When I was a kid, every accomplishment was recognized. I got ribbons for showing up, certificates for not failing, and the occasional medal for running around outside (which I did anyway). I’m not really an advocate of rewarding kids for simply being kids, but once in awhile I got an award I could actually be proud of: a baseball signed by all my little league teammates for being the game MVP, a little gold hat pin for winning a state-wide do-algebra-in-your-head competition, or a medal for winning a short story contest. These meant something to me. They were concrete reminders of accomplishments of which I was actually proud, and they provided a visual reminder that, to get that feeling again, I would need to actually go accomplish something.
My college diploma was the last version of this that I’ve experienced in life, and to be honest, I don’t feel like I worked as hard for that as I could have. Granted, I could certainly join an adult sports team and get another trophy (unlikely), or attempt to make employee of the month and get a nice plaque (meh), but what about equally difficult accomplishments that happen outside of a competitive environment – life milestones upon which we can look back and be legitimately proud of ourselves? Why can’t we have a nice reminder of those as well? Don’t worry – I’m getting to the explanation (I’m building to it).
I was also a boy scout when I was young, and I had my fair share of merit badges. I got one for camping, one for passing fitness standards, one for learning about my state’s history, and even one for learning how to use a computer (kids earn this one at birth, now, by default). Why can’t we have adult merit badges? Buy a house, get a merit badge. Get married and stay married for 5 year, get a bronze “marriage” merit badge. Stay married for 10 years, get a silver one. Stay married for 20, get a gold one, etc. Make your first million, get a merit badge. Give birth to another human being, get a merit badge. Raise that kid to be a good citizen who doesn’t kill anyone, get another merit badge. Lose 50 lbs, get a merit badge. Learn another language, get a merit badge. Stay with the same company for 5 years, get a merit badge. Beat cancer, get a merit badge!
Obviously, we’d purchase most of these merit badges for ourselves (or for friends and family), but seeing them, all grouped together, would serve as a motivating reminder of the things we’d accomplished – a visual representation that we’re not the waste-of-space we sometimes feel like. I, for one, could certainly use the occasional morale boost. I’d also love to sew them all over my backpack and use them as a conversation starter. “Yep, see that one? The big shiny tooth badge. 30 years without a cavity. Hell yeah.”