Merit Badges for Grownups

I was never a Boy Scout.

My career has largely involved an abundance of isolation, my hobbies are enjoyed in solitude, even the sports I played growing up involved individual events without any real "team effort." Call it social anxiety, or introversion, or something else; I was just never much of a joiner.

But one thing I've always envied the scouts for (both the Girl and Boy varieties) was merit badges. There's something deeply satisfying about the clearly defined path these organizations have laid towards earning each badge, and once a candidate demonstrates their understanding and application of the underlying skills, they earn a physical token of their accomplishment.

It's like video game achievements, but in real life. What's not to like?

I've always been a bit of a collector of hobbies. I like to learn new things, and enjoy the satisfaction that comes from exercising a newly acquired skill. Granted, it makes for a pretty clear jack-of-all-trades mentality (master of none), but understanding and applying the basics of painting, or lock picking, or genealogy isn't about mastery, but exploration.

That said, I do wish the paths towards my randomly selected destinations were a little better defined (and that I got a cool badge at some predetermined checkpoint). But, are there merit badges for adults?

When I originally started writing this, I was being a bit of a smartass. Of course there aren't merit badges for adults, I thought, adult life isn't nearly that fun. Well... I started doing a little research, and while there are are a ton of tongue-in-cheek merit badges like Put Pants On and Avoided Confrontation, it turns out that there are actually some "real" merit badge programs for adults too. While most of them focus on selling badges, I did find one that seemed to consider "the whole experience."

The Strenuous Life is basically Boy Scouts for grown men. Run by the same guy behind The Art of Manliness, The Strenuous Life is an active and prescriptive program that weekly challenges and, yes, merit badges. With an emphasis on physical fitness, accountability, and self-improvement, it's a pretty compelling (albeit expensive) offering. I'm not entirely sure The Strenuous Life is up my alley, but it is a pretty cool implementation of the "merit badges for grownups" ethos.

What I think I'm really looking for is some sort of clear, easy-to-read accounting of my life, because it's not a video game. It's complicated and stressful, and sometimes I just want a damn character sheet to tell my what my skills are, and what awards I've earned.

But that doesn't exist, does it?

Sure, paychecks, diplomas, certificates, and other "tangibles" can all be considered grownup proxies for merit badges, but that hardly covers the things we want to learn, but don't have to to survive. I may be able to pay my bills as a technical writer, but nobody's rewarding me for learning to write poetry (and no, you cannot read my poetry).

And I know, a "personal sense of satisfaction" is supposed to be all we need, but sometimes a physical token can be motivating. Having something to reach for that doesn't have to go on your resume, but instead you can appreciate for the journey it stands for is nice. After all, why do we buy keychains, magnets, or other generally useless tchotchkes on vacation?

Because they hold personal meaning that helps us remember.


This is post 021 of #100DaysToOffload


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