Participation Trophies

*** Technically this is from last week. I literally typed it all out and forgot to hit publish. My apologies for my very vague interpretations of "posting every Thursday" recently. ***

So fun fact that some of you that may or may not know: I have participated in karate basically my whole life. I started when I was 5 in a Japanese martial art called Taido, and am currently a 2nd-degree black belt. That being said, I haven’t trained in forever and got a call 2 weeks ago asking me to fill a vacancy for a particular bracket of a tournament. That tournament was this past weekend.


As a general rule, I don’t believe in participation trophies, however, I do fully believe that often times in life, participation is the trophy. To take that a step further, I believe that trophy is experience, and experience is something you can’t buy. You have to actually participate to earn it. I love that because it’s one of the few things in life you can’t actually bullshit. Certainly you can try and bullshit others ABOUT your experience, but introspectively, you can’t bullshit yourself without actually getting a little mud on your boots. I think we forget the importance of experiencing things sometimes. Far too often, we view education as something that happens only in a classroom or a lecture but think about all the greatest values you’ve learned in life. Did the ideas you consumed from a book or lesson really resonate until you had an opportunity to put them into practice? I’m willing to bet they didn’t. This tournament was one of those learning experiences for me. 


For the record, I failed horribly in the tournament.

I didn’t even place.

So what did I learn from losing?

That I, as a person, genuinely don’t give one single, solitary fuck about winning at most things in life.




There was no overwhelming sense of failure.

No doubt in my abilities.

No yearning for revenge for next year.


Not that I don’t think healthy competition is a great thing, I do. I think it’s a great motivating factor for a lot of people to push themselves to achieve things they might not have believed they could do before.


Just not me.


Sure, there are some circumstances or events in life that I would probably care if I win, but they’re few and far between. I’ve come to realize that I care far more about the journey than the verdict. Because the journey is where you learn. The journey is where the story is built. The journey is where you grow into YOU. For me, the tournament was an opportunity to have fun with lifelong friends of mine. It was an opportunity to see where my abilities are at completely cold after not training for at least a year. Arguably, most importantly, it was an opportunity to try and think outside the box. Because often, when your only goal is to win, you force yourself to play it safe and not take chances. When you’re in it for the experience, you’re able to experiment outside of your wheelhouse, which then takes you, as a person, to the next level.


Something one of my sensei’s always told me growing up is how life is a lot like a video game. Every time you do something new, or enter a new competition, or go for something you’re not guaranteed to win, regardless of the outcome, you rack up more XP to get to the next level. You gain more experience, more confidence, and you continue to learn new things about the world and yourself. It seemed like such a simple idea growing up that I often blew over it. It tends to make a lot of sense these days, though.


So what's the moral of the story?


I’d encourage you to participate in life. Take opportunities that come your way even if there’s no apparent “win” to come from it. Never underestimate the value of experiencing.