Sunday, December 30, 2012

The American Idol

You are not the most beautiful. 

You are not the smartest.

Or the the most talented.

Contrary to what your mother has told you.

You are not the best. 

If you have ever been told otherwise, you have been lied to.

Not only are those "compliments" untrue: they are harmful.

Why? Because those statements are not compliments; they are expectations. They are demands for perfection.

It all began when you were just a helpless infant. “You are just the cutest little thing, aren't you?” they cooed, planting the seed that would only continue to grow. Not only were you the cutest, they told you; you were also the smartest and the funniest. Your identity and self-esteem grew to be wrapped up in being "the best". The pressure to stay on top was reaffirmed each time you were convinced that you were better than the rest. You were taught that your self worth was to be measured by how far your success outweighed the success of your peers. 
Eventually, you started to believe that your champion status was what made you special, and often felt inadequate when you could not measure up. 

Society is obsessed with the pursuit of perfection. We extol success and idolize winners. Consider the Olympics, or the tens of reality shows that have people vying for the ultimate title; a medal for every talent you can imagine is fought for and coveted (even marriage is competed for!). Never mind the fact that next season there will be a new winner, and each season after that. Never mind that the best will always be replaced by better.

Ever wonder why celebrities appear the least secure? Why supermodels do coke in the bathroom at the party? Why talented artists are found dead in their mansions and accomplished actors check into rehab like the rest of us go to the spa? These people are decidedly the closest to perfection as humanly possible, so why are they the most miserable?

Why? Because people are not meant to be perfect, and even if airbrush and plastic surgery can fool their audience for a while, no one can keep it up forever. One day they will be photographed with no makeup on. One day someone younger and more talented will replace them at the top. Grammys and Oscars will just serve as reminders of their "shortcomings". They are miserable because we have placed unfair expectations on them, and the pressure to live up to those impossible labels is just too much to handle.

So if being a gold medalist is your dream, if only coming in first is acceptable, you are setting yourself up for failure every day. It is a fools game to try to be "the best". It is impossible. You don't have to be better than everyone else to be great or virtuous; you have to try to be better than you. There is always going to be someone more beautiful, more intelligent, and more talented than you. And that's okay. You are not the best, and the good news is, you don't have to be. There is nothing perfect about perfection.