Episode 02:06:2023 - Prompt: Accolades
I liked where I worked because of the people. And the mission, but honestly being happy is more motivation for me than being good. My job was turning out to be one of the worst decisions of my life; my days and nights were filled with dread.
The bright spot at work was the Culture Committee. We were going to make our dysfunctional organization better, starting with employee recognition. After eight weeks of work, we reported to the leadership team. We’d met with everyone, we’d asked questions, we’d listened. We had answers.
Did they make changes based on our recommendations? They did not. So I started my own underground recognition program. I sent an anonymous love letter to every one of the 300+ employees. Each started with the words “I love working with you because…”.
In the week before I quit, I wandered the office, looking at those cards pinned to bulletin boards and propped on desks. My heart was light.
X was the funniest freshman girl, Y the cutest, Z the smartest…and me? The nicest. M – a cool, witty sophomore, a swim team heartthrob who always felt out of reach to me, nailed it pretty quickly in calling out our most defining traits. I smiled weakly and tried to detach, heart sinking. Who wants to be the nice one?
From then on, my goal was to prove that label wrong. I even found a t-shirt about being not-nice at the sci-fi convention I snuck off to without my parents knowing. But lying to them was about as bad as I got back then, and not even that worked out, since I was constantly being grounded for it.
Years later, an acquaintance gifted me a mask of the Hindu goddess Kali. Was it coincidence or did they suspect that all the complexity, the light and darkness, creation and destruction she represents was something I had finally discovered and embraced in myself?
In the first stage of life—the student years—my family celebrated good report cards by going out to dinner at Chuck's Steak House on the Post Road in West Haven. My sisters and I worked hard for those accolades. The stakes (no pun intended) intensified during my 30-plus years of teaching. Success meant opportunities for career growth and increased salary. Now, in the third chapter of life, I've discarded my report cards and transcripts, but still have a few plaques and paperweights tucked away somewhere, Teacher of the Year and years of service awards—even a Boston rocker inscribed with my name. But sometimes I wonder why those accolades meant so much.
A speedy birth, I was born blue or so the story goes. Blue skin from the impatient exit, mind ready but body unprepared for the abrupt change in environment. A baby apparently in a hurry to win the “First Child of 1979 Born in Decatur County, Iowa Award” which I did after my mother’s twenty-minute rapid-fire delivery. That I was delivered by Doc Nelson ten days into January tells you the population size of Decatur County. A perfectly timed birth by me and Mom. I beat out the next kid, one Jacque White, by at least sixteen hours. No bad blood as Jacque and I still send birthday greetings to this day. For the victor the spoils were a one-hundred-dollar savings bond, claimed and saved by my new parents until sometime in the early eighties when I was old enough to spend it all on baseball cards and arcade video games.
Even as a small child, I think beginning in kindergarten, I won awards for art. I remember the 5 foot Jolly Green Giant I drew when I was 6 that was hung up in the hallway for all to see, a ribbon with my name next to it.
Throughout my entire school experience I won various awards every year in anything relating to art. “Best in Show”, “Best In Drawing”, “Best in Sculpture”.
And always, I felt I didn’t deserve the accolades. But I continued to “over achieve” by creating SO many varied art mediums. Clay, oils, murals, theorem painting, print making, charcoals. I explored them all as if my life depended on it. A compulsion even.
In Senior year I won 2 monetary awards ($1000 each) towards my art ( and music) career.
Everyone expected me to attend an art school, but I choose a music college instead thinking that I could easily make art all day long, but studying music, when I could only play everything by ear, now THAT would be a challenge.
I won no accolades or awards while at Berklee College of Music...And was totally fine with that, living in certain anonymity, and even recently I threw away all those silly awards, plaques and degrees I had shleped around with all these years with no regrets.
The high school I attended was quite new. I graduated just eight years after it opened. My boyfriend graduated a few years prior and was the star of the art department. He had a marvelous imagination and a tremendous talent. He had been the only student to win Best of Show two years in a row and he deserved to. When I was accepted to attend Maryland Institute of Art a year early, taking the place of my senior year, he was so relieved because I had also won the award in my junior year and stood to match his record. It was a dramatic relationship and I remember being so flattered by his certainty that I would win. I was never competetive and have pursued very few titles or trophies but I still wish I could draw like he does. Over the years we've kept in touch and continue to envy one another's creative skills. Last Friday, he asked to hire me for painting lessons which feels like more of an honor than any certificate or silver cup.
Born the eldest of seven children, I was raised as an only child by my grandparents and didn't have to compete with anyone. Throughout school, in education and socially, I was always pretty average and content with that. However, something must have shifted over the years (which I have no explanation for), because although I am still very average, I am terribly competitive (my family won't even play Ludo with me) and I enjoy praise and approval. In my higher education years I researched and wrote assignments to ensure I got merits and distinctions throughout to give me a sense of personal pride. I aim to do the very best I can knowing that any praise gives me a sense of elation that spurs me on to improve. I know I'm middle of the road but for some reason there is a competitive streak in there which rears up every now and again when I'm in need of praise in some form.
In high school we had to choose between gym or dance class. I had never joined a team, so dance it was. We were to perform before the entire school at the end of the semester, and I was one of two girls to share the spotlight. There I was on stage wrapped in a sarong with a colorful lei around my neck, performing a Hawaiian dance routine barefoot.
The auditorium was packed with proud parents and after the show ended, every girl was trying to spot hers. I peered through this mass, and when I finally saw mine I ran up to give them a hug. The first thing they said was, “Did you know your bra strap is hanging out?” I was mortified. Then it hit me, the heavy smell of garlic. By now I was so distracted by the realization they had stopped at my grandmothers for her special meatballs that commenting about my performance was forgotten. I’m not even sure they had seen it.
I wanted them to shower me with accolades, and it amazes me that 70 years later this moment still resonates with me.
In 2020, after a total of 8 years, I finally finished my doctoral thesis in philosophy, which I wrote part time. I had two supervisors. One of them supervised me during the 8 years and it looked like I would get a particularly good accolade.
But then came the evaluations. One supervisor gave me a “summa cum laude” (with highest praise). My main supervisor, however, wrote a really humiliating evaluation, despite the very positive feedback during the 8 years. It did not get any better for the final oral exam and the publication of the dissertation. This professor just put obstacles in my way. Why he did that? I don't know.
I passed everything with a "cum laude" (with praise), after a lot of humiliations that I had to endure. I got my title "Dr. phil." But I still cannot properly acknowledge this dissertation and this title to this day.
I run, but to get there faster, not necessarily for exercise or sport. I love when my legs feel independent from my body. When I'm not thinking about moving them. When they feel like wheels. When I imagine they look blurry because of how fast I'm going. Even now, my neighbors remark, "You're always running."
I ran as a kid, too. Know it all little me loved to run, and just knew I was faster than a car. In second grade we moved from New Orleans to D.C. for about two years. A whole new world, a new terrain on which to run. One morning there was a lot of traffic when my mom drove us to school. I begged to be let out of the car, knowing I could run to school more quickly than the car could drive there. She let me out. I took off, beating the car there. That night she presented me with a homemade blue ribbon. "The Nguyen Runner Award."