Trophies and Proofs

My diplomas are stowed in dresser drawers, somewhere. Those sheepskins cost a pretty penny. You’d think they’d be framed and displayed on a wall.

But they’re not.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure which drawers in which dresser, and it doesn’t matter. My definition of success isn’t dependent on what others see or feel when they look at me, when they enter my home, when they sit in the cozy room I call my office.

The prize for me is in the experience: the daily, nightly sweat of studying and discussing, the discoveries attached to the learning process, the lessons acquired in following through. The joy is in the doing. And yes, the satisfaction is in delivering an exceptional result, and if for someone else, in knowing I exceeded their expectations.

But that is the College Self, the Grad School Self, the Adult, the Professional. It’s different when you’re a child. At least, as parents, we think it is.

Maybe so. Maybe not.

As for my children, whatever trophies and awards they acquired over the years are, as with most kids, out in the open.

Trophy for Every Kid

My sons’ faux bronze medals are hung from ribbons, hooked on tie racks, and looped over bedposts. Trophies for sports, arts, or academic achievements are lined up on bookshelves. My boys are proud of their wins, and they should be.  

When my kids were little, any trophy was a big deal – for the Spelling Bee, the Good Citizen selection – and they competed with each other over everything. Part of that competition was the number of tangible signs of being a winner – plaques and awards, statuettes and certificates.

Personally, I’m not of the “trophy for every kid” school of thought; I lean toward a balance of praising for effort and likewise for results – capable of winning, capable of losing, capable of focusing so they improve their own performance. But that’s my way, and it may not be yours.

Knowledge is its Own Reward

As my kids matured, good grades became the focus when it came to achievement. Those hard-won A’s were the stepping stones to college, and in particular, to scholarships. But I hope that our familial value system was oriented at least as much on the knowledge itself, and skills necessary to continue acquiring more.

I’m a believer in formal education. Likewise, the School of Hard Knocks. Experience can be a harsh teacher or a tender one, and is ideal when it comes to honing judgment. Those degrees and other credentials? Of course they matter; I’m proud of my own. I seek them in others.

Success: Doing or Getting

If anything, I wish I were more capable of resting on my laurels, as the saying goes. You know – I once did this, I once did that. But it isn’t my way. I jump one hurdle, and I’m hungry for the next.

I have no need for trophies and proofs.

  • Are you driven by process or oriented toward result?
  • Are you motivated by prizes and awards? Do you need to see the fruits of your labors displayed to others?
  • Are your children motivated by trophies and medals?
  • When you seek expertise, do you choose credentials over life experience or vice versa? Do you seek both, if given a chance?


© D. A. Wolf



  1. says

    I definitely am motivated by recognition – I wish it wasn’t the case but I am. I don’t need a tangible reward, a spoken word is enough. But still, motivation and validation should come from within. Working on it…

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I think it takes a lot of time for some of us, Cathy. One isn’t “better” than the other. We’re all wired (and conditioned?) differently.

  2. says

    My diplomas are similarly hidden away. Though I love having gotten them, the paper doesn’t mean much to me.

    We were just talking about the importance of learning to lose. Winning is fun. But we grow through losses. If we’re brave enough to keep trying.

    Maybe I should find material reminder of the getting back up times?

  3. says

    I found the contrast between your handling of your own successes and that of your children very interesting! Partly because it’s similar to mine. It makes me wonder why, if we really do not value our achievements outwardly, then why were we so intent on acknowledging our children’s successes? It has to be, in part, because we wanted to own ours and couldn’t ~ somewhere deep inside we wanted recognition, a feeling that we made someone proud besides ourselves. We lived vicariously through our children.

    I shy away from recognition of any kind, my own or another’s. It makes me uncomfortable. So often, in today’s world it is over the top, out of proportion, just too much. I don’t think it’s recognition that anyone wants or needs. We want to be loved and that love is sometimes expressed as a significant person in our life being proud of us, or maybe simply sharing in our pleasure with regard to our accomplishments, because we know they understand what went into it…the blood, sweat and tears.

    Interestingly enough, when it comes to my work I find far greater value from a comment from a hurting soul who found comfort in my words than all the kudos I could ever achieve in a traditional sense. It’s a balancing act, this thing we’re talking about.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You raise important questions, Dorothy. As for my sons, I allowed them their trophies and wins – of course – though I don’t think there was an excess involved. A balance of process and result, I hope. They are both hard-working. They don’t feel entitled. But I get the impression that they “own themselves” which is something I couldn’t have said, growing up, or as a young woman.

      I also appreciate your observation that so much is over the top these days. It is exactly what keeps some of us hesitating to promote ourselves in ways that are reasonable. Perhaps it’s become harder to define “reasonable.” Then again, the noise is so loud, it’s harder to hear “reasonable.” Yet I insist that quality and authenticity will ultimately know their due.

      A balancing act. Well put.

  4. says

    The Man Watching

    I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
    so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
    that a storm is coming,
    and I hear the far-off fields say things
    I can’t bear without a friend,
    I can’t love without a sister

    The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
    across the woods and across time,
    and the world looks as if it had no age:
    the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
    is seriousness and weight and eternity.

    What we choose to fight is so tiny!
    What fights us is so great!
    If only we would let ourselves be dominated
    as things do by some immense storm,
    we would become strong too, and not need names.

    When we win it’s with small things,
    and the triumph itself makes us small.
    What is extraordinary and eternal
    does not want to be bent by us.
    I mean the Angel who appeared
    to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
    when the wrestler’s sinews
    grew long like metal strings,
    he felt them under his fingers
    like chords of deep music.

    Whoever was beaten by this Angel
    (who often simply declined the fight)
    went away proud and strengthened
    and great from that harsh hand,
    that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
    Winning does not tempt that man.
    This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
    by constantly greater beings.

    Rilke, (t. R. Bly)

  5. says

    I have to admit it that I am not a fan of the trophy for everyone concept. My two children only received trophies when they performed and came either 1, 2 or 3. Outside of these places they missed out.

    I do not believe that this has scarred them in any way.

    For myself, a child of the seventies – you accepted it and moved on – recognition matters however you have to produce the results and be rewarded.

    That is my two cents worth….

  6. says

    Our diplomas are stowed away in cardboard boxes in the garage. We both value our education, but I find that the real learning comes from striving toward a personal goal and not so much for the certificate or trophy or paper degree. The best life lessons, I believe, come out of really absorbing what you learn and not from worrying about the achievement that may accompany it.

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