Lifetime Achievement Awards

It's awards season

Here’s my March column for my hometown newspaper, the @HollandSentinel…

It’s awards season, and I’m excited. I think I know why.

I spent so much time indoors over the last year that, for the first time I can remember, I’ve seen all of the movies and many of the TV series that will be nominated. In the past, awards season meant that I had a list of movies and television shows that I had to see over the coming months, to find out if they were as good as the judges thought they were. This year, I find myself wanting judges to get those awards right.

The 78th Golden Globe Awards started things off last weekend, but there is much more to come: Screen Actors Guild Awards, MTV Movie & TV Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, People’s Choice Awards, British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), the Emmy Awards, and of course, in April, the Academy Awards (also known as the Oscars). And those, remarkably enough, are just some of the better-known awards. Frankly, I had no idea there were so many! How do they even find time to make the movies and TV shows?

My head swims as I think about all of the red carpets and acceptance speeches, the hosts with their thankless jobs, and (my favorite part) all those really attractive people who are dressed up, well groomed, and smiling for the cameras. Of course, this year, as last year, there will be no red carpets, and all of the smiling will be done remotely. Still, I feel the excitement. Don’t you?

Sometimes, though, it’s confusing. An award for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television”? Is that as good as “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series—Musical or Comedy”? I don’t know. After a while, I don’t care. I don’t think most of it adds up to anything. I realize, as I type this, that it’s empty and shallow. At best it’s harmless fun.

I spent much of my life in a career where there were no awards, few bonuses, and never any ceremonies to recognize the best in my line of work. I have never attended an awards ceremony, and my bookshelf contains no trophies. I never once received an “Employee of the Month” award.

However, I did preach a few good sermons over the years and spent a few Sunday afternoons congratulating myself for getting that morning’s message just right, but it never occurred to me to enter the thing in a contest, to go up against colleagues who might also have been proud of their work.

Show business, I realize, is not alone in congratulating itself. Awards are handed out in a few other fields, though not many. My father once won an award for an especially effective advertising campaign he created, and he was understandably proud of it. I was happy for him. Actors, musicians, advertisers—that’s about it.

So, most people go about their work and hope for someone—a supervisor, a customer, a co-worker—to notice and say, “Well done.” No shiny statue, no acceptance speech, just a thank you. For most people that small recognition goes a long way. I tried to hand them out as often as I could and now wish I had handed out a few more. Really, how much does it cost to tell someone, “You’re doing a good job”?

The truth is, I spent much of my life trying to be the best at whatever I was doing. I was driven to succeed, without ever knowing what success looked like. I had role models, of course, but I realized soon enough that I should be the best version of myself that I was capable of being.

I worked hard and put in long hours. I sometimes let my work come before my marriage, my family, and my health. And for what? For most of us, there are no awards, no medals, and certainly no shiny trophies. I’m not sure that anyone comes to the end of life thinking, “I was a winner,” though I could be wrong.

One of my regrets is that I was in such a hurry all the time, treating new opportunities like competitions, hoping to win a gold medal at the end. Looking back, the best memories I have are not of competitions, but of having enjoyed the work I was doing and forming friendships with the people who were the doing the work with me.

I had to look it up but the quote I was looking for was, “the reward of a thing well done is having done it” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

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