In the SCA, the Crown acknowledges and rewards prowess, chivalry/courtesy, and service by bestowing awards upon members of their populace, ranging from non-armigerous (that is, they do not promote your rank) to Patents of Arms, the highest level of ranked awards. These awards are fun to receive and fun to witness and they denote recognition for hard work and achievement, not just from the Crown, but from our friends. For the most part, awards are merit-based. In Calontir, all awards of the Grant of Arms level (GoA) and above are vetted through polling orders. (Also, Award of Arms-level Martial awards in Calontir, sic anything with the word Fyrd in it, are vetted through polling orders.) The bar gets raised every so often, but, usually, one can have a pretty clear idea where they stand in their skill.
Awards are a good thing, they were intended as a good things when they were contrived, and they are given out with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, however, the down side to awards being given is that there are others who do not receive them, at least not then. It’s a logical progression of events and is unavoidable. What is also unfortunate is that we often come up with rather haphazard reasons as to why some receive awards and some do not, which can lead to frustration and hurt feelings.
The obvious and most justifiable reason given for not receiving an award is, “You’re not there yet.” Most of the time when a person is told this, it’s true. However, “you’re not there yet,” is also a highly subjective statement and can sometimes be quite frustrating. I have a friend who was told that he just needed to go to more events and then he would get knighted. During the year leading up to that advice, he had been to every event, so one can imagine how fruitless and dismissive the advice was for him.
In a perfect world, there would be a checklist of “landmarks” to achieve, and one could blithely mark them off as they progress and exchange their assignment sheets for the appropriate award. However, there are a couple of problems with that notion. Firstly, because everyone is on their own path, it is impossible to truly and accurately assess their work based on a checklist. For example, my music is utterly incomparable to my friend’s and vice versa; likewise, my strengths as a seamstress are completely different from those of another. Secondly, our society’s noble founders were hippies and, like most hippies, they fostered the mentality that one should work without expecting an award and then be blissfully surprised when one happened to be bestowed upon you. Naturally, the “checklist” notion runs at odds with this premise.
Now, I’m a Christian, and while neither group would care to admit it, some key ideals in my faith run congruent with hippie attitudes. (I’m also pretty crunchy: essential oils instead of cleaning chemicals, etc.) One thing Jesus said often was not to seek earthly rewards and He was pretty blunt about it. That said, He also didn’t turn around and create a social ranking based on awards and accolades. (That’s something humans turned around and did after He went returned to heaven.) However, on that vein, there’s a lot to be said about letting awards be an afterthought.
I say “afterthought” because I, personally, take the line, “You shouldn’t care about awards,” with a mine of salt, mostly because it’s often repeated by someone as they polish their coronet.
I’m a type-A personality: I love achieving my goals and there’s nothing wrong with that, but, in the SCA, it’s something you have to be careful about or you will make yourself miserable. In academia, one might set a goal of achieving a GPA of above 3.5, study, do their homework, do extra credit, perform well in tests, and, as long as your professor isn’t one of those types, (you know, the one who is impossible to please or marks down your paper simply because they disagree with you), you’ll likely achieve your goal, barring learning deficiencies. As noted earlier, it is impossible for the SCA to function within those parameters because they are completely different models.
As far as the Arts and Sciences go, we are all amateurs when all is said and done. Moreover, the Middle Ages is vast in areas of study: it’s difficult to have a set standard as we do in academia because, at the end of the day, we’re comparing apples to oranges. Finally, there is no oversight in the SCA like there is in a classroom. There’s no professor to grade you, only your peers. (No, not the Peers-Peers, per say, I mean the people around you, which of course, does include Peers-Peers.) This all makes for a vastly different system than those we’re accustomed to in academia or even professionally, which requires a mental adjustment for those of us who are goal-driven.
Let me be perfectly clear: I am absolutely not suggesting that you should stop caring about achieving goals. Many peers in my kingdom are successful in their professional fields in real life because the same drive that propels them in their careers propels them in the SCA. Goals are healthy as long as you control them, not the other way around. In the SCA, however, you’re going to need to set your goals a little differently.
Do Not Set Awards as Benchmarks.
For all the reasons previously listed, setting the achievement of an award as a goal, as you would strive for a promotion at work, can lead to disappointment. The standards for awards are not concrete and the receipt of awards is somewhat arbitrary. (More on that later.) Instead of focusing on achieving a certain award in a certain time frame, set goals according to your skill, etc. For instance, a clothier might set a goal to have a completely hand sewn ensemble by Christmas, a potter might set a goal to have a complete set of feast gear for their family by Pennsic, or a fighter might set a goal to have authorized in every weapons system by Battlemoor. These goals are not dependent on someone else noticing you and they’re goals that will lead to personal gratification and fulfillment. You need to focus on your SCA goals as something to improve your skill or increase your knowledge for your own satisfaction, not to rise up the totem pole. If getting the new medallion is your goal, the chances are high you’re going to find yourself frustrated. Achieving an award is dependent on a set of factors that are not very predictable and are out of your control and you should never stake your fulfillment or enjoyment on something that can only be granted by a third party.
Awards are Arbitrary.
I recognize that saying that will likely ruffle some feathers, but bear with me: I’m not saying awards have no merit or that they’re given out willy-nilly. Awards are certainly not worthless, but there is a level at which they are inherently arbitrary. This isn’t due to a lack of consideration but rather due to the fact that, barring all other obstacles to achieving an award and assuming that every person in the Kingdom is at the same level in all fields, it is still physically impossible for the Crown to recognize every worthy gentle during a single reign.
For GoAs, the Orders have to be consulted and the recommendations the Crown receives from the populace must be weighed against their personal list and then against the people who are brought up in meetings. Finally special scrolls have to be made, not to mention the loot and ceremonies that have to be pulled together for a peerage. In some instances, a Crown may decline to give someone an award because they don’t want to appear to be favoring their friends or because an Order is more keen on this person than the other candidate, then the next Crown comes along and has their own list of nominees to weigh against the recommendations of their populace and Orders. Sometimes, without any intention or malice, people simply fall through the cracks or get left on the shelf, as it were.
The key is not to take it personally. For every person who gets an award, there are probably five more people in that same court who are equally deserving. The desert of the five people who are not being awarded does not cancel out the worthiness of the person being awarded or vice versa. We all get there, eventually.
Awards are Candy.
Yes, getting an award is awesome! I wore my Swan medallion for days after I received it and I wasn’t at War. Awards denote accomplishment and you should be proud of them and happy for the people who receive them, but the ranking in the SCA is done in an attempt to emulate a medieval social structure, not as a method of creating actual social strata. They are meant entirely as boon to those who receive them, not a denigration to those who do not. View the bestowment of an award as a commendation, but do not view the lack of one as a criticism.
How to Handle Feeling Overlooked:
One of the difficult things about going five-thirty years without being called into court for an award (yes, I wrote thirty), is that it can lead to a feeling of not being valued by the Kingdom or your friends. Simply put, it does hurt one’s feelings. When one feels that they’ve progressed in their field, the lack of award can erode confidence or make them wonder if what they’re doing or how they’re fighting is just awful and no one will tell them that.
On a social level, an extended dry spell can make one wonder if they’re actually liked or if perhaps they’ve committed a social sin of which they are unaware. Because awards are based mostly upon the recommendation of one’s friends (the Crown can’t be every where at once), the same awards that denote acceptance can unintentionally denote rejection when they’re withheld in the mind of the person waiting for one.
Yes, social politics can play a role in the receipt of awards, but it is futile to assume that social politics is the default reason for awards or lack thereof. One of my friends went decades at the AoA level and then another five and a half years before a peerage. She sometimes feared that perhaps she had caused some great offense unwittingly, but the reality was that she was greatly appreciated and well-liked.
Unfortunately, many people get trapped in the mentality that awards flow from the Crown and, therefore, magically enter the Crown’s mind. I had a conversation with a friend about someone deserving an AoA-level award and he said, “If I ever win Crown, I’ll do something about that,” and I replied, “Or you could just fill out an award rec?” (He felt very silly after that.) Another reason people fail to fill out award recommendations for their friends is that they start writing them and doubt their assessments, especially if they don’t have the award themselves. (Addressing the Crown, in any form, can be intimidating to some.) Still others are hesitant to promote and discuss their friends in meetings because they worry about their personal bias. Moreover, there are many times when the lack of an award is the result of something extremely positive: people assume, because of your skill, that you already have the award!
(Note: please don’t assume people have awards, especially when you haven’t seen them wearing the regalia for said award. Check your kingdom’s order of precedence and proceed accordingly.)
If you’re waiting for an award, don’t worry about why you haven’t received it. There are a host of reasons it hasn’t come yet and rarely are they personal or negative. Your friends love you and you are a valuable part of your kingdom, regardless of your rank.
How to Deal with Feeling Jilted:
Fighters probably experience this feeling the most: the frustration watching someone you feel you have a technical advantage over receiving an award you covet before you. My lord husband always says, in regards to a fighter passing him up for an award even though he can usually beat that person in tournament, “I probably just have his number. Clearly lots of other people do not.”
Perhaps your view of the situation is skewed; it’s hard to be objective about one’s own skill even when compared to another and you should ask someone you trust for perspective. Perhaps you may actually be ahead of a person awarded: that doesn’t mean they’re not ready for the award, it just means that you haven’t gotten one for one reason or another and having another person be held back just because you haven’t been noticed yet isn’t going to make anything better for you. For myself, I’d rather see them get the award and feel content in my own accomplishments. Don’t depend on someone else for your happiness!
I hope this missive proves helpful. Awards are lovely, but they’re not everything. Getting an award won’t add to your quality of life or improve your skill, those are things only you can do. Enjoy your hobby and your friends, and let other people fall over themselves over their place in the OP.