A golden star, placed beside your name on the classroom wall.
A number, written on your hand in black ink after crossing the finish line.
A neatly written certificate received on stage at Friday’s assembly.
As obvious markers of achievement, all of these things heighten your awareness of self.
Of what you are, or what you can be.
Which in some conditions, drive performance.
Particularly when your goal is to demonstrate competence.
To show people what you are capable of.
To outperform others.
And when preserving your ego is of utmost concern.
But when the messages that kids get about achievement consistently reinforce social comparison, what happens when they lose?
And when they only feel good about themselves when they succeed?
Our relationship with failure is learned at a young age.
Children whose self-worth gets undermined by the prospect of not doing well will avoid making mistakes at all costs, cutting themselves off from new avenues of learning, discovery and joy.
Instead of competition, we need more focus on cooperation.
On the development of competence, rather than its demonstration.
And on the application of hard work and effort, where value is placed on progress and learning for the sake of learning itself.