Reflections of a Southern Yankee; Earned, Not Deserved 

I turn 51 this month. I guess that officially puts me over the hill (50 just means you reached the top). It’s hard to fathom how time has flown by, and I find myself traveling back to my childhood memories more and more often. I know every generation says the same thing – life was so much better and different back then. I often wonder if my own children will feel the same way when they reach my age. As much as things quickly continue to change and evolve, I imagine that they will.

As a true GenX’er, I can actually say that I grew up in a time when we earned things. My adopted parents worked hard to provide, so I was more than willing to help out around the house and earn my keep. Earning my keep looked like a lot of different things. Depending on the time of year, it ranged from cutting and stacking wood for the wood stove to raking leaves to mowing the yard or pulling weeds in the garden. Sometimes it was a less desirable task like changing out the litter box, folding laundry or doing dishes. As my parents added more members to the family, it became changing diapers and helping out with my siblings. I did all these things and more but never received an allowance – with which I was perfectly fine. I guess I understood at a young age that my folks were making sacrifices for me, so I could at least do the same for them.

Both of my sons, now 23 and 20, grew up in the “everyone gets a trophy” era. As much as I disliked the idea of everyone getting rewarded, it was the way things were, and I had more to worry about than getting upset about it. I seriously do wonder how much of the entitlement we see today was brought on by all of the trophy nonsense.

Again, as a proud GenX’er, I can honestly say I never won an award that I didn’t earn. I don’t  have a massive collection of dusty trophies in a box in the attic because most of the teams I played on didn’t win championships. Field Day, however, was a different story. Many of my fondest memories from elementary school are centered around that one day of the year when the entire school went outside and participated in activities – except our activities were actual competitions (and boy, did we take them seriously). For most of the day, we ran races of various lengths, threw water balloons for distance, battled in the classic tug-of-war – the list went on and on. And, throughout every competition, records were kept of times and results by our teachers. Finally, a little sunburned and tired but happy group of children would sit in the shade of one of the large trees around our school for the award ceremony. Here’s the kicker though. Not everyone got an award! Ribbons and medals were given out to the top three students in each grade level for each competition. And, at the very end, the class with the most points received a trophy. For those who walked away with awards, it was a wonderful feeling. For those who walked away empty handed, it was a wonderful lesson – work harder, try harder and better yourself.

Watching the world today, I’m beginning to fear that the lessons we learned from failing or losing aren’t being learned because people aren’t being allowed to fail. Some of my greatest gains and successes have come only after some of my greatest failures. Yes, those failures were painful at the time, but they have also proven to be very valuable in the long run.

Yes, this old codger is turning 51, and I might sound a bit outdated, but I’m still pretty darn proud to say that everything I’ve ever gotten was earned.


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