The Simple Reason Why You Should Ditch Your Trophies

Why you should or shouldn’t ruminate on past victories.

Sean Kernan


Pexels via Engin Akyurt

My dad threw his trophies away and I never understood why. They were big, fancy, and awesome to look at. He was a world class athlete, winning most triathlons he entered, along with swim races and track events. This continued through his 20s and 30s.

In short, he was too humble to keep them and didn’t want the clutter in the house. It wasn’t unusual for him to win a race, not tell anyone he won it, and then throw the trophy away. Dad might have been on to something, albeit unintentionally. Trophies can be great but also problematic without people realizing it.

The long shadow of your greatest success

Trophies are valuable when their symbolism brings joy into your life. Recalling past positive experiences is proven to improve happiness, relationships with friends, and overall mood.

My 3rd place medal from the Atlantic 10 Swimming Championships is my crowning athletic achievement. It represents a year of hard work, and testing myself to see how far I could go in the sport. Having been a slacker for so many years, it was the long-delayed realization of my potential.

Trophies become problematic when they cast a shadow over your current life. It harkens to the old cliché of the 40-something small town hero, who is still bragging about his accomplishments as a high school quarterback. The film Napoleon Dynamite cleverly satirized this with Uncle Rico, who is still bragging about ancient touchdown passes and dwelling on a state championship loss from 30 years prior, “If coach had only put me in 4th quarter… I woulda gone pro... I’d be making millions of dollars.”

In a film that was light-hearted and funny, Uncle Rico was a tragically realistic character, representing many who are hanging out in bars, talking about triumphs from long ago, lamenting that life could have turned out differently for them. And as a 40-year-old myself, I do sympathize with these men — but hopefully you can see the problem with this mentality.

A trophy attempts to seize a moment in time and stand in as a physical object for something abstract — a memory, that will…



Sean Kernan

Writer and writing instructor. Always on the hunt for a good story. That guy from Quora. Writing out of Tampa, Florida.