The big gripes about my generation, the Millennials (a label I reject with every fiber of my being), is that they all want to be praised simply for existing, that they are entitled, that they don’t know how to achieve, and everything in between.
All legit gripes.
The Millennials consist of quite a few ninnies and lames who have been hovered over, coddled, and catered to their entire lives. They were the kids who were protected from criticism. They were the kids who didn’t care to even try. They were the kids who may not have been as good at “popular” things that got attention. They were the ones whose little egos were so insulated that they now expect the world to bend to them.
It would be easy to say it’s a lack of character.
Their parents didn’t parent right. Those kids didn’t get the kind of leadership that would turn them into leaders, achievers, “try”ers, or adults who are—at the very least—responsible for the courses of their lives.
The administrators and politicians and “experts” let society down by crafting policies and theories that suggested we should all be held to lower standards, so as not to hurt those kids who weren’t performing at high levels. Or not to hurt everyone else by their low performance. Or to protect their asses for doing sub-par work.
And we’re all worse off for setting and accepting lower standards. Standards matter, in all kinds of ways.
We are worse off for protecting mediocre effort.
Lowering standards so that more people met them was a superficial fix to a problem that needed bootstrap-pulling, rolled-up-sleeves work.
Like they say: shit rolls downhill.
Lack of substance from the people in charge grew exponentially.
Participation Ribbons: The Scourge of Humankind
I remember Field Day in sixth grade. I got a stupid purple ribbon for getting fourth place in some water balloon event.
I threw that ribbon right in the trash.
It didn’t look good with all the blue ones. Besides, I was a substitute for a sick classmate and couldn’t have cared less about carrying water balloons under my chin from one cone to another.
I remember feeling confused when a teacher handed me the ribbon.
“What is this even for? Did you not see me suck at that?”
I remember being out of breath after the 100m dash, even while accepting my blue ribbon. And I remember feeling all the pride rush out of my body, untied balloon personified, when EVERYONE ELSE got a ribbon.
“Umm… what is this? She came in dead last.”
I remember sitting in my closet that night, looking at the shiny blue tokens and feeling empty.
It wasn’t that I thought the other girls were less-than. It was just a stupid foot race. But, everyone getting one made the accomplishment feel less significant. Those ribbons were as cheap in meaning as they were in quality.
I threw every one of them in the trash.
That was the day I learned how empty accolades are AND how much I still liked to achieve. In that closet, I told myself that I wouldn’t need to be told I was doing well if I just went out and did well.
Quality work deserves recognition.
When there are standards, meeting them is desirable. Smashing them is commendable.
Where there is competition, doing better than the others makes you a winner. Not everyone can win – that’s the nature of the game. Effort, though, determines whether or not a person deserves recognition. That’s what the participation ribbons missed—simply showing up doesn’t mean a damn thing.
And that’s what a lot people miss – they want to reap, but haven’t sewed.
It’s the same as when someone says they want to change, but don’t do anything different with their life. It’s how people want praise, but haven’t done anything praiseworthy.
There’s major cognitive dissonance—the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
One thing a lot of people miss is that not currently being good at something doesn’t mean a person is a loser or can never be good at it.
Teachers and parents were so worried about protecting kids from disappointment that they forgot to teach them pursuit.
“Little Bobby can’t throw as far as Sean… so, we can’t have the throwing competition anymore.”
Why not teach Bobby to throw better.
Let’s give Sean props for being a beast.
Let’s look at what makes Sean able to throw the ball well.
What DOES Bobby do well?
There was a kid in my third grade class who finished our multiplication tests last or almost-last every time. Meanwhile, me and a few other kids were racing, banging our knees on desks as we ran to put completed tests on the teacher’s stool.
There was no added bonus for finishing first.
We just wanted to.
It was fun to compete with each other.
But Mr. Last wasn’t interested in racing. He wanted to get the answers right. He’d get the A, too.
And he’s an accountant today.
It makes no sense to hold everybody back.
Why not help others speed up?
Why not have separate tracks for different abilities?
The short-term, small-picture thinking really screwed things.
If You’re Reading This…
Yes, the state of affairs appears bleak.
But, ask yourself one very important question:
WTF DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ME?
Your mind is yours. Your decisions are yours. Your life is up to you.
Just because these lame things exist (entitlement, participation ribbon attitudes, etc.) doesn’t mean you have to take part.
If you’re reading this, you have the ability to take your life to the next level. And all it takes it setting your mind to it.
We have the gift of self-determination. We have the ability, at all times, to change course. We have three very useful tools at our disposal: Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight.
We can look at what’s happened. We can look at where it’s gotten us. And we can make plans for where we want to go.
It’s all a matter of seeing things for what they are, deciding how you want them to be, and making them so.
What Makes a Winner?
An easy frame of reference for this is sports:
Making it to the NBA. People remember the standouts and champions. Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton never won a trophy, but nobody is calling them a loser. Everybody knows Michael Jordan’s name and on-court accomplishments. But for every one of those names, there are hundreds of other guys who were still there.
They made it to the NBA.
Those guys weren’t given access to the big show. They practiced. They chased achievement. They found the right teams, coaches, trainers, connections. They used their talent.
Even if we don’t know their names, they aren’t losers.
Kind of like the ‘This ≠ That’ section talked about: not winning doesn’t make you a loser.
Let’s Get Real
There ARE very real success structures in our world. There ARE hierarchies. There ARE levels of achievement. We ARE measured, graded, categorized, rated, ranked… and it’s crazy to pretend like these things don’t exist.
(Whether we should be; how we should be; inherent bias and equal access to upper echelon are whole ‘nother cans of worms.)
You may not always be in a footrace or trying to get a promotion, but when you are… chase that next level.
The race isn’t over til it’s over.
That’s the difference between winners and everyone else. Winners pursue the next level.
When there are standards to meet, exceed them.
That’s the mindset of a winner.
When there is effort to give, have the character to give your best.
That’s what deserves praise.
But what happens when there isn’t a pre-set challenge?
Set your own goals.
Have an idea of what you want your life to look like. Set standards for yourself.
That’s what achievers do.
It’s all in the pursuit.
Having no goals; no personal standards; giving half-assed effort; simply showing up because you HAVE to—that’s loser stuff.
Success Is A Lifestyle
Becoming a “winner” is about adopting winning attitudes, behaviors and habits. One thing is for sure, winners do things differently in their lives.