Kevin Shaw: No Room For Participation Trophies


I hate reality TV, but maybe not for the same reasons you do (because thankfully, its slowly on its way out of mode). The hardest part of watching those unscripted singing contestant shows are the first few episodes; the ones that parade an endless line of tone-deaf, untalented hacks before a panel of visibly uncomfortable judges. Sure, the awkwardness and often wincing discomfort of the panel is entertaining for many; personally, I can’t stand uncomfortable humor, it makes me squirm.

The hardest part for me is overcoming my sympathy, my projected embarrassment for the would-be contestant (who is so mistaken, so full of their own delusions of grandeur) that after a catastrophic performance proceeds to argue with the judges after they reveal that their cacophonous wailing was something slightly worse than a harp seal being dragged behind a cement truck.

But don’t mistake my feelings for compassion. No, it’s not pity I feel, but anger. Anger at parents too cowardly or so unloving to their child to tell them the truth that sadly, they should probably forego dreams of a music contract to pursue something more practical like a career as a dental hygienist. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? We live in a day where desperately clinging to and protecting a child’s self-esteem (even if its falsely) is more important than letting them experience the education that comes from failure.

Above left: Yup, I’m shameless enough to include this picture. Above right: Success is a culmination of small victories earned after exuding more effort than you thought you could muster, more patience than you thought you had, and more help than you deserve.


Looking back, I deeply regret following two friends into signing up for cross-country and track in high school. The problem was that I sucked at running. My form was crap and I quickly developed shinsplints. I hated my first year. And though I hated running, I hated being one of the slowest kids on the team more. So my next year, I showed up (much to my coach’s chagrin) and gave every practice my all. I attended every Saturday meet (all but one, I recall), and managed to shave several minutes from my time.

I still wasn’t terribly fast, my shins still felt like they were going to explode with every step, and I never got close enough to make Varsity, but thanks to my efforts, I was proud to earn my “Most Improved” trophy that year. But don’t confuse pride in my effort for satisfaction. My best wasn’t enough to even put me at the head of the JV team. I was – at best – decent. I had stepped up, gave it my all, and learned that my best wasn’t good enough. I continued to run for half of my junior year until I realized no amount of passion was going to make my shins impervious, or move my feet any faster.

There and then, I learned that it was better that I stepped aside to pursue something else. Since that time, I’ve been blessed to discover several avenues of interest where I’ve excelled both professionally and recreationally, of which I’ve found great personal satisfaction. Sometime during college, I realized a few things: 1) life is too short to waste it spitefully bashing one’s head against the same wall for no outcome, and 2) there’s too much variety in this world to let one thing overshadow a world of opportunities for success elsewhere. Allow me to explain:

Above: Two of the most successful men I know (Bobby Kimbrough and Jerry Gaddis, respectively), are inspirational to me for differing reasons, but both push me to always be better. Always seek wisdom from those who have gone before you.

Above left: Returning to the LB2CAT after a 5 year hiatus, my performance was a mere shadow of my previous’ class win and Top 10 finish. Above right: Despite our best laid plans, our “Long Haul” adventure proved a bust. Next time, my friend. Next time…

I do not prescribe to the maxim, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Sure, Grantland Rice’s wonderful sentiment should always be considered in regards to the sphere of being a good sportsman, but note that although a recreational enthusiast in private, Rice was sportswriter, not an athlete. As crassly as I can put it, Rice was an observer. His advice can only go so far. Rather, I submit Vince Lombardi’s declaration that “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” And Lombardi knew a thing or two about winning.

The most successful people I have met do not accept second place. Silver medals are an albatross of shame. Yes, successful people experience failure, and do so often, but are never content to “accept it.” (“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” to quote Lombardi again). They are undaunted in their charge towards success and frankly, its intoxicating to be around. And why? Because success is a drug, a drug as addicting as the purest narcotic. Once you’ve tasted it, you must have it all of the time.

But that’s the difference between drive and passion. You can fall out of love of something if you lose your drive. But your drive will supersede feigning emotion, will push past your boundaries and make your best better. You’ll never hear a successful person talk about “doing their best.” Why? Because your “best” is fluid, it fluctuates depending upon mood and interest. It’s not enough to get you across the finish line. To quote Sean Connery from The Rock, “Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and…” Well, you can look up the rest.

Go Get Wet,

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.


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    ocean 1 March, 2016 at 15:16 Reply

    Thank you for writing that piece! It was awesome. I am so glad that I am not growing up in today’s society of “everyone gets a trophy” and we are entitled to everything. We need things and people to aspire to and compete against. It’s pointless if we can’t win!

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