By R. J. NICHOLAS
Societies obsession with perfection is having a toxic impact on this generation and therefore our future.
The distorted reality that our young people are forced to measure themselves against is described in James Atlas’ article “Super People” in the New York Times. The lie that unless you are perfect you are destined for mediocrity at best, is growing increasingly prevalent at an alarming rate. It is depressing to admit that in order to get into a “top college,” students need to present themselves as superhuman (as defined by US News and World Report).
However, this presentation forces many students to compromise their integrity in order to enhance their resumes because it is rarely rooted in reality. This abusive push towards human perfection will undermine the very ingredients needed for success. This could also be the underlying reason that so many young adults end up becoming less successful human beings in the long run due to the outrageous pressure to produce an attractive college candidate at eighteen.
In order to raise people poised to be successful 35, 40, or 50-year-olds we must educate ourselves on what ingredients successful adults need. In order for future generations to repair our world they need compassion, empathy, and generosity. They need a strong work ethic and tenacity. They need the social and emotional intelligence that will prepare them to have both leadership and collaborative skills. They must not feel as though they are being attacked when given constructive criticism. They must be open to accept and react to new creative ideas by not being beat down in the process. They need creativity and an innovative spirit to be able to develop the solutions and strategies not yet imagined. They need resilience to be able to recover from life’s setbacks most of all.
What makes people interesting is their desire to explore other areas even though they are uneven or not perfect. Highly successful people are great at something. It is a lie and a great disservice when we train children to believe that in order to make it in this world they must be good at absolutely everything. Most teens will don the mask of indifference when taught they must be superhuman and faced with the stress and pressure of being perfect at everything when they are not. The majority will work overtime just to pretend they don’t care precisely because of how much they do. Most will even get off the playing field altogether. Sadly others will push themselves toward perfectionism and therefore decrease their chances for real success.
It is critical to understand the difference between a high achiever and a perfectionist when society has a real stake in our young people killing themselves to become high achievers. It is true that high achievers excel at something but they have no fantasy that they must be good at everything and because of that they run the world. They look for opportunities for growth and self-improvement and they value constructive criticism. They see failures as temporary setbacks to be overcome with greater effort. In contrast, perfectionists consider themselves unacceptable and not good enough unless they meet impossibly high self-imposed standards. They view constructive criticism as an attack and worry about being discovered as imposters. They won’t think outside-of-the-box because their fear of failure is so acute. As they fear the B+ grade they stifle their creativity and innovative spirit. They see even mild setbacks as catastrophes and aren’t as resilient. It is crucial that we understand the core ingredients needed for success will be undercut when we pressure children to be good at everything and push them to strive towards perfection.
If we take the time to educate our children and help them understand that teachers, firefighters, and social workers are heroes and not so much the sports stars and performers the media and society place on pedestals then perhaps they will have a winning chance to reach success and even obtain the confidence to find the hero inside them.
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