Why We Should Never Build our Lives around Awards

Just like all the other nominees, I was also very excited two weeks ago when I saw my name on the prestigious 2016 Future Awards Africa list. Personally it meant much more because I don’t know about the rest of you, but the last quarter of 2016 has been raining fire, brimstone, and black dust. (Okay, yes, in case you haven’t heard black soot is taking over Port Harcourt, and the Port Harcourt Global Shapers have been rallying around the relevant authorities to see that the issue is solved from its root, but that is a conversation for another day) so back to awards, the nomination was like a soothing balm for the sore 4 months I’ve had. It’s not my first or second award — not even my third. Besides this was just a nomination, but it got me thinking deeply about awards, fellowships, grants and the likes and how these ‘recognitions’ can be misleading.

How Much Does Validation Cost?

One morning I woke up asking myself, who should be one’s source of validation? The Nobel Committee (as prestigious as they may be); the Queen of England; oh, Okay the White House; the Judges for some United Nations competition? Are these ‘guys’ (the judges) not also humans like me who are trying to see what they can add to their CVs? No offence.

I have applied for about 17 grants, fellowships, and competitions in 2017. Already I have gotten two ‘Sorry-you-are-so-awesome-but-we-cannot-give-you-this-award’ mails. I may get like 10 more before the 2nd quarter of 2017. I got about 20 rejection messages this 2016 alone; from Fellowships, Scholarships and the likes. Does it mean all the work I have done in my life is useless? Of course not! Does it mean “The Stroll” is not good enough as a project? I don’t think so. If I let myself to get depressed because of stuff like that, will I be doing myself well?

Even worse, some people try to buy validation. I remember one award I was listed for some time ago. I still respect the organizer till tomorrow (just in case he’s reading this), but the guy kept asking me for a certain sum of money to buy a table or something like that arguing that this is the practice even in the US. People (and I mean grownups) were calling him to include their names on the list of awardees. Some people were offering a lot of money and this made me really sad because, any award you have to buy is not an award, it’s a piece of furniture. Validation should come naturally based on the fact that you have touched other souls and made them fly, not because you have a few pennies to intimidate people with. If you have so much money and you want an award so badly, why not go to the market, buy a plaque, write your name on it and hang it in your room?!

Be Your Own Cheerleader

Agege Bread man of the year, and Akara woman of the year; it’s about that time of the year when we will start hearing things like this. The fact that you’re not one of the Men or Women of the year doesn’t mean you’re not doing a great job.

For me personally, even a Nobel Prize will not be enough to validate the work and the transformation that has happened in my life between 2007 — when I finished Secondary School — and now. This is not pride or whatever you want to call it. I know how much odds I have to face daily. How much I have pushed myself and even sometimes to the detriment of my health. How I clear my savings over and over and over again to invest in my talent and my dreams and the dreams of those I love. No award can capture that. They can’t capture the nights I spent with my java phone (when I didn’t have a laptop) typing 3 A4 pages-worth of articles and then the phone just blanks out and everything wipes clear and I have to start all over again! Nobody can validate the strength to carry on in the midst of failure; nobody; no award, no fellowship; no grant.

Awards are great, don’t get me wrong please. They really look good on a CV. I earlier told you I have 15 applications pending confirmation and I am currently scripting my answers for one application I saw on IJNet. But these things don’t make me. I don’t live my life looking for validation. I used to. But since the day I realized no one can really validate the eternal value of our work, I stopped!

Trophies at His Feet

I am not the best Christian in the world or anything like that, but I really try hard to read the Bible every day. One of my favourite verses is Matthew 5:16; “Let your light so shine so that men may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven”.

My Life’s dream is to direct glory to God always. When people see the things I have done, beyond giving me a plaque or an envelope (and envelopes are really beautiful especially when you’re broke) I want them to see God’s work through me and glorify Him. The Christians, the Muslims, the atheists — everyone regardless of their faith — I want them all to glorify God because of what He will do through me. This is the real award for me.

Shout out to everyone nominated for TFAA2016, and I wish everyone the best this Sunday, but never forget that nobody and no award will be ever able to validate the hard work you have put into your various projects. Look at the lives God has helped you touch and smile with those who win — if you don’t.

Nobody can validate the eternal value of your work. Validate yourself.

This piece was first published on YNaija under my submission for the NEXT Project

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