Upon graduation of an educational institution, would you be more excited to have in your hands your diploma or a simple piece of paper with your name on it that was publicly hung? Or, perhaps, if you won an award and never actually received it, would you rather have not won it at all?
The answers to these questions may seem incredibly easy, but upon further introspection, I have found that they are not quite that simple.
I have never considered myself to be a particularly “artsy” person, but as required by my high school, I enrolled in several art classes, including photography. Towards the end of the semester, we had an art show, in which we could submit one of our pieces. Upon the guidance of my teacher, I submitted my odd picture made up of dots, which was based on a picture I took of my shoe on top of a cardigan I owned. Yes, very artsy. It does prove something, though, that my one piece that was not an actual photograph from my photography class was selected for the art show. When walking into the art show, I was stunned to see that my “piece of art” had an “award of excellence” ribbon attached to it. I was good at art? What a revelation.
I received congratulations from my teacher, which I was elated about, but when given back my piece, I was devastated by two things: someone got a scratch on my piece, and more importantly, I was not given my ribbon. My one piece of evidence that I am decent at art was gone. Looking back, it was quite crazy that I was so upset about this, but it’s not surprising, as people in our individualistic culture are always wanting to stand out from the crowd and be recognized. I cannot even imagine how angry I would have been if I had not taken pictures of my piece with my ribbon, as my insecurity about being “good enough” would not have soothed, since I would not have been able to have proof constantly in front of my eyes that I have succeeded at something.
Next semester, I was preparing for high school graduation. As part of a tradition, in my school’s lunchroom, pieces of orange paper with tiger paws (tigers were our mascots) and each graduate’s name were hung up. Throughout the years, I had yearned to be one of those graduates, excitedly taking down their sign before they left the school for their last time as a student. On my last day of school, I excitedly entered the lunchroom to take down my sign, but of course, mine was hung up practically on the ceiling. Being me, even though I was a senior at the school, I was still too uncomfortable to ask another student to help me reach it. The next day, after our practice graduation ceremony (when us seniors were being rushed out of the building), I built up the courage to ask a teacher to let me get my sign, knowing that I would actually ask someone to help me reach it this time. The response I received was a great last impression of my school: “No, sorry.”
Once again, I was very upset; I had wanted that sign for so long, but it would now most likely be thrown in the garbage. Or, better yet, a recycling bin. Once again, looking back, my sadness seems quite preposterous. I basically cared more about getting a sign that I could have easily designed and printed myself than my actual diploma.
Why did I have these weird occurrences of sadness? I feel as though I craved the traditional and public signs of achievement, partially because of extrinsic motivation. Yes, I felt pride that I was able to see my hard work pay off, but I really wanted any and every piece of proof of my successes that I could hang up and show to the public (and/or in my room for me to stare at) until the end of time. Of course, it is great to have any kind of motivation, but I want to acknowledge that I should be enjoying the experiences leading up to my accomplishments just as much (if not more) than the various sources of validation from the final results.
Have you, the reader, have had any experiences similar to this? Have you demonstrated extrinsic motivation by craving the proof that our various societies deem as critical to own and share more than having intrinsic motivation in the form of enjoying the actual process involved with reaching a goal? Please tell me I’m not the only one.
Thanks for reading!