Photo by Vicki Schofield / Unsplash

I recently experienced a rite of passage for many 30-somethings: walking into my parents' house to a stack of boxes to take home. They're finally at the "get this old crap out of our house" phase of life. Old clothes, books, toys (I was and still am fascinated by airplanes), report cards, school papers, saved "artwork," and every trophy I've ever won, athletic or academic. I played Trunk Tetris to get all the boxes in my car, and have finally started going through them.

While all the boxes fueled nostalgia, the trophy boxes caught my attention. Little League championships, basketball participation awards (I'm proud to announce that my 8th grade team went 0-and-8), and others for golf, swimming, and skiing. Academic trophies like perfect attendance and behavior, National Honor Society induction, and awards for other extracurriculars.

Looking through the trophies proved to be humbling. There was a time when the Little League championship, my attendance record, or getting into the National Honor Society meant everything. But now? While the accomplishments collectively pushed me towards bigger things in life, individually they're pretty much meaningless. It felt like a (very) modest version of what William Shatner experienced when he went into space.

Furthering the humility, the trophies I worked so hard to earn became toys for my kids. They've watched enough sports to know that you hoist trophies over your head when you win, so they spent a week holding up trophies and marching around the house (though, in a move you don't often see from the World Series champs, one of them broke one by using it as a back-scratcher).

Fast forward a few weeks, and I'm driving the boys around to run errands. The trophies made such an impression that as we passed by a cemetery, one of them yelled out, "Look at all those trophies!" And ever since, every time we pass a cemetery, they yell out in unison, "LOOK at all those TROPHIES!"

Maybe it was the perspective brought on by looking through my old stuff, but I think they have a point. Our headstones are life's trophies. You see things like, "Husband. Father. Son." That's not far off from "Most Valuable Player."

It got me thinking: what am I pursuing or worried about today that won't matter in 20 or 30 years? Whether a parent or not, there are worries we have that either won't matter or aren't in our control anyway.

What if we lived every day to win the "trophies" we want at the end of life rather than grinding ourselves down over today's game of whack-a-mole? Whether you want to win Most Outstanding Spouse, Perfect Attendance When Your Kids Need You, or Most Contributions to Your Community, anything can serve as a North Star to guide daily life. If something isn't helping you win your life trophy, you can change it.

The idiom for death is pushing up daisies. Maybe it's better to say we're hoisting up our life's trophies. Are we living in a way that helps us win the trophies we want?