Participation Awards and How to Have Tenacious Creativity

I don’t know if anyone truly transitions into adulthood, ready for whatever life has to throw at them. I most certainly did not.

Achieving adulthood was a messy, prolonged labor for me, and only now is she starting to crown.

I made a major career change into filmmaking five years ago and it has taught me so much about life and my place in it as a Millennial.

While I’ve never been given the titular “participation award,” I understand the concept. I’ve expected great things to happen to me without sacrificing time and investing hard work.

It’s the double edged sword of growing up in a culture of instant gratification. It’s conditioned me to believe certain things about the nature of life and how I should be treated. Hard work that allows years to create something is an extremely unattractive prospect indeed.

Working in film has helped me recognize some of those tendencies within myself and how to combat them.

It’s OK to Fail

I think the biggest lie behind this idea of participation awards is that failure is not an option. If you win an award for simply being there, then you always win even if you fail.

A failure without the consequence of failure sets up an unrealistic expectations in children. So, when an adult inevitably fails at something and feels the consequences of that failure, they will not be emotionally equipped to deal with that failure.

The way I learned filmmaking is the “kick you in the deep end of the pool and hope you swim” style of learning. As you can probably guess, it involved a lot of missteps and some straight up failure.

To this day, I fail in some small way at my job every day.

When I first began this work, those little failures would kill me. I would forget to post something on Facebook and feel like I didn’t belong on the team anymore. The more I failed and was still trusted with work, the more I understood that it was OK to fail as long as I owned up to it and made it right.

I am now more comfortable with failure and happier for it. It has positively impacted every area of my life and has made me more OK with taking risks, because I know failure is a normal part of life and doesn’t have to be the end of a story.

Romanticizing the Adventure

I fell in love with the idea of being a filmmaker when I watched the behind the scenes of The Lord of the Rings. The level of camaraderie and pure creativity was intoxicating. I wanted to be a part of it too.

I romanticized the idea of being a filmmaker and struck from my memory every mention of “years of development” “failure” and “nervous breakdown” that I heard. Filmmaking was a grand adventure.

When I went on the journey of making a film myself, I had a rude awakening.

It’s a lot of hard work.

You don’t always like the people you work with. The thing you thought was your passion becomes the very 9 to 5 drudgery you joined film to avoid.

If people are handing out awards for showing up, it’s easy to come to believe you don’t need to put in a lot of effort in order to get what you want.

Everyone in my generation has a dream, but few want to put in the day to day work needed to achieve those dreams.

What Then Shall We Do?

What’s left to do?

Being OK with failure and being willing to put in a lot of hard work are both part of the equation. However, I think the biggest solution is embracing pain and suffering as a normal part of life.

So much of life as a Millennial is about finding ways to avoid or subvert painful and vulnerable experiences. If we want to be successful in our craft, we’re going to have to be OK with discomfort and pain in order to get what we want.

I’ve wrestled a great deal with what separates a child or adolescent from an adult (or what should, more than age or higher brain function).

I’ve decided it’s someone who is willing to suffer in order to see their goals met in their career and to see their family succeed and thrive. The adult suffers so the family can be at rest and enjoy.

It is those who are willing to suffer and never give up that are truly triumphant and deserving of awards and our respect.

Take the next, practical step to make your dream a reality. Dust yourself off and become the tenacious creative that you can be.


  • Brenden Bell

    Screenwriter, Editor, Blogger, and Visual Content Manager

    Brenden Bell is a screenwriter, video producer, editor, teacher, and Visual Content Manager with The Initiative Production Company. He loves eating ice cream, everything nerdy/dorky, thinking too much, and dogs (mostly just the big ones, but he’s open-minded)

    • Show Comments

    • internet health

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