Trash the Trophies
There was a wall in my childhood home full of trophies. My mom used to point to it with utter pride whenever guests stopped by. The top shelf was packed with awards that my oldest sister got in dance and the second shelf was full of the ones my middle sister got in speech, debate, and overall academic achievement. Little old me, the youngest one, didn’t have anything to show on this wall.
So you can imagine my excitement when I finally won a trophy (I don’t even remember for what because all that mattered was the trophy) and ran home to show it to my mom. I wanted to make her proud of me just like she was of my sisters; I wanted to make her love me just as much as she loved them. And guess what, when she saw it, she WAS proud. She hugged me and told me so.
Ah, what a defining moment for me.
That trophy and that hug had finally earned me my mom’s admiration and her love (so my young brain thought). She didn’t mean for me to think that her love had to be earned, I know that intellectually, but emotionally, it got built into me that I had to be the best at something to earn it. More than that, I started to believe that without being the best, I wasn’t worth loving at all (kids do the darndest things?).
From that moment on, my eye on achievement was fixed. And here’s the trick, the more I achieved, the stronger my misguided belief became. Just like in the case of my mom’s hug, when I started achieving more, people went out of their way to recognize my achievements to show their support more. It became a never-ending cycle and my self-worth got more and more attached to what I accomplished.
So I’m sad to say that I’ve punished myself most of my life with the need to be the best at everything. I’ve had a lot of “success,” but the cost has been awfully HIGH. I’ve overworked myself to the point of illness. I’ve been a mean self-critic in pursuit of perfectionism. I’ve been restless when I wasn’t achieving. I’ve missed out on trying what could’ve been fulfilling experiences because I didn’t think I could be the best at them.
Thankfully though, a few years back, I had another defining moment that made me take stock in how I was living. I had such an acute anxiety-ridden reaction to a bad acting performance that it felt like I hit rock bottom. I had to find relief. I wound up at an amazing experiential retreat that created the safety for me to finally be able to see my belief for what it was and I realized that I was hustling for my self-worth by showing everyone my achievements. As soon as I started to see this, I also started to see that it was neither logical nor sustainable… and more importantly it made me be really unkind to myself. My mom definitely didn’t intend that for me.
I still want to achieve, of course, but my newfound awareness started shifting why I pursued my achievements. I started to pause to reflect on my motivations before launching into my pursuits. I started to focus on being enough rather than producing enough. I started to focus on the process. This has not been a simple undertaking for me; after all, I’ve spent decades living this way, but I have made progress. So even when I know that I’m concerned about outcomes more than I want to be, I try to remind myself that the results will not define me….that it’s OK to trash the trophies.
This is one of the key reasons that at Rooted we focus on the process rather than the product. We tell the participants that their worth has nothing to do with producing perfect, awesome, award-worthy results. In fact, in our drawing and writing sessions, we encourage everyone to rip up what they created to reinforce that the experience is strictly for them and not about what anyone – including us – may think of the outcome.
The destroyed outcomes may all look like trash, but in the end this trash is worth 10 shelves full of trophies.