I stuck with engineering for about a year and a half in college, but if I'm being perfectly honest with myself (and I guess with my parents), the moment I decided to switch majors was right then and there at the Northeast Ohio Science and Engineering Fair, and all I have to show for it are two participation ribbons, a participation medal, and freshly cooked plate of hindsight.
Fourth Place In A Chess Tournament
My grade school was not exactly a bastion of Socratic thought and problem-solving. If I wanted mental stimulation, I could either go to the local public library or light weird things on fire in the woods. One day at school, there was an announcement that the local CYO was going to be starting a chess club, and so me and a friend decided we'd go check it out. Smart people played chess, right?
Well, sort of. A bunch of kids whose parents needed an after-school program to toss them in was who played chess. There were, fortunately, a few levels -- beginners, intermediate, and advanced. After toying around with the beginners and intermediate kids for a few weeks, the guy in charge of the chess program thought he'd move me and my friend up to the advanced level, because the same two kids in advanced chess were getting sick of playing each other over and over again.
Finally, we found out there was going to be a tournament the week before Christmas break. My friend and I were pretty excited about the chance to win a whole bunch of games ...
Why I Hate This Trophy:
... until we got there and found out that it was going to be broken down by division.
Remember how there were only four kids in the advanced chess division? Yeah.
Fourth place. If you ignore all the self-loathing and misery, it's kind of funny. Kind of.
I drew my friend in the first round, and he beat me, then the winner of the other two kids. He took first, and I took fourth. On a related note, this piece of crap trophy doesn't even specify that I was in the advanced division. It may as well read "I Played Chess."
This would have been no big deal had it not gotten mentioned on the morning announcements the next day at school. When confronted, we tried to make it sound cool. Hey, we were the first- and fourth-best chess players in the area! That didn't work, so then we tried to downplay it. You know, how it wasn't a big deal guys, just forget about it, we only played a couple games and then left. Then we smoked some tobacco behind the school and, I don't know, just chilled.
Well, some kid suddenly decided he could do math and realized that if we only played a couple games, that meant there weren't that many kids playing chess in the first place. Then we were really losers, and not just because we played chess. We may have taken first and fourth place, but those other kids were right -- we hadn't accomplished a damned thing.
I've used this as my metaphor for life ever since.
At the end of the day, this is what drives me nuts about participation trophies. "Grown-ups" thought they were protecting us from the harsh realities of a winners-and-losers world by giving us "participation trophies," when all they were really doing was saddling us with cheap plastic reminders of what it's like to lose all the goddamned time. My bank account balance is a much better reminder of what a failure I am.
Tell Isaac what a loser he is on Twitter or Instagram. Or say validating things to him. Either works.
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