Thoughts on Achievement, Real Achievement

As an observer and critic of culture in general, I strive to lead a consistent and rational life while frequently asking the question, “why?”—most often in relation to cultural customs. For example, if you were to sneeze in front of me I would not say “god bless you,” “bless you” or even “gesundheit” simply for the reason it makes absolutely no sense.  I have no power to bless you and even if I did, why would I do it simply because your body reacted to some dust up your nose?

I have no interest in perpetuating old wives’ tales and medieval customs.

There is another strange cultural custom which is the central thesis of this blog ….and please do not think I’m a dick (too late?).

I am at the age and stage in life when many of my children’s friends -not to mention my students who are in a similar age range -are getting engaged and/or pregnant.  I find the reactions to those individuals who announce this news –typically met with congratulatory joy and perhaps tears of happiness – rather strange and unreasonable.

Is getting married and/or having kids something we must congratulate one for doing? If so, why? When you consider most people who get married probably should not (have you seen the divorce rate?) and those who are having babies probably should not, what is there to be happy about?

Getting married is EASY. Super EASY in fact.  I have blogged before concerning marriage and divorce while opining that it is FAR more difficult to get a permit for a swimming pool in your backyard than it is to sign your life away to someone for the rest of your life.  This is ass backwards my friends.

Getting married is easy, yet staying married is one of the most difficult ventures a human being can make in life. Why congratulate someone for the easy part? If forced to congratulate someone, why not congratulate those who have made it through the most difficult parts –and stayed together?

Babies? In most cases they are super easy to make -very fun to make in fact.  I have no interest in congratulating anyone for achieving a successful union of the sperm and egg after an enjoyable romp in the hay. Again, that is easy since it does not demand intelligence, hard work, discipline nor much effort at all. Being an effective and loving parent is SUPER hard…it takes time, effort, and money to the point that you are now living one hundred percent for someone else.

If we must congratulate someone, let’s at least congratulate those who have successfully raised happy and productive human beings that make our culture a better one.

Yet, I would not even want to do that. Why not?  I believe strongly that we should recognize and congratulate those who have done something extraordinary in life and deserve recognition.

And here is what I am NOT saying: We should not recognize, show support, or give encouragement to these people through formal ritual…conversely, I think it is great. Yet, we must recognize it for what it is and it is not an “achievement.”

Perhaps it would be a good idea to also give recognition to those who opt not to get married and not to have kids as well. After all, they certainly will not contribute to the divorce rate nor will they raise potentially delinquent children…not to mention they will certainly not add to overpopulation.

Staying together and raising productive children should be the norm in society and does not make someone a hero if he or she accomplishes this basic cultural function. The more we congratulate and hail those who are doing what we all should be doing to operate as a functional society, the more that normal activity becomes the rarity.

Conversely, rather than hailing those who achieve the norm, perhaps it would be a better plan to shame those who do not.

My stomach turned when I saw the following meme:


Special? Special is defined as, “distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual.” Really? I suppose the underlying assumption is that you have to be out of the ordinary and “special” to be a good father -thus the average guy does not stand a chance while the norm is most fathers are not “dads.” Sad.

I have never murdered someone nor have committed a crime. Should I be congratulated and honored?  Or should I be seen as one who exemplifies the norm of society? No pat on the back necessary.

I want to save the fuel in my congratulations tank for those who have worked really hard and gone above and beyond to achieve an objective.  Someone who earns a college degree, opens a successful business, volunteers to help those in need or perhaps lands a great job or promotion that they worked very hard for are just some of those achievements that are worthy of honor and congratulations.

The last time I congratulated myself was the day I received a letter in the mail informing me of my newly achieved tenure.  I was proud of that accomplishment because all the work leading up to that moment flashed before my eyes -the difficulty in obtaining the degrees, the years of part-time, low paying work to build up my resume’ and the many obstacles I had to climb over to get to this new place.  As far as being a responsible citizen who pays his taxes, loves his kids and generally obeys the law (speeding not being one of them) I am pleased with these things yet I am not proud of these things.

Yes, getting engaged or having a child is certainly a marker and milestone yet it can be a very good or very bad milestone…as in, “the day I walked down the aisle was the beginning of the end.” Again, I am not suggesting we do not recognize milestones, rather let us see them for what they are, markers, that may or may not mark something special.

So as I question culture and its customs, perhaps it is high time we stop congratulating what should be the norm and save our compliments and felicitations for those who have really earned it.





  1. You say “The more we congratulate and hail those who are doing what we all should be doing to operate as a functional society, the more that normal activity becomes the rarity.” I disagree and I think, if you reexamine your entire article, you must admit that , despite congratulations on marriages and having a child, this has not made either a rarity. Nor have issuing congratulations on birthdays, retirement, years of service become rare events in general.

    • Thanks Don. Perhaps I was a bit to loose on some of my word choices and the thought was not as clearly laid out as I intended. You are absolutely correct….in fact it has probably perpetuated it further. I was just having a conversation the other day with my daughter who laments that many of her peers, she believes, are getting married in large part due to the wedding and the opportunity to be the “queen for the day.” Perhaps it is best put this way…since we treat getting married or having children like an accomplishment/achievement of some sort, people are getting married/having kids to feel validated at some level and feel better about themselves. If society did not engage in this ritual of honoring these things, perhaps fewer people would be getting married and/or having kids.

      If we call someone who sticks around to raise his kids a hero or “special” that implies this commitment is extraordinary. And since most people are not extraordinary, I would surmise that the expectation is most people are poor parents.
      The bottom line concerns achievement. Getting married and having babies is not an achievement….that is not to say we should not recognize it as a marker.

  2. I agree with quite a lot of this for the most part. However, I do think that some sort of congratulations, not just recognition, is in order when a couple decides to get married. This is supposed to represent a point in your life when you are, as you said, “[signing] your life away to someone for the rest of your life”. Theoretically, that person is going to be someone with whom you want to spend the rest of your life, which is something that is extremely hard to accomplish for most people. Assuming that’s the case, I think it is more than appropriate to congratulate someone for finding a person with whom they can spend the rest of their life, a companion that they can always count on, and everything else that marriage represents.

    On the other hand, a point in your post that was brought up a few times was that marriages in today’s society often don’t last very long. This is true, and often means that when people get married, they should not be. However, I think that the problem is less in the fact that we congratulate people on getting married, and more on the fact that a great many people have lost perspective on what marriage is supposed to mean. They don’t realize how much of a permanent part of their life it’s supposed to be, and how big an event it is in their life. After all, when you can just get a divorce, what’s the difference between marriage and simply dating, where you can break up at any time? Practically speaking, I think there is little difference. So maybe the problem is not that people are congratulated on finding a partner (and therefore feel a certain pressure to do so), but instead that people aren’t taking it seriously enough to find the right partners.

    • Thanks Corey. I did a poor job of explaining my position in my original blog (as evidenced by some of the feedback). The blog centers on achievement, not congratulations.To formally recognize a marriage union is great, wishing a couple the best of luck is great, symbolizing an important moment in your life is great….yet it is not an achievement. Achievement is staying married, not getting married. I would rather spend my time and energies helping couples STAY together rather than GETTING together. Oh, and congratulations on your comment….it is very insightful and well written, not to mention appreciated! 🙂

  3. I see what you mean and of course I agree to a degree but I do think everyone is different and some people need to here the encouraging words in order to keep going. The sentence you wrote saying “The more we congratulate and hail those who are doing what we all should be doing to operate as a functional society, the more that normal activity becomes the rarity” is true for some but not for all. Of course us stronger all the way there “normal” people no that this is expected and we should only be praised for huge accomplishments and not things we are already supposed to be doing. However, their are alot of weaker minded people out there that need the extra praise almost as a toddler learning to walk. I suppose it all goes back to how we were raised and how we took our different situation in. Someone may have never ever been told good job for anything and when hearing this even for something little would just make their day. I don’t think the normality would become rare because sometimes a little praise and a small goal knowing someone will appreciate it might make that certain person want to go above and beyond due to that little bit of attention. Excuse my choice of words haha. This is Brittany McDonnell from communications class.

  4. I can’t completely disagree with your point of view on marriage; I’m not against marriage, however I am also very open minded towards people who choose not to get married. But the part where I do disagree with you on is your view when you say that you don’t congratulate people when they announce that they are having a baby. You said, “I have no interest in congratulating anyone for achieving a successful union of the sperm and egg after an enjoyable romp in the hay. Again, that is easy since it does not demand intelligence, hard work, discipline nor much effort at all”, but there are many couples out there who do not have the ability to create children. There are many people out there who very well struggle to get pregnant. It isn’t something that doesn’t take much effort. There are couples that change their entire lifestyle choices from their diet, to how they exercise and when they have sex just so that they can have a higher statistical chance of getting pregnant. That is NOT easy, and it does entail a lot of discipline. That right there deserves congratulation! Now, I don’t necessarily think that accidental pregnancies deserve congratulations, but in this case, isn’t it just the thought that counts?

  5. This a genuine question: Why does everything you do have to come from a place of critical thinking? I completely understand, critical thinking is rare and yes the world would be better a place if we all contributed to the phenomenon that is critical thinking. However I come from a place that says “don’t take life too seriously”. Don’t you just want to chill sometimes? Personally I think life is too short to over think the term “achievement” and categorize it as something rarely unattainable. Achievements are obviously subjective. What may be an astronomical achievement for me may not be for you and that is okay, it does not mean it doesn’t mean something. For example, if I ran 2 miles in 20 minutes that would be huge achievement for me (as someone who is lacking in the endurance department and a lifelong anemic), however for you it might be inadequate. Does that mean I should not praise myself because it is not up to par with others? Yes, I can fully understand that not everything a person does, that is a normality, is an achievement, however for others somethings are more difficult to accomplish. Everyone’s personal achievements should be seen as valid and not dissected/reduced because it does not meet another’s standards. Apart from that I agree with you.

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