really are.” So who are you? Are you an award-winning athlete? A professional musician? An accomplished novelist? An experienced teacher? An certified artist? Are you continuing to practice your God-given skills and try your best to pull out the maximum potential of your gifts? If you have, are you teaching others (especially the young generation) how to be as “successful” as you are, and, more importantly, how to exceed your current state of success?

You don’t need to win awards in order to be successful. You just need to be good at something. Regardless of what the critics say, if you know you’re good at something, stick to it, because you’re doing the best you can. Once you start winning awards and medals, at least you know that the critics are on your side now. Keep impressing them with your skills, talents, and gifts. Your PhD shouldn’t stop you from acquiring more knowledge about the philosophical realm. My gold medal in skiing shouldn’t make me feel like I’ve accomplished something great. I’ve won a medal, so what? I did my best, and people recognised it as very good. It motivates me to know that my hard work is acknowledged by professional judges, but it should in no way whatsoever hinder me from excelling far beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. That’s what I call humble success.

They key to humble success is this: don’t complain, don’t brag. If you fall short of your expectations, hold your head up high no matter what the outcome is. You’re not done yet, even if you’re handed the nobel prize for establishing world peace. We’re capable of doing things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard.