Ripping Off My Badges


What is our obsession with badges? Girl Scouts. Letterman’s jackets. Credentials. Resumes.

I can admit, I’ve been one of those people. My life has been lived as a collection of what I’ve done and achieved…The proverbial trophy room.

I grew up in a small town, raised goats and showed them at fairs. My parent’s home displays a shrine of sorts boasting all the ribbons and trophies I won over the years. Back then, it was my pride. Whenever I return to visit, I often reminisce at the colorful, shiny representation of my childhood.

For me, it meant something. It meant that I was worth something, that somehow the “win” meant I was good and that gave me value. A blue ribbon or bronzed plaque was validation. But now…What do I remember? I remember friends I made and bonding time I spent with my dad. It was how I learned responsibility, competitive spirit, follow-through, and putting my best face forward. I only realize this now in reflection.

But back then these objects meant significance.

Having grown up my entire life with this line of thinking, the goal was always the next…Promotion, award, compliment…A crafted patch that I would wear to define me. Another bullet point on my resume, another letter of recommendation…Check. It was a race to collect and stack.

So I bought a nice car, lived in a big house, bought the designer purses. I realize saying that now feels empty and embarrassing.

These pieces didn’t make me a better person or supply me the fulfillment I so desperately sought. The status didn’t validate the purpose I came to this earth to fulfill. The perceptions didn’t satisfy my desire to create, influence and give.

In re-evaluating my life and advancing myself along the journey to grow and become better, I’ve taken stock of what I value and how that has ultimately shaped me.

I tried to identify with the labels I’d acquired, some self-inflicted and others born of perceptions from the outside. I shimmied to fit into a package that I thought showcased me, that eventually defined who I was.

The badges have become a row of symbols across my chest that I’ve worn in validation and of my need for proof. They have been distractions to hide behind, masking my insecurities.

Each label made a sandbox in which to dig in, rather than an open field in which to run in. They’ve said “you are this” and “you are not that”, enforcing limitations that couldn’t be overcome and predetermined boundaries. These badges have been shackling.

And today? Today I break away. I rip each one off, salute its previous significance, and set them all free. They once served a purpose as the trellis that upheld me, even guiding me for a while. But I now dismiss the confines the labels have created and dance on their tombstone.

I am no longer tied by my past, it’s simply there to give texture to the next chapters.

A new volume is set in motion, with no existing definitions. This will be born of love and passion, relinquishing previous rules and normal convention. Complacency, laurels and external validation no longer tie me.

My faith and love in myself now guide me.

Each day is a new sheet of paper where my pen can write new poems and illustrations. I can be superwoman or climb a mountain. I can change my mind. It’s possible I’ll invent teleportation (shhh, our secret). Or maybe I’ll decide to burn it all down to build something remarkable and new. Today, I am building a company.

Most importantly, rather “living up to”, and instead of trying to prove… I can simply be. No longer am I a label, a title or dust-collecting hardware.

So I invite you to join me… What badges have held you, what can you set free?

How will you start today? Create, build, sing, dance…Fly.

25 thoughts on “Ripping Off My Badges”

  1. I completely empathize with the ‘badge’ system! In our materialistic society one’s worth is a direct correlation of what a person can write on their resume. I’ve struggled with this my entire (though relatively short) life! It’s the reason I went voluntouring, the reason I went to University, the reason I went on to get my Masters, the reason I try to pursue jobs that pay a lot, yet don’t nourish my soul. What I really want to do and be is not prestigious, and it won’t end with me being able to put Dr. in front of my name. I struggle with being pulled between two opposing forces everyday, and even though I know one force will not result in my happiness, I still end up listening to it far too much!

    1. Kaitlin, it’s something I realized I was hung up on most of my life. And it’s fun at times to look back, but when I stopped tying my self-worth to it and knew I could start over at any point and redefine myself, I felt free. I wasn’t living up to anything, and I also wasn’t limited… I was moving forward and creating…And following my heart. I wish the same for you. Sending my best. :)

  2. Badges and awards are merely symbols of what you have learned along the way. It’s the journey that’s important, not the award at the end. Don’t diss the journey. You wouldn’t be the person you are today if you hadn’t earned all those badges, awards and accolades.
    And for some people, earning these symbols is the path to self confidence.
    Don’t throw them out. They represent your life path.

    1. Exactly, Gaye. The journey is the important part. The great part is I am no longer tied to those badges to validate who I am or bound by them to define who I am moving forward. While they were nice in the moment, I’m recreating myself daily. :)

    2. Completely agree with you Gaye, our journeys make us the special people we are today and Jean, what a fantastic new journey you are on! An inspiration to many. Sharing these stories can change so many people lives for the better, give people the courage to choose to take a new different path. :-)

  3. I wore the “busy” badge for a number of years. I was always “busy” doing something and proud to tell everyone how “busy” I was. Carrying this badge eventually wore me down to the point that I was tired most of the time and not very happy. Once I took off the badge and stopped striving for being busy, I found peace with a slower pace. I am still active, but these days I make sure that the activities I am involved in are meaningful to me and not just an excuse to be “busy.”

    1. Hi Karla. I hadn’t thought of busy as a badge, but you’re right on. It’s like that quote “Work expands to the time allotted to it”… You live to become what your labels define you as. Sometimes that can be good, but generally I’ve found it to be limiting or stifling. I’m glad you found that peace… It’s something we can all take a note from.

  4. Nice post. As a former Green Beret I have racked up a lot of badges. A lot of military actually have walls covered with different plaques, certificates, etc. We can really get wrapped up in accumulating them and then only reflecting on what (and what not) we have done.

    I don’t see myself ripping off my badges. I rather see me feeling accomplishment in my past and knowing there is much more in many more directions still out there for me. When we get too focused on the collecting instead of the experiencing I think we have lost our true path.

  5. Thank you for this post, outrageously well-written. You seem to be at the exact same spot my wife and I were at when we took our “Radical Sabbatical” to the jungles of Costa Rica. The difference is that we didn’t know we were at that poin and that we’d be casting our badges until we came out of the experience. For us it was a magical meat grinder, and we had no idea what was happening to us. Either way, if you can get to truly casting off the badges and living life without boundaries, it is an amazing thing. Thanks again!

  6. Nice post. As you wrote, ‘each day is a new sheet of paper’ so it’s better to live in a way in you are concentrating on your goals and let them to identify you than to focus on the past.

  7. Not long ago my bookshelf stored hundreds of books. One day I awoke and began selling and donating them. My bookshelf today is the same physical size but there are hundreds less books. We hold onto things because we think there’s a reason for them. Once we realize the reason is within ourselves, we can change our outlook on life and live simpler.

    1. I love this comparison, Ari. I had always considered myself a pack-rat, unable to let go of things because of the way I tied meaning to them. But letting it go and moving forward was incredibly liberating. Thanks for that comment. :)

  8. I had the mindset until recently that you are only as good as your last achievement.
    This thinking keeps you driven in a very unhealthy way. The validation from badges never really lasts it just temporarily holds the insecurity at bay. I liked the image of ripping off the badges. I am no longer looking to constantly prove myself or seeking external validation.
    The real meaning behind the badges i have accumulated is that I am capable of doing whatever I choose.

  9. I had the mindset until recently that you are only as good as your last achievement.
    This thinking keeps you driven in a very unhealthy way. The validation from badges never really lasts it just temporarily holds the insecurity at bay. I liked the image of ripping off the badges. I am no longer looking to constantly prove myself or seeking external validation.
    The real meaning behind the badges i have accumulated is that I am capable of doing whatever I choose.

  10. Hi Jean

    Your article is spot on! So many of us get caught up in the trappings of our past successes which “can” limit our ability to move forward in our lives.

    I have a friend who is still caught up in his tennis career from 25 years earlier whereby he still lets it identify and define who he is. Unfortunately his lack of ability to move his life forward on to new interests and career opportunities has significantly hurt his ability to have a more challenging and rewarding future for himself.

    Interesting article!


  11. mahavir nautiyal

    There is a aphorism in sanskrit, ” Ten tyakten bhunjita “, which means, ‘Give up and rejoice’. Our past achievements give us moments of joy in drunken nostalgia but also bind us.Some may be so enamoured of the past glory, badges, medals et al, that one may be reluctant to move forward. It was a great courage on your part, Jean Powell, that you could turn your back and seek new pastures. ” For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world. and lose his own soul ” ( St. Mark 8.36 ). Gaining badges, medals, accolades is fine and amounts to winning the world but to ever remain attached to them is like losing the soul.

    1. I love this response. And I love the sanskrit. I’ll write that one down for later… Thanks for sharing Mahavir. :)

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