Growing up, my parents tried to involve us in activities. I played softball and soccer. I was not an athlete, but I don’t remember ever thinking I was the worst player on the team. Maybe that was because I was never on a winning team. At the end of a season, I was always the proud recipient of a “participation” trophy. In time, I collected quite a few of these from sports and other school activities–I had a whole bookshelf full of honorable mentions and participation awards. I suppose this might be considered somewhat pathetic to some, but it honestly did make me feel good to see a tangible testament to my efforts.
One day, during my high school years, I was having a little tiff with my oldest sister. She was giving me a hard time about something (I can’t for the life of me remember what) and I shot back at her with some comment or other, which she simply laughed off and said, “OK, Miss Participation.” I was crushed. Even though I had never really won anything before, I had never felt like such a loser.
That was hard for me to get over. I remember a conversation I had with my mom. I had been taking piano lessons for about six years, but had started complaining about it. I rarely practiced and tried to come up with excuses to miss lessons. My mom suggested I quit. After all, if I wasn’t enjoying it and wasn’t going to put forth any effort, it was just a waste of my time and her money. I thought about that for a moment, then, in all my teenage drama, burst into tears. “But Mom, this is the only thing that I do!” I was a good student, but had no other extracurricular activities like sports or dance or student council or whatever. I felt like I had nothing that distinguished me–just a shelf full of dusty consolation prizes.
Over the years I’ve had enough academic successes and other experiences to keep myself from drowning in a sea of self pity and disdain. I’m actually treading water pretty well these days. Occasionally my head bobs and I get a mouth full of failure, but eventually something comes along and throws me a life saver. And now that I’ve become so old and wise, I can see the value of all those participation-trophy-yielding experiences. I’m grateful for them, and I’ve decided to wear that “Miss Participation” sash with my head held high.
I’m taking my girls to a PTA Reflections Awards ceremony tonight. Before entering, both girls expressed a fear that their work wouldn’t be good enough. I tried to reassure them that they had done a great job, and that even if they didn’t win the ribbons they hoped for, that wouldn’t change what they had accomplished and they would feel good about having tried. I’m not sure they were convinced, but it’s true. Or at least it should be.