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Friday, December 15, 2017

Do Trophies Help or Hurt Achievement?


Challenge: Trophies and awards aren't always a measure of success.
Science: Many experts decry the overuse of trophies.
Solution: You need to define your own success.


Success can be subjective. Yes, there are measurable goals to determine a level of achievement, but success is often in the eye of the beholder. In fact, some folks who are universally considered to be winners never stop pushing the envelope and working to achieve even more in their fields and beyond. This is why you see tennis players who don’t retire after winning a single Wimbledon and entrepreneurs who make millions selling one company only to start from scratch on a new invention. They are internally motivated and driven to achieve. They aren’t reacting to outside trophies.

Take Oprah Winfrey, for example. Winning a daytime Emmy wasn't enough for her. Encouraging and promoting reading through her book club wasn't enough. She continued to expand her range and her corporation. While others might think of the Emmy as the ultimate trophy, she accepted it and moved even farther to create her own television network.


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Personal Achievement

Most people will live their lives without an Oscar, a Pulitzer, or a Nobel prize, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have successes. In sports, a personal best during your weekly run or a few extra points scored during your league volleyball game are successes. You don’t need a trophy each time you spike a ball if you hold the achievement as your trophy.

The same goes in business. A promotion or raise might be the only reward you want. A plaque acknowledging all you’ve achieved for your organization in the past year or two is a nice bonus and a visible show-off-able token, but does it replace the need for a bigger paycheck?

And, remember that not all trophies are statues. In the workplace, a higher-level title, a designated parking spot, and a corner office are considered valuable trophies.

Trophies for Everyone

Participation trophies are controversial for some folks, but consider the child (or adult) who doesn’t enjoy sports. He isn’t particularly skilled, but he continues to show up to the practices and matches. He doesn’t add any points to the scoreboard, but he’s getting exercise and building muscle mass. This is a success — keeping him healthy — so what’s the harm if he also gets a participation medal to document his involvement? In this age of increasing childhood obesity, isn’t just showing up for a match all for the good?

Well, some experts believe that the participation trophy discourages those who actually accomplish the win. According to the New York Times, “The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.”

Perhaps the takeaway message is “nonstop recognition.” Some recognition is beneficial, but a gold star for showing up at school on time might be excessive. The same might go for sports team participation, but it’s important to establish your guidelines and stick with them. Everyone appreciates knowing what the rules are.

For more on participation trophies, check out what Psychology Today has to say.

Group Awards

Maybe your greatest achievement will be as part of a team or group or organization that is successful. Great advancements are rarely accomplished in complete solitude. Everyone—from astronauts to world leaders to novelists—gets help and assistance from other people. Though you may never be awarded your own individual statue, you know that it was your electrical work that helped create an award-winning movie performance or it was your attention to detail in the accounting department that helped your company emerge unscathed from an audit. Sometimes this is just part of your day-to-day job, so you might not think of it as award-worthy or a success, but remember that it’s your success if you say it is. Just be careful how you phrase this on your resume. For example, “I was an important part of the team that supported the Olympic gold-medal winning ice skater,” rather than “I basically won the Olympic gold medal in ice skating.”

Your Success

Ultimately, you are responsible for defining your own success—in your life, with your work, and in terms of your activities. Whether you get a trophy, a pat on the back, a plaque, or a rush of endorphins, as long as you’re content, then it’s a definite win. And there’s no need to diminish any trophy that you have won. Display it and enjoy it! Just remember to continue on to the next challenge.


Author Bio

Jeffery Brauer is a freelancer pseudoscience writer based in San Luis Obispo, California. He enjoys going to the dog beach with his golden retriever, Max, and even has a few engraved trophies of his own.
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