No Losers

You know, I wonder if anybody’s ever asked a kid who grew up in our generation how we felt about being awarded “participation” ribbons.  Because despite what this woman is saying when she says, “Millennials were raised in a public school system where there were ‘no losers’ to sports – there were ribbons for every place and everyone got a prize at the party”, I have to disagree.  Those of us who earned a participation ribbon but still didn’t win? We went home, and shoved our participation ribbons under the bed.  At the end of the day, sports had winners and losers. Even if the teachers didn’t keep score, we did. Those of us who were bad at sports and got blamed for losing the game for the team? Oh man, did we know we were losers.

So maybe, maybe, the problem isn’t that we’re handing out ribbons to everybody. Maybe the problem is that we are treating kids like they are stupid. Trust me, your kid is keeping score. If you want them to feel good about themselves, about how they played, give them something to be proud of. Help them learn to play sports. Actively encourage them to do activities where they excel. I was a failure, an absolute failure, at gym class. Even my dad made fun of how much I didn’t play soccer. But on the weekends, we went to the ice rink and I took figure skating lessons and I was not very good, but I was happier than I was in gym class. I wasn’t letting anybody down, and nobody called me a loser, even when I failed a level of skating and had to repeat the class.

Another thing that Nicole D. says is that Millenials (meaning me, and probably you), “were used to trying out everything, then dropping those things that proved to be too time consuming, difficult, or uninteresting.”

In a world where we constantly encourage people to quit jobs they hate, persue their passions, say no to stressful projects that are unimportant or will take up too much of their time, why is it that we are maligning children and teenagers for trying different activities in a search for self, and then dropping them because they were too time consuming, difficult, or uninteresting? Why should anybody have to participate in an activity that they do not enjoy? There is a big difference between giving up on something because it’s too hard, and on giving up on something that is too hard and makes you fundamentally unhappy.  Myself, and many of my fellow students, stuck with activities that were challenging but ultimately fulfilling (theatre tech, debate), and dropped the ones that were difficult and made us desperately unhappy, while taking time away from activities we really wanted to be doing (math team).

Trust me when I tell you that everyone I knew, no matter how over-parented, no matter how over-protected, found a way to fail. Some of us failed classes (hi), some of us failed at extracurriculars, some of us failed at getting into college, or staying in college.  Some of us failed at making friends, or at dating. Some of us have the markers of of being Millennials that Nicole points out – I don’t appreciate being micro-managed, and I refused to stay loyal to an organization that stopped paying me with a week’s notice but still expected me to stay on for the foreseeable future. I disagree about this generation’s inability to communicate with older generations, but maybe that’s because oh yeah, I’m an elder law attorney.

Anybody else get overly defensive when you read articles telling them that the six field day participation ribbons you have under your bed somehow led to your total failure as a generation? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m volunteering at a luncheon event. For somebody that I feel fiercely loyal to. Who is at least 30 years older than me.




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3 responses to “No Losers

  1. The thing that I don’t get, is the blame our generation receives for things that the older generations taught us. We weren’t the ones that gave ourselves participation ribbons or told ourselves that we could try things out and drop the ones that didn’t make us happy. We weren’t the ones that told ourselves that we could be anything we wanted to be as long as we went to college. I wish the older generations would take some credit for raising us. If we are a “failing” generation, then they are just as much at fault for coddling us.

  2. I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a while. I am so with you on those “participation” ribbons. When I was a kid we had Field Day at our school. We were all required to sign up for at least 3 events. First place got a blue ribbon, second place got a red ribbon, third place got a yellow ribbon, and everyone who finished below the top 3 got a green ribbon that said “Fourth Place.” I came home from Field Day with 3 green ribbons pretty much every year (except for the one year I came in second at the 100-yard dash) and I didn’t feel proud. I knew that I’d really come in seventh; I knew that I sucked at sports. I hated those stupid embarrassing green ribbons.

    I think the thing that characterizes our generation more is that we’re used to positive reinforcement from authority figures when we do something good or right. Now that we’re out in the working world with people who are much stingier with praise than our parents or teachers or graduate school mentors have been, I think it can be difficult for Millenials to tell whether they are doing well, which leads to a lot of anxiety and suspicion that “maybe I’m not good at this, maybe I should try something different.” (At least, this has been my experience of the working world, but maybe I’m atypically dependent on external validation.)

    • Oh, and there’s some really terrible advice out there about how to make Millenial employees happy. The worst one I’ve seen is that a boss should write the Millenial’s parents a note thanking them for raising such a great kid. Are you kidding me? Does no one respect the boundaries between the personal and professional any more?

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