Arbitrary Awards

The Bullshit Awards

I was fuming.. My day was interrupted for a Bullshit Award!

“Dear Parent, Your son will receive an award…” it began innocently enough. The letter then went on to list the date and the time of the ceremony, inconveniently placed in the middle of the day and on incredibly short notice meaning that I had to reschedule several meetings to make myself available. Regardless of my full time job, I refuse to be the “absent parent” and make every possible effort to be there with a fully charged cellphone to take the traditional pictures and videos and provide enthusiastic applause.

On the day of the ceremony I received the handy, automated calendar notification. I had methodically planned my day; I would leave work, watch the awards, hug my son, tell him how proud I was of him, while sitting in the car scarf down the lunch I had packed the night before and would manage to get back just in time for my next meeting, easy peasy…I even checked with Waze several times that my route was the fastest option and crossed my fingers that no unexpected incident would affect my ETA.

I managed to get to the school’s auditorium right before the ceremony started. So far so good. The children were lined up waiting to be recognized while the principal was giving her customary speech. Of course, my son was at the end of the line…but it was his day so I took a deep breath and sat down making myself as comfortable as you could be in auditorium chairs designed for child-sized bodies. The teachers started to call out names, one student at a time and hand out the recognitions. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the awards (I know, don’t judge – in my head I was planning my next move, including what I would make for dinner and when I would manage to squeeze in five minutes of alone time with my husband). In the middle of mindless clapping in all the right moments, I noticed the categories were a bit…strange. Definitely nothing like the “Perfect Attendance” or “Honor Roll” type awards I was used to from my own school days.

Then it was my son’s turn…and I heard them announce his recognition…the “Honesty Award” (before you ask, yes, I diligently took video and multiple pictures. And I definitely hugged my son and told him how proud I was).

But in the car, after I left, between bites of my lunch while I was driving, I started to question what I had just seen. What kind of award is an “honesty award”? Does this mean that my son is the most honest in his school/class? Talking my confusion out with a good friend later I found out that all the children get a “turn” to be awarded; the schools implemented these award ceremonies in an effort to make the children feel better about themselves. To build confidence and put them on the same level as everyone else.

Now, I agree that we need to encourage children and that we need to help them build a healthy self esteem. But, are we doing it right by handing out arbitrary awards? Are we preparing the future generations to deal with the possibility that as they grow-up not everybody wins all the time? Will they be ready to enter to the workforce and become team players and good leaders who sometimes need to learn how to take responsibility without recognition?

Once upon a time when I was young (and it wasn’t that long ago) we didn’t receive “Bullshit Awards”. We weren’t rewarded for doing “nothing”. The rewards had to be earned and we learned pretty fast that if we wanted to compete we had to be prepared to deal with the emotional consequences of both winning and potentially losing. That lesson prepared us to go into the workforce armed with the skills we needed to compete for job and excel in our careers.

Maybe I’m too naive to think every parent would want to raise their children to be a well rounded adult prepared to handle a career in the real world. Shouldn’t we all want our children to learn early in life that behind every success or failure, there is a lesson to be learned; that we are a better person by learning to be happy for the success of others; that sometimes we win just by being a truly good friend. Isn’t this a better “reward” than a participation trophy?

There are no guarantees in life especially in your career or the professional world generally. Sure, sometimes getting ahead professionally takes a little bit of chance. But regardless of dumb luck, hard work and dedication above and beyond the minimal requirements are still necessary components of success. While I’ll still be showing up at my son’s awards ceremonies with hugs ready and camera in hand, I’ll also continue teaching him values that will help him succeed out in the real world and prepare him for the inevitable times when he won’t win in life. Just call me a no bullshit working mom!

Category: Lifestyle