Respecting the Red Lantern: an uplifting warm-fuzzy message we all deserve to hear

Everyone knows what the Iditarod is, right? Or was it just my middle school that spent a week-long learning about and participating in Iditarod themed activities after reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild? For those of you who don’t know, the Iditarod is an annual 1,150 mile long sled-dog race run in early March.

It came as a surprise to me that 7 years after taking part in these festivities, I learned something new (who knew there was more to learn?) about “The Last Great Race.”

There’s this thing you can win at the Iditarod called the Red Lantern Award: a symbol of perseverance, strength, and determination. People who receive this award feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment. And how might you earn this prestigious award you may ask? Simply finish in last place.

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That’s right. One of the most honorable awards a musher can receive goes to the person who finishes dead last. The idea is to honor the person for not giving up. This person often encountered numerous struggles throughout the long and difficult trail, but continued on in spite of them. It’s easy to quit when you know there is no chance of winning, yet this person maintained a sense of dignity, and finished the race with pride.   

Here’s the thing: our culture knows how to congratulate winners. We congratulate valedictorians, record-setting athletes, and the stars of musicals/plays. We often forget, or choose not, to recognize the people who study for hours every night of the week to get a C on a test. We don’t recognize the athletes who go to every single practice, beat their own personal record, but still finish last in the race. We don’t recognize the people who work behind the scenes of theater to make the whole production possible. We often don’t recognize the people who deserve the most recognition - that needs to change.

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So, what’s the message that we all can take from this for ourselves? Have pride in your accomplishments. Recognize your trials/tribulations, and pat yourself on the back for getting through them . Appreciate the journey, not the destination.

It’s a waste of time to try to be the best of all time at something. There is always going to be someone out there better than you, and if there isn’t now, there will be someone in the future - history can attest to that. Now, I write this next part knowing of how cliche and disneyesque it will sound, but I think it’s worth saying: instead of aiming to be the overall best, you should focus on doing the best YOU can do.  Once you stop comparing yourself to others, life seems a whole lot easier to succeed at.

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So for my friends that barely passed their intro to bio class, for the guy that sits on the bench at every football game, and for the girl that didn’t get into her first choice college - I give you the Red Lantern. You did good kid. You did so good.