Rick Wamre: Trophies for everyone?

Why just showing up is no longer enough

Maybe it all started with the participation trophies so indignantly argued about these days, the awards everyone takes home after every youth sports season, win or lose and sometimes even without showing up much.

Maybe it started with ubiquitous cellphone communications, where no one really has to think for themselves because they can use an endless number of lifelines searching for help on even the most simple questions rather than being forced to figure things out on their own.
Or maybe I’m just mistaken: As those who know me best would be eager to tell you, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong.

What I’m talking about is life, and the general success or lack thereof so often associated with it.
It’s been said that the hardest part of life is showing up. To me, showing up is the easiest part of life; the hardest part is what comes after you show up.But to a new high school or college graduate, that thought doesn’t seem to resonate. For the most part, new grads seem to believe that by graduating, they’ve already accomplished the hardest part of life, and the rest will be a simple roll downhill.
The students we’re profiling in this month’s issue are neighborhood kids who were dealt a bad hand and kept playing anyway, surviving round after round of nail-biting stress simply to outlast high school.
It would be nice if the story ended right there: A good kid survives a tough time, and the rest is happily ever after. But happily ever after doesn’t seem to happen even in most movies anymore. Happy-for-now with storm clouds on the horizon seems more to be the state of life these days.
Whether it’s politics of any sort or education or nonprofits or sports, the good news stories always seem overwhelmed by pending DUIs or spousal abuse or grade-school name-calling — all by people who seem to believe that showing up was all they needed to do to be successful.
Showing up isn’t enough anymore, if it ever was. Instead, life requires plodding along, day after day, pulling whatever weight we’ve been given in the general direction we believe is correct, and then picking up where we left off again the next day and the next day and the next, even when we aren’t exactly sure we’re pointed the right way.

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Life seems a bit zombie-like when it’s stated like that, with a never-ending stream of tasks stacked higher than we can ever reach awaiting us day after day after day.
Attacking life in this way is what makes the students we’re featuring worth reading about. They knew the odds were stacked against them and yet they kept plugging away. They’ve reached that first stage of success; now they’ll have to reach back for more of the energy that brought them to this point. They need to stay after whatever it is they want to accomplish, because that’s the only way they’re ever going to get there.

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If the hardest part of life is slogging forward day after day, regardless of the progress that is seemingly being made, they’ve already done a better job than most of us.
Now they just have to keep it up, as the rest of us know all too well.

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