Participation Trophies, Positive Reinforcement, and Narcissism

By Eric Zanzucchi (@ericzanzucchi)

Syracuse, NY March 1993: An 8 year old Eric Zanzucchi is running up and down the soccer field every Saturday morning for the thrill of victory. The season would end unceremoniously, BUT WAIT! My team got the same trophy as the team that went undefeated. I thought to myself that this just doesn’t feel right.

I don’t know when the participation trophy was born, but I don’t like what it’s doing. It’s created a generation of self-entitled narcissists. They’re the entry level employees who don’t understand why when they work half as hard as the people next to them they aren’t promoted. They’re type of employee who doesn’t understand that the reward for a hard day’s work is the opportunity to show up tomorrow and do it all over again.

Getting sucker punched several times a day is just part of life. It builds character. If you look at successful people who have built there own fortune, their professional lives were just a series of sucker punches and perseverance. Take Donald Trump, his companies have filed for bankruptcy four times but he’s doing just fine for himself.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My parents didn’t congratulate me for doing what was expected. I remember telling my dad when I was a little kid that I wanted to be a doctor. He told me, “Doctor, huh? You know that’s a lot of work”. As a child I remember thinking he was a jerk for saying that, but in retrospect why should he care. Me saying that doesn’t mean anything. What am I supposed to say that I want to be an electrician with three divorces and a cocaine problem. Of course I’m going to have lofty goal, but I hadn’t done anything. Parents today would go around bragging to their friends that little Dylan wants to be a doctor even though he’s still 9 and eats dirt at the park.

I guess I’m just preaching to the choir because anyone reading this probably already gets it. And if you don’t understand what I’m saying, then you’re probably one of the narcissists I’m talking about.