I am a millennial, and this is a story about millennials. I can, of course, only speak for myself, as I haven’t been to any of our weekly millennial FaceTime/twitter/Venmo meetings lately, so I hardly think I’d be nominated as a spokesman for us all. But I can tell this one story about myself.
When I was younger, I played rec soccer. I was awful. I was never once an asset to my team except maybe on the rare occasion on defense that I exerted my unique ability to panic and try to get the ball as far away from me as humanly possible. I played for six years. I went to all the practices, I went to all the games. I didn’t improve. Sometimes my randomly assembled team for that year ended up winning games and becoming the league champions, and sometimes we didn’t. At the end of winning seasons, a pizza party would be held and trophies would be handed out. At the end of losing seasons though, a pizza party would be held and trophies would be handed out. The difference being that in the latter scenario, the trophy would be that thing so despised by the older generations. That loathed item, so deeply and intrinsically hated that by their constant reference to it you might think it the very bane of every Gen-Xer and Boomer alive: the participation trophy.
Yet despite my proud and growing shelf of participation trophies, I never learned what we are so often accused of believing: that simply showing up is good enough, and that you deserve a prize even if you suck. Because that’s a painfully cynical view from someone who was taught something very different from us: that winning is exclusively what matters.
What those trophies meant to me every year that I was handed one with my name etched into the tiny brass plate below some strangely posed and faceless soccer player statue was that I had done something worth rewarding. I had been a part of the team and worked towards our goal. What a year ending with that trophy said was that I showed up to all the games and practices. I offered my paltry skill. It didn’t work out this time, another team did it better than we did, and they got cooler trophies. But the fact that we lost didn’t make it an inherently futile exercise.
Today, we’re faced with a different season: Trump Season. And throughout it, our goal is to fight against action and policy that we believe to be harmful and un-American. Our team isn’t particularly great for this fight; we’re out of power in every branch and chamber of government, and we lack the real institutional ability to fight this fight effectively. Trump and the GOP believe that this is what’s important, that because we can’t just win, we simply won’t try. This is the belief that winning is exclusively what matters.
But we’ve been taught something different. We know that winning isn’t everything. We know that losing happens, and that just because the end is a loss, it doesn’t invalidate the efforts made that led to it. We know the value of persistence even in the face of failure. We know that just because a thing may not succeed, it doesn’t mean that thing is not worth doing wholeheartedly. We know that winning can be sweet, but it’s not everything.
This fight won’t be won easily, and along the way we already have and will again suffer many losses. But I can very proudly say that I didn’t show up expecting to win; I’m here to participate.