When I was in high school I lettered in band and theater. I remember getting some notice from the school that there would be an award ceremony on some given evening and they wanted to acknowledge my achievement. Personally, I didn’t know what it was all about, I had no idea what to expect. I had never lettered in anything as I never participated in sports in high school. The closest I came to entering into a sport was when I considered joining the water polo team. The season conflicted with a play I wanted to be in so I spared myself the experience of aspirating copious amounts of chlorine infused pool water.
I wanted to dress appropriately for this event, so I did my best to scratch up my best wardrobe from a school picture day long gone by. This resulted in a hodge-podge of raiment that consisted of an ill-fitted Oxford of a color that vacillated between neutral and pastel with a lavender knit tie that, as you may know if you’ve ever experienced any slice of 80s men’s fashion, is not unlike trying to tie a Windsor knot with a tube sock. My slacks told a story of having once been worn by a shorter David. The shoes… well, quite frankly I don’t remember the shoes.
I remember sitting in the back of the theater next to my mother and sister (and maybe my father, if my mom had successfully guilted him into attending, but my memory is too hazy on that). I listened to students’ names being called and watched each one that was present march onto the stage to receive their certificate and their pin. I did not find myself getting nervously excited about the accolades, nor was I indifferent to the whole event. I was anxious about walking the proscenium catwalk of teenage growth spurt style illustrated in color-blindness and punctuated with a deficit of fashion sense. My attempt to at least be well dressed was simply not well enough.
I believe I hung those certificates somewhere on one of the walls of my bedroom or my closet door. They were not displayed for the purpose of reminding family members and friends who crossed into my teenage lair of my extracurricular achievements. I just slapped them up there because I thought I was supposed to.
I’ve never understood the grand display of diplomas, awards, recognitions, and bravos framed behind glass and hung on office walls. If people desire to do that, more power to them. However, I’ve heard more stories of people who have become accomplished in one form or another attribute their motivation to a desire to prove to another person or specific peoples that they “made it”, that they’ve “become somebody”.
Isn’t there greater value in pursuing a goal primarily for the value returned from its accomplishment? Far too often many of us set out with something to prove to others, that we will show them once we’ve become successful. We feel that being one of the leaders in the cult of personality will bring even more personal significance to who we are, with our personal ascension toward enlightenment being achieved during the tossing of roses and the thunderous ovation. Then what happens when the last audience member to applaud realizes everyone else has stopped clapping and the curtain draws?
If our motivation toward any goal or achievement is based on winning the approval of another, or to gather around our plaque while nodding to each other the wonders of our excellence, that is a clue that our authentic selves have been left behind in the pursuit of our ambitions. Who we are and what we become needs no outside recognition to be validated, only the recognition that our greatest accomplishments are those that still make us proud in the stillness of our solitude when there is no one else to lay witness to them.