On the last day of our holiday my partner’s niece texted us, demanding that we talk her because she had very important news. After several aggravated minutes of downloading facetime and figuring out how the damn thing works, we eventually got connected to her. She had won a silver medal in her gymnastics competition. She had to phone us in Cyprus from Scotland to tell us she was so excited.
The next time we were at her house the medal was immediately brought down. I told myself how good she must have been, asked if she was happy about it and what she had to do to win it. And then I found myself, without thinking, saying, “Do you think you could get a gold medal next time?”
She moved on to show her grandparents and then her great grandparents and then more uncles and aunties. Each time, they told her how good she was and then did the same as me.
“Maybe if you work harder next year you’ll get a gold medal!”
Then I started thinking.
It’s not bad advice. People need things to strive for and most would like get better and better. Winning a gold medal feels unbelievable. But it was odd that when her family were congratulating her on her achievement (myself included) they also reminded her that she could have done better.
Ultimately, life doesn’t hand you gold, silver or bronze medals. Where I am just now, trying to develop in my career, skills and personal goals, the only person I’m competing with is myself. Therefore, I always come first! But I also always come last, making for a confusing end ceremony. When I tried to compare my progress with others around, it didn’t do me any good: I needed to focus on my development, not theirs because my development is what counts.
I am looking to get to a certain point. It rarely matters how long it takes me to get there (if I don’t have deadlines), how I do it or what help I’m given along the way. As long as I get there and do a good job, chances are I’ve succeeded (of course, this leads to a discussion about defining success but that is another blog for another time).
Which is why I thought it was funny to see people encouraging an attitude focusing on being the best rather than just praising her for an outstanding achievement. She wants the gold or she wouldn’t have tried so hard at the competition and got the silver. Why do we need to remind her that she missed her goal, even if she got a great result anyway? Is second out of dozens of others not an amazing feat in itself?
I have heard a lot of complaints and arguments against children being praised and rewarded for participation instead of winning or achievement. I was one of those people until this incident got me thinking. Why shouldn’t we praise people for trying as hard as they can? In my opinion, feeling good about working hard is going to benefit them more in their adult life than being told that they’re a loser for being slower than their friends at running. Because losing sucks. I have lost. A lot. It’s a giant kick in the arse that knocks you don’t just to jump on you some more, making you feel like shit because, it didn’t matter how much hard work you put in, you’re still not good enough.
However, the key part of that is rewarding trying hard. In my mind, trying hard (and timing and arguably luck) will get you places.
I work hard and I am complemented on my work ethic a lot. I would be lying if I said that winning and losing hasn’t affected this and maybe even be the key reason shaping why I want to work hard. Due to working hard and trying my best, people see potential in me and are willing to either shape it or provide me with opportunities. But I have to prove that I can do it.
I can see in other areas of my life were people don’t work hard. They don’t try. Because they don’t have to. They are given praise or what they want regardless of what they do. Some of these people are taking advantage of it and hurting other people because of it. I am of the mentality that no one is entitled to anything and that if you want things in life, you have to work for it.
We shouldn’t stop encouraging hard work for the sake of having one winner. There is never one winner in the real world. You may be affected by other people’s achievements but it shouldn’t dampen your own or make you a loser. On the other hand, being the best is an incentive to work hard and I wonder if giving everyone equal praise and recognition, even if some work a lot harder than others, doesn’t show the value in hard work but instead that you will get everything handed to you anyway.
I have no suggestions about the way games are played in schools or children’s clubs. Ultimately, I think people should be praised for trying their best and getting the job done (whether they end up in first place or seventh) and people should not be allowed to do things half-arsed (at least and get the same praise they would if they worked hard).
It’s more complicated than that. I know. In the real world, even if you do your best you don’t succeed and some people are able to win by doing very little. It’s unfair. But shouldn’t we try to instil an ethic of hard work in everyone? Imagine what the world could be like if everyone was always trying their best.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Am I being too lenient? Have I taken too much out of family just wanting their niece to be the best? In the real world, is their only one winner and everyone else is a loser? Or in your life, does it not seem to matter how much effort people put into things?
Too many questions. I’ll stop (for now).
Oh, as a last reminder:
- Image sourced from Google images