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Participation Trophies and financial failure

The Link Between Participation Trophies And Financial Failure

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As an adult, when was the last time you received an award for failing? Unfortunately, we are conditioning our children to expect rewards even when they fail. You don’t receive a participation trophy when you fail with your personal finances.

My Daughter’s Participation Trophy

As a father of three, I have first-hand experience with this participation trophy epidemic. I first witnessed this when my daughter was selected to be part of a speech competition at school. The competition consisted of students from a dozen or so grade schools that were evaluated by a panel of judges.

At the age of seven, this was my daughter’s first speech meet. After watching a few of the other contestants, it was apparent she was not nearly as prepared as some of the others. She spent the majority of her time memorizing and reciting her speech but we totally forgot to incorporate hand gestures and movements.

When it was her turn, she was able to say her memorized speech, but honestly, it was a little dull compared to the others. This is not to diminish what my daughter had accomplished. At her age, I would have been mortified to stand in front of an audience and recite a speech from memory. I was beyond proud of her and I let her know it. I showered her with compliments and let her know I thought she was awesome.

The Results Are In – Everyone Is A Winner!

Participation trophy and financial debt

At the end of the competition, 1st and 2nd place students received blue and red ribbons. The rest of the students who did not place 1st or 2nd received a white ribbon that said, “participation.” At seven years old, my daughter was embarrassed to get this ribbon and threw it away when we got home. I didn’t say anything about the ribbon but she told me she knew it didn’t mean anything because everyone received a ribbon, even those who didn’t do well.

I was shocked at her response because I would have thought that kids wanted a ribbon no matter how well or poorly they did. In reality, I agreed with her. I didn’t pressure her to feel proud of the ribbon. Instead, I encouraged her to feel proud of the effort she put into it and for standing up in front of all those people.

Failing Leaves Room For Improvement

We discussed why she didn’t get a 1st or 2nd place ribbon and what we needed to do next time for her to perform better. I used it as a learning experience to teach her that we do not always win but we can always learn from our experiences to improve.

To this day, when my daughter receives a participation trophy or ribbon, we each smile at each other and she usually chooses to discard it. This has made her actual 1st and 2nd place awards that much more meaningful. She understands that failing is “OK” and we use our failures to improve rather than expect to be rewarded for them.

Financial Failure Is Not Rewarded

Financial failure is not rewarded with participation trophies

This type of mentality directly ties into our financial life. As an adult, there are severe consequences for failing. If we improperly handle our money and spend more than we have, there is no one who will bail us out with participation money. The lenders will continue to call and the creditors will continue to threaten us with wage garnishment and liens.

As adults, it is our responsibility to teach our children and the younger generation the importance of learning from our mistakes. Mistakes should not be applauded because that will encourage us to make more of them. If there is no pain associated with failure, why would we ever go through the trouble of winning?

Many adults who grew up in the participation trophy era are floundering with their finances. Our decisions and lack of preparation have real consequences. The quicker we learn that failure is an opportunity to grow, the sooner we can improve our situation.

Failure Is Not Fun Anymore

Financial failure is not fun

I find that failure is usually painful and I try to avoid it at all costs. I avoid failure as much as possible by learning from other peoples mistakes. If I can learn from their failures, I will be more likely to avoid their pain. We must teach our children these same tactics. Study what works and what doesn’t.

We need to stop rewarding failure. We certainly can celebrate our efforts and our ambition, but we must stop expecting rewards for mistakes or poor performance. By rewarding ourselves for mistakes, we will continue to make them because there will be no incentive to do better.

If you are struggling with debt, why would you reward yourself with a new vehicle loan? The truth is, we often stick our head in the sand when confronted by the pain of our financial mismanagement. How many times have you said, “screw it” and gone out to eat even though you didn’t have the money? You know what you need to do to get out of debt, but the pain of dealing with it is too much.

The truth is, if you have found yourself in a financial mess, it is going to be painful to get out of it. If you refuse to learn from your mistakes, the pain will continue indefinitely. You may be able to briefly numb the pain by spending more money you don’t have, but in the end, the pain will increase.

Learning To Win Because Of Our Failures

Learning to win because of our failures

It’s time to pull the knife out of your wound. Rub some dirt on it and move on, it’s time to face your fear and live differently. The way you have been dealing with your finances is not working. Continuing on with your current plan of ignoring them is not working. Make a commitment to yourself, your family, and your children to learn from your mistakes. Lead by example.

  1. Build A Budget
  2. Start An Emergency Savings
  3. Get Out Of Debt

It really is that simple. Stop expecting to be rewarded for poor performance. Learn from your mistakes and reward yourself by becoming debt free! Model the behavior you want to see from your children and give them something to emulate.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the efforts we put into things, but we need to recognize that effort alone will not always work. We must focus on learning from our failures and changing our tactics to give us the best possibility of success. If you have not learned this, how will your children? It’s time to make a change once and for all and change your family’s current financial direction!

Please subscribe to my blog by email below so you don’t miss any of my future posts. Comment below, I look forward to reading about your thoughts on participation trophies! Keep learning my friends, you work too hard to be this broke!

-Ryan

About The Author

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Ryan Luke is a father of three, a husband, finance blogger, and full-time police officer. Through proper budgeting and money management, they have been able to live off one income and build wealth at the same time. As an active member of the personal finance community, his goal is to educate and help people get out of debt and build wealth!

6 thoughts on “The Link Between Participation Trophies And Financial Failure”

  1. I get the concept of this post but I’d like to provide some constructive feedback as a regular reader.

    When you make the point that “getting out of debt is painful/ don’t reward yourself with more debt” that’s good. But then it feels like you say the same thing again and again until the end. As a reader, I feel beat over the head. I’m only saying this because I feel worse after reading your posts like this, as it’s a trend. This is coming from someone making great strides with finances, a reader drowning in debt will no doubt feel even more defeated by this tone. Your goal is to help others and I see that but you have to do that from a place of empathy. You rock your finances and that’s great, but id hate to see someone feel pushed away or discouraged when their goal was to find inspiration to help them. Hope this feedback is useful.

    1. Thank you for your feedback Johnzelle. I value it very much! I re-read the post and it does have a negative vibe with it that I was not intending. I will work on making it more uplifting,l. Thank you sir!

  2. Be careful with judgements. There is nothing wrong with a participation award. The purpose of this is to make everyone feel included. I enjoyed getting them when I was younger and I have an 850 credit score today. Your kid never should have felt she wasn’t good enough to receive a participation ribbon. It’s not your job to make your kid a winner. It’s your job to be her Dad and explain that as long as she tries her best that’s the best anyone can do. And everyone deserves to feel like they belong.

    1. Marie thank you for your feedback! I certainly do not judge others – I only want the best for them. As far as my daughter’s ribbon, it’s not that she didn’t feel good enough for a ribbon, she felt that the ribbons were meaningless since everyone received one. As a father, I want to ensure my daughter knows she is loved and valued and that it is “OK” to fail. Failure is extremely beneficial because it helps us refine and make adjustments to be even more successful in this life. If we do not experience failure, we run the risk of not knowing that change is needed to be successful.

  3. peterhorsfieldcfp

    Twenty one years, three months and a few days ago I looked up into a star filled night sky and I was overcome by feelings of regret, fear, loss and embarrassment.

    I didn’t like where I was, what I had become and what the future would hold if I was to continue down the same path I was on. I also remember thinking massive change only comes from massive action.

    And so on my 25th birthday I decided, committed and began down my own “road less traveled”.

    Today I’m a few decades further down my road as I continue on life’s journey and with the luxury of hindsight and experiences can now reflect back upon and share with you what worked what didn’t and the “one-two thing” to do every day.

    Only Three Ingredients Needed for Your Success

    1. Have a burning desire for personal improvement i.e. the pain to move forward will be less than the pain of remaining stationary and not changing.

    2. Have a plan. Like the Cat said to Alice in Alice in Wonderland. If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go. Your plan is your odometer and speedometer.

    3. 100% commitment to see it through. Like the Duracell Bunny, you just gotta keep on going and going and going!

  4. Pingback: The Truth About What It's Like to be a Police Officer - Part 1

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