You Get a Gold Star!

by Stephanie Thompson


Can you remember back to a time when you felt rewarded for efforts expended? When your teacher placed a little gold star sticker on your paper to make you feel appreciated?


In our adult lives, reward does not seem to come as easily. As artists, even “successful” ones, there are often piles of canvases underneath the one painting that sells. As writers, we have thousands and thousands of words written in notebooks or in computer files that will go unread, unrecognized. As mothers, we have inner lives, fantasies far beyond making meals, folding laundry, mopping floors. Yet we do these things, often thanklessly, no one noticing unless they’re not done, unless they have no clean underwear. We, all of us, have something, probably many things, that we do daily, and as we do them we wonder: where, where on earth is my gold star?


It’s time to bring back the gold star, to give them to ourselves and to others, just for trying. It might seem silly at first, but going to the art store to pick up a pack of puffy, glittery gold stars can be the first step toward feeling appreciated and learning to appreciate others for the little things, for what we’re all trying to do in ways often too insignificant to notice. In lines where people wait more patiently than they have to, at the grocery store when someone scoots quickly to get out of your way, at work when someone has put together something, even something imperfect, pull out a gold star sticker and hand it over. If the person should look at you strangely, which they might, explain simply, with a smile: “It’s just for trying…”


How would you feel if that happened to you? Most likely, you’d feel grateful, don’t you think, that someone, a stranger even, took the time to notice and reward you? It might even make someone’s day or week or shift, that little seemingly silly sticker that they will place so proudly on their chest, their hand, their phone, their forehead.


No matter where we live, in the country where other people are few and far between or in cities where we rub up against so many others in a day, we rarely take the time to connect, to see one another, to listen or care even in a brief moment what The Other is up against.


But if we did, if we headed out the door in the morning with a pack of puffy gold star stickers, especially on those days when we seem the most stuck in our own selves, mired in our own myriad of efforts unrewarded, maybe we’d be forced to see how we all deserve a star, just for trying. Maybe, as we helped transform snarly salespeople into their happier selves, helped subway riders actually smile and offer up a salutation, maybe we too would stand slightly taller and recognize ourselves for all we do that is worthwhile. And that is a lot.