What’s my beef with awards all about!

The first award I ever won was a Tiny Tots Judo Award. I was six, very cute, two little plaits, white judo suit, quite shy (believe it or not) but put me in a judo ring and I became alive. Here I could fight with the boys and it was ok (there was only one other girl in the club, Lisa, who was older/heavier than me, so boys it was). I loved judo, loved the camaraderie, the physicality of it, the fact that other girls didn’t really do it. I loved it, until I approached puberty and grew bits that meant it was less comfortable, and I became more conscious of myself I suppose, and my excema was really easily aggravated by the heat and sweat. So I moved on from judo, with all the confidence of a bookish girl who could look out for herself and who knew that if I worked hard at something I would improve. I have fond memories.

The second award I won was for an Easter Bonnet competition at the local church. A picture speaks louder than words on this one…

EasterBonnetHumiliation

Seriously. I mean I look now and I wonder what the hell my parentals were thinking, or I was thinking in an all mauve number!! What can I say it was the 80s. That bonnet was bloody cool though, and taking stuff to the next level contained actual eggs, move too fast and it would have been an eggy humiliation disaster. Instead years later it’s just sooo humiliatingly bad, it’s good. I suspect it’s how I also developed the hat rule, not left with much choice really (Rule 9). The learning, have an idea and believe in it and take people with you!

Fast forward twenty five years or so to last year and at the end of the 2013 RTNA Conference in Banff, I was awarded an Inuksuk, for best abstract, I think it was the mention of a Knowledge Transfer Ice Cream Van (my dream) that did it:

InukshukIf I’m honest the award I’m most proud of is the Inuksuk. It’s by far the most beautiful and an inuksuk is a place maker, used to mark the way or indicate a change in direction, there are lots of translations and discussions of it’s history, but the interpretation I like is that it essentially means ‘you’re on the right path’. Rewarding and acknowledging a journey, love that.

So what has this got to do with my beef of awards, especially within the NHS of late. I offer this context because it could be that my early formative years were lacking in awards, that I don’t consider myself a natural ‘winner’, so it’s just a self-protection stance I take. Confident and vocal myself, but with little truck for appearances being a useful way to judge people, I’ve watched time and time again as ‘the usual suspects’ receive award after award. Throughout life I’ve seen those who are best able to promote themselves, with an almost arrogant unawareness of how others perceive or experience them, put themselves forward and win reward or accolade or praise for themselves. This isn’t a slight against the many excellent, and very deserving, award winners. It’s an observation on how we find them, and who is not represented.

Last night I went for dinner with my godson, Dylan, and his Mum who I went to secondary school with. He will sit the 11+ next summer and wants to get a place at the local grammar school, perhaps in part because his Mum went to a grammar school. Dylan is a good student, listens well and very capable, and easily distracted. Last night he told me he wants to be a game designer, because it’s cool, he’ll make lots of money, and he’ll be able to make new things. I can’t help thinking that the local grammar school is unlikely to be the best environment to develop that ambition (if he still has it by then). His Mum and I were united in our belief that he’ll do well whatever school he goes to, we were also united in how our own experience of single sex, selective education had been a very mixed bag. It left me thinking that if Dylan doesn’t pass his 11+ (and don’t start me off about verbal reasoning) he will in some way feel like he has failed. He is already conditioned to believe that getting to the top is the important thing in life. We also discussed his success at rugby and why he’s decided to quit and try football instead, I pointed out that he was award winning at rugby (he is) and he observed that it’s not because he’s the best at rugby, he doesn’t believe he is as good as half his team, it’s because he’s good at listening. A brilliant observation, he’s not the best but he’s the best at listening and following instructions.

I think that’s where my beef with awards come in. They don’t really measure what they claim to half the time, and they also only reward performance by ignoring some. My parents, for all their horrendously cruel acts like entering their child into an easter bonnet competition dressed like above, had a very brilliant value base that runs like an iron girder through our family. You’re rewarded for trying your best, not for how well you perform in the system/competition/society as a result.

My older brother is 17months older than me, and severely dyslexic. This hasn’t held him back in life at all, part in thanks to my Mum’s insistence that the education system take his struggles seriously rather than write him off, and perhaps more due to the fact that he never defined himself by his academic credentials. He was diagnosed with dyslexia late in primary school and it was a new ‘fancy’ label at the time, I’m sure he’d have excelled more academically now, but exams and marks were not his thing. I think he’d agree with me that he hated school.

When I passed my 11+ I was given a massive hug and a well done from my parents and family members, that was it. That was fine, more than enough, I was so pleased with myself that I’d get to goto the school that my Mum had been to, that I thought nothing of it until I went into school on Monday. Then I caught up with Donna K, the only other girl to be going to the same secondary school as me, and for her efforts and passing the 11+ she had been given a mini portable TV (this was 1988 and the height of cutting edge tech). A TV, that you could carry around with you, and take to your bedroom away from everyone else. I remember raising it with my parents that evening and being told very firmly that in this family we focused on doing our best, and that was enough, it wasn’t about passing exams or earning rewards.

As I sat here this morning discussing awards in the NHS with the lovely Annie Cooper and Fiona Quigley, I couldn’t help thinking that my parents did brilliantly. I was brought up to value acceptance and difference. As a bookish child it was ok to be bookish and to work hard at school, as a dyslexic child it was ok to be creative and hate school but you still had to work hard at it. It was the working hard that mattered, not the results or the ability to convince other people that you were good at something. I’m not sure how easily this life view translates to the corporate world, there’s probably a reason I don’t exist within it.

I guess my conclusion is that by all means apply for an award as recognition for your efforts, and recognition of your team members and colleagues. Just don’t make the mistake of believing your own hype, and don’t think because you’re award winning that actually makes you any better or different to the many others. It just makes you good at applying for and winning awards.

I’ll finish with the words of Jacques Rogges when he opened the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, speaking on ‘What it takes to be a champion’:

You will learn the difference between winning and being a champion. To win, you merely have to cross the finish line first. To be a champion, you have to inspire admiration for your character, as well as for your physical talent. You have to compete in spirit of fair play, respecting your opponents and the rules — without doping or any other unfair advantage.

If you can reach that pinnacle, if you are ready to serve as role models for your generation, you will all be champions, irrespective of your rankings.

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2 thoughts on “What’s my beef with awards all about!

  1. I think it depends on the award. An Oscar would be good, as would a Nobel Prize. Being the best presenter at an academic conference means you’ve impressed the judges with your work and your presentation skill. But awards where people lobby to be nominated for something obscure, or nominate themselves, are, I agree, awful. They make an absolute mockery at being the best at something. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Honours from the Queen are based on who you’re friends with as opposed to what good you actually do. So overall I think. Have to be the best according to our own values. It’s nice to be recognised, but it’s a bit self congratulatory to nominate yourself for a specific award, or lobby on twitter for people to nominate you.

  2. The worst ones, which make me cringe, are the ones which are only advertised to select people, then when the intended person ‘wins’ everyone makes a huge fuss about how great they are. Errrr, no, they’re just the only one who applied, and they happen to be best buddies with the panel who chose the ‘winner.’ The RCSEd are a major culprit for this. How come their major international awards are only ever won by one of their lackeys?? And whilst I’m thinking about it, how about the awards nobody applies for, so there’s no prize awarded for a year or so until a lone applicant comes along, and thinks they’re the bees knees for winning it. Errrr, no lovey, you’re the only saddo who applied for it.

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