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KerryOn: Gold Star Syndrome


I remember them well when I look through old scrapbooks: the days of gold stars, ribbons, and certificates. Since kindergarten, if I helped out the teacher, scored 100% on the spelling test, or shared crayons with a classmate, I got a gold star sticker. Gold stars affirmed I was a “good student”. They were a symbol of dedication and hard work. The more gold stars I received, the more I craved them.


One of the gold stars from my youth which stands out with particular clarity is the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. This (my P.E. teacher told us) was the gold star every kid across America was striving for. I still remember gym class when the fitness test would take place. Kids lined up to run the 50-yard dash and shuttle run, and perform the broad jump, sit-ups, and pull-ups. And gold stars don’t stop after we leave high school. For many of us, they continue to be a part of our everyday life. We continue to set our standard of “good” based on specific metrics; our annual performance appraisal, biometric numbers from our yearly wellness check, or our financial risk score. And those are just the ones established by someone else.

Of course, it’s easy to argue the focused pursuit of specific achievements can make us train harder, eat better, meditate more … or whatever metric we’ve adopted to signify “good” or “successful”.


The sneaky part, however, about gold stars is they can make it very easy to focus solely on the stars, which can result in losing focus on the foundational purpose of the activity. Ultimately, we can get to a place where we’re constantly striving for achievement and accomplishment as if the achievement is an end in itself. But this will only prompt the seeking of the next achievement, and the next gold star, and the next, and the next … The gold star has become the goal, instead of the underlying effort to improve our health, career, family, or well-being.


It’s important to remember, as we’re continually herded toward this gold star syndrome, that we are the most important (and perhaps only) person who can accurately assess our worth.


The more I share the gold star syndrome concept with others, the more I realize there are many of us who struggle with it. Something keeps driving us to raise the bar and reach for the gold star, no matter the cost. In reality, there is no gold star. It’s a dangerous fallacy. I like to think I’m in remission from gold star syndrome, yet I know that I am not. I still have work to do on my journey. I know this because I continue to set up challenges for myself to achieve, for no other reason than the sense of accomplishment, not necessarily for my own personal growth.


My name is Kerry, and I have gold star syndrome. I have realized, this means I have to continuously remind myself why I’m engaging in the actions I take, so I can keep the real reason in front of me at all times, and leave the gold stars as an afterthought. I have to periodically take pause and think hard about choosing to move forward with all my major projects. Am I doing [insert project name] because I’m striving for some type of accolade, whether external or internal? Or am I doing it because it’s important to me, and will help me grow and develop? Regardless, I know that gold star syndrome is something I am recovering from each and every day.


KerryOn Questions

- What do you remember about gold stars from your past?

- In what ways do gold stars continue to control your life?

- How can you pivot your work from an accolade into something important to help you grow and develop?


The Kerry behind KerryOn

My name is Kerry K. Fierke, Ed.D. (pron. Fear-Key) I have a unique combination of skills and experience – decades of fast-paced corporate experience in Fortune 100 companies and large health care organizations, combined with the academic rigor of a highly ranked research university. My focus is supporting others to create their own path to leadership development, lifelong learning, and a unique leadership legacy. Take a moment to focus on leadership, then KerryOn!

To see all KerryOn's and other leadership stuff, visit www.kerrykfierke.com.

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4 comentarios


Erica Buck
Erica Buck
06 abr 2023

I too strive for external praise and acceptance. "My name is Erica and I have G.S.S." LOL. Most of the time my choices line up with my true values, but yes I need to keep asking Why. Good thoughts sister!

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Contestando a

Great! The awareness of gold stars are helpful to keep top of mind what truly is our underlying motivation for what we are doing.

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Peggy Hebden
Peggy Hebden
06 abr 2023

Excellent reminder Kerry!! I love the reminder to focus on our actual goal such as improving our health, career, family, or well-being. I recall that my gold stars came from my piano teacher, I’m not sure it helped. 😊 I do still use gold stars every day when I achieve my daily commitment to myself to follow my food plan goals every day, mainly because I still enjoy doing it (and have a whole whack of them). This is a good reminder to not let the reward be just about the star but to be grateful for my daily success in other ways.

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Contestando a

Yes! There is always a balance with the stars, what is the true purpose. I completely forgot about my gold stars from piano lessons, thanks for the reminder!

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