Ok, so seriously, I’m obssessed with this demotivational poster. It’s perfect. The picture, the message, everything about it resonates with me on the most basic level. I don’t know what happened in America over the last 20 years or so, but somehow the unskilled and below-average acheivers took control over the “mission statement” of this country. Tell me if any of the following sound familiar:
“Everyone’s a winner.”
“Good effort…way to be a team player.”
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
Can someone please explain to me how we got here? How did effort trump skill? We award gold stars to kids for trying hard, yet failing miserably at something and we give out trophies to both teams who played in the game regardless of outcome.
This kind of gratuitous back-patting is most apparent when I get 18-year old kids in the classroom who have a room full of gold stars and effort trophies. I know exactly who they are on the day following the test or the grading of an assignment. They say things to me like, “I studied really hard, doesn’t that count for something?” or “But I followed the directions, why didn’t I get an A?”
This phenomenon isn’t just limited to undergraduates either. I’ve seen many grad students pushed through the program for “all of their hard work,” yet who had an inability to master the material or come up with a single original thought.
I would argue that the kids are completely unprepared for the real world, but that would not be completely true. Having just come off of 7 years of working for state government agencies, it’s grossly apparent there as well. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of very productive and competent people who work for the state and I’ve had the good fortune to work with a number of them. But let me just tell you, when you spot one another, you cling to each other for dear life. That person becomes your go-to gal/guy and you avoid all others at all costs because it’s just so damn depressing to watch someone fumble so badly with something that they have no business working on in the first place.
Now, I know that this sounds completely elitist and on one level, it probably is, but I think there’s an important point to be made. I absolutely believe in hard work. I don’t think that you can get anywhere in this life without earning it, but there’s a difference between rewarding someone’s work ethic and rewarding their incompetence. For example, I can train for the rest of my life to run the best marathon that I’m capable of, but does that mean that I deserve a place at the Olympics because I worked just as hard as the women who qualified?
Failing is an important part of life because we will all fail. Hell, I’ve failed more times and at more things than I care to remember, but I picked myself back up from the temper tantrum I was throwing, I licked my wounds and my resolve to succeed grew even greater. Yes, watching your child or your husband (or yourself!) fail is a hard thing to do, but sheltering them from the heartache never allows them to find that inner strength that they need to try even harder next time.
If you’ve visited my profile, you’ll have see that the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are among my favorite books (both by Ayn Rand). If you completely disagree with me and are currently vowing never to visit this blog again, I challenge you to read those books and tell me what you think (in the order listed). If what I said strikes a cord with you, I highly recommend that you read those books (in the order listed). If you’re completely ambivalent to everything I said and you’re just reading this because you’re bored, well, then you have time to go read those books. They’re that important. Really.
We are not all equally blessed at everything, but we all have strengths and a skill set entirely our own. Use it.