Aren’t awards grand?
Like finely crafted beacons of praise, the inscribed glass and bronze herald our achievements for the world to see. They assure us, each time we behold them on our trophy shelf, that what we’ve accomplished is noteworthy – exemplary. That we, for at least a moment in time, were rated among the best.
It’s an intoxicating feeling, and one that I hope each and every individual has the opportunity to experience at least once in his or her lifetime.
Next month, American City & County will once again bestow such an honor on a deserving individual. If all goes according to plan, the recipient of our County Leader of the Year award will appear on our cover, smiling broadly, receiving the well-deserved recognition for his or her accomplishments.
But while the plaque and the cover and the story that accompany it will likely be displayed, framed and shared, those tokens cannot possibly serve as deserving placeholders for the hard work, dedication and sacrifice they represent.
To the casual observer, a trophy is, frankly, more eye-catching than a new sewer system. The cover of a magazine is somehow more prestigious than the months of tongue-biting negotiations needed to push that contentious initiative through. And that story chock-full of friends and colleagues giving nationally publicized pats on the back? Well, what silly new park or ordinance could be better than that?
Each year, when we open the nominations for our awards, we are inundated with applications – hundreds of public servants accomplishing extraordinary feats despite limited resources, adverse positions, controversy and even, in some areas, fiscal or ecological disaster. For several months of the year, we have the good fortune – and unfortunate burden – of having to choose one exemplary leader from among countless deserving candidates.
And while that one chosen will receive the award, the cover, the story, I believe it’s important to somehow ensure that the meaning behind what those tokens represent is not overshadowed by the displays themselves.
Because whether you are the winner of the County Leader of the Year award, or a hopeful contestant – even if you’ve never heard of it ‘til this very moment – what you do, on a daily basis, is important. It affects hundreds (maybe thousands) of lives in a real, measurable way. Because of your efforts, the world may just be a better place now than it was when you entered it.
And that achievement shines brighter than the bronze, shows better than a cover, reads more completely than a story. Especially in the lives of the people you’ve touched.
And that? Is an intoxicating feeling.