I have long held the belief that my early morning excursions with my faithful hound Xena are the portal to a path filled with self-discovery. In many ways, my Plott Hound – Catahoula mix serves to unshackle my sleep-laden dreams, guiding me to the bliss that comes with free thought. At 5:30 in the morning, she is wide awake and exploring the bounty of new scents left overnight by urban wildlife. I on the other hand, am struggling to wake up; in that wonderful place between the subconscious and awakened reality.
One particular morning, my hundred pound canine companion was busily dragging her nose back and forth across a small bush. I looked over the fence into the backyard of the adjoining house to see a small garden shed. Something this banal would normally not catch my eye; however, this particular barn-inspired structure had a large window on the side. Resting on the inner sill of the window frame was a small silver-colored trophy.
While Xena tugged away, urging me in a new direction; I peered intently at the tarnished “loving cup” in front of me. Words had been etched upon the small metal plate at the base of the trophy. Unfortunately, time had not been kind to this award and most of the letters had been worn away. I smiled as I pictured anonymous fingers running back and forth across the inscription, slowly rubbing away the crisp etched characters. Obviously, this memento had been cherished by its recipient.
My furry trailblazer and I briskly walked away from the fenced-in shed. We paused to say hello to one of her closest friends; this time a Siberian Husky whose owner was in need of Espresso as badly as I was. The somnambulist woman and I exchanged pleasantries and then allowed our canine companions to eagerly lead us in opposite directions.
Soon I found my mind drifting back to the diminutive trophy in the garden shed window. A special event or accomplishment in the past had deserved a material memorial, replete with a customized nameplate. This many years later, that special commemorative token had been relegated to obscurity out in a backyard structure. The irony was painful!
All of us go through our lives craving recognition. We pray for that moment when we will suddenly be extraordinary in a world filled with the mundane. We seek to have that special occasion or event commemorated eternally, for all to witness. Even in the form of a simple metal trophy, we yearn for our accomplishments to live on internally!
In the past, a commemorative cup was something to be cherished. Polished at least weekly, this object held a place of honor on the family mantlepiece. Friends and family would come to visit on a Sunday afternoon, admiring the trophy and asking endless questions about how it had been earned. Naturally, the recipient was all too pleased to detail the exploits behind the singular piece of recognition.
We have entered an age where it is common practice to distribute trophies in mass. Accomplishment as a criterion for recognition has been replaced by simple participation. You no longer have to win; you simply need to show up! Now I am by no means an insensitive soul, as my regular readership can attest. However, I have to take issue with memorializing the superficial. It is the same difference as awarding a Super Bowl ring to every player in the NFL; simply because they played sixteen regular season games leading to the championship game!
Along the way, those who truly excelled and performed above and beyond expectation end up receiving the very same trophy as the slackers. Somehow it all cheapens the sense of accomplishment that comes with exemplary performance!
Picture yourself working endless hours to meet the needs of a client. That customer decides to double the size of your company’s contract, solely because of the work you performed. Your employer decides that a $10,000 bonus is in order. However it is decided that the bonus will be shared amongst every employee, simply because they work at the company. In short, all you got was a “participation trophy!”
Why does a small piece of metal mounted on a pedestal mean so much to us? Then in conflicting fashion; why do we eventually throw away these awards or store them where they will never again be admired? Perhaps they seem a little cheaper when they are the norm rather than the exception. Before we know it, our accomplishments are stashed away in obscure places, such as the dusty window sill of a garden shed!
What drives you to perform? What passion steers you to help others? Is there a fire burning deep within that forces you to accept nothing short of excellence? Do you need the prospect of recognition, a trophy if you will; to drive you into action?
Some of us have been blessed with an uncanny ability. We are part of a fortunate fraternity that creates its own trophies. These do no come in the form of small metal loving cups mounted on polished wood. We do not require that our names be etched sharply on name plates. Instead, our trophies are stored deep within us; in the form of the inner peace that comes from actively and lovingly doing what is right, as opposed to simply showing up!