I am usually reading a few books at once. And what seems to happen recently is that two books that I pick up share similar ideas, which in turn jumps out at me as I am seeing the same message from two different authors.
I am reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck where he says about the 1960s, “Many researchers and policymakers at the time came to believe that raising a population’s self-esteem could lead to some tangible social benefits: lower crime, better academic records, greater employment, lower budget deficits. As a result, beginning in the next decade, the 1970s, self-esteem practices began to be taught to parents, emphasized by therapists, politicians, and teachers, and instituted into educational policy. Grade inflation, for example, was implemented to make low-achieving kids feel better about their lack of achievement. Participation awards and bogus trophies were invented for any number of mundane and expected activities.”
Self-esteem became the answer.
In his book The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary, Dr. Ronald D. Siegel writes, “In one of the largest surveys of its type, the Pew Center for People and the Press reached out to hundreds of young adults, asking millennials, who were raised when the self-esteem movement took off, about their generation’s goals in life. The results, and the contrast with the generation before (in parentheses), were striking: 81% (vs. 62%) said they wanted to get rich; 51% (vs. 29%) to be famous; but only 10% (vs. 33%) said they wanted to become more spiritual. The big increases belong to self-esteem boosts.
At the same time that our goals have shifted toward wealth, fame and external appearances, our opinions of ourselves have skyrocketed. This is the Lake Wobegon effect on steroids. In 1951, only 12% of 14- to 16-year-olds agreed with the statement “I am an important person.” By 1989, 80% did. In 2012, 58% of high school students expected to go to graduate or professional school — twice the number in 1976. Yet the actual number attending remained unchanged at 9%. A full two-thirds of high school students expect themselves to be in the top 20% in job performance. Clearly a lot of people are going to be disappointed.”
Because most of us are ordinary which is absolutely fine. But we have been trained to think we are extraordinary just for showing up. And what do those expectations do to us when we don’t get the job, or the promotion or the school acceptance?
Manson explains, “The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement. People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great — they are mediocre, they are average — and that they could be so much better.”
What are we doing to become better? What lifelong learning goals are on the list for us? What excites us so much that we want to learn about it early in the morning or late at night? What are we reading outside of our 9 to 5 job and how is that growing our brain? The world doesn’t owe us anything. But we owe it to ourselves to feed our mind and soul with what it takes to be our very best.