The Trophy Shelf

At one time, I had a room full of trophies, plaques, certifications, and awards, and they did absolutely nothing for me.

I never felt pride, joy, or anything else when I looked at them. In fact, it didn’t really take to long before I viewed them as a pile of junk that was taking up space.


It goes back to when I was doing contract work for some big agencies. They all had lots of awards. But when I looked deeper into them, I realized they had either paid for them or made them up out of whole cloth.

It may also go back to when I was a kid and went to the awards ceremony for the go-kart racing I was doing then. I thought I was going to congratulate the guys who honestly beat me. Instead, I was handed a trophy – essentially a participation trophy – which made me very angry. I earned nothing that season. My competitors did. I found it offensive.

It could be because I’ve never liked awards shows. It’s been a long time since I tried to watch one, but I remember thinking they were absurd parades of narcissism by some of the most insecure people on earth. I could be wrong about that, but that’s what they appeared to be to me.

About that trophy shelf....But I think what really did it was visiting with some folks who had glass cases full of serious trophies. Hundreds and hundreds of them. There were so many of them that none of them were special. They were all just collecting dust and taking up space. When I asked about the ones that should have been a big deal, the recipient of those trophies couldn’t even remember which one was which.

After that, I went home and took all of them down. I kept three plaques because they did give me a tiny bit of joy. After all, so much real work that I am proud of went into the project to get it done or because my brother won them and really deserved to win them. The rest I stripped down and donated.

And guess what? Giving them away and clearing up all that space felt infinitely better than when I got them.

Awards need to be rare and truly earned to mean anything. And they must be given freely by people you truly respect, or they mean nothing.