21 Avril 2015
I had started my internship for a mere few weeks when I was asked to take care of an....interesting task. I had to go through applications submitted by people who wanted to get my job. Ok, they did not actually threaten me because they were supposed to take over only after I left. However, having to judge them was a bit awkward.
I think what happened is that I felt almost ashamed by the mediocrity of my achievements compared to those of the applicants. I was especially surprised by the numbers of awards, prizes and medals of all sorts that people bragged about on their resume (not judging, resumes are effectively all about bragging). British people especially seemed to list a bunch of prizes bearing all sorts of fancy Anglo-Saxon names on their resumes. It baffled me. I have never received any kind of prize, except for those lame ones you get at fairs when you didn't really win anything.
The prizes were not the only surprising thing to me. In fact, what amazed me the most was the rhetoric of many applicants. It is common now to describe oneself in a few lines at the top of one's resume. So how do people introduce themselves? Not by saying something like "I'm a pretty chill person, I like hanging out with friends and playing football. I'm also allergic to peanuts." Not surprisingly, people emphasize qualities that they think can get them employed: reliability, effectiveness, a will to work hard, a capacity to pick up new skills quickly, perfectionism etc. Those words (or similar ones) came up very often in the resumes and cover letters I eagerly read. Often, however, they were topped by a term more alien to me: "best". Applicants said things like "I am always trying to be the best at what I do." I'm the best in my class." "I don't settle for anything but the best." And so on. When they didn't say "best", they used other words, saying stuff like: "I constantly work to improve myself." "I believe in excellence." etc.
It's possible that what happened is that I realized how lucky I had been to get this internship. Seeing people being so dedicated about getting the same position made me feel self-conscious. Why so many superlatives when the final prize is an unpaid internship that mainly consist of administrative work? Is insisting on being the best at everything just a thing? Do you need it to get through life?
I don't want to write a litany of platitudes about how the capitalist world is destroying us by making competition a crucial part of our lives. I kind of want to bitch about that though. If you google "Be the best" you will find a ton of inspirational quotes that sound very similar but come from vey different sources (from fitness blogs to hospital websites). It also seems like you can not necessarily accuse the people who post those quotes of being elitist. In their comments, many people make it clear that, to them, everyone can be the best, that we only have to believe in ourselves. So they're mostly trying to push us -regardless of who we are- to become self-confident and embrace what makes us us even if we're not perfect. That's very good, but if we're fine even when we're not "perfect", why do people have to insist on us being "the best"? Saying "Being the best doesn't matter, love who you are." and "You are the best!" at the same time don't make much sense.
So, as Matthew would put it, you're making a fallacy (or something like that, I have trouble keeping up with his logic jargon).The truth is that "good" and "bad" have very definitive meanings to us, ergo so does "better". And it is difficult to change that paradigm considering that, by definition, it shapes the way we think. So, even if we're probably becoming more tolerant, we still categorize people and their action on a basis of "excellence" or at least "quality".
I have met several people whose lives are greatly shaped by the necessity of being the best. They don't say it like that of course. They're not openly turning every situation into a competition, but they seem to be enduring a lot of pressure because they need to prove to themselves (and other people too, but I think primarily themselves) that not only are they worth something, they're worth more than other people. I'm not saying that these people are terrible (although their attitude can be really annoying). What I think is that their way of thinking is going to hurt them more than it is probably going to hurt anyone around them. In short I just think striving for perfection is of course not going to make them happy. Not in a million years. However, that's what we're being sold al the time. And we buy it. We believe in the "be your better self bullshit" because it sounds so simple. Being skinny is better than being fat, so if I lose a few pounds, I'll be a better version of myself. Having read these books is more valued than not having read them. So I'll read them and be more respected. Having orgasms several times a week proves you know how to enjoy life. So, I'll have sex tonight and feel proud about it.
Of course I am writing this article because I feel a push towards excellence and it's not making me happy. But I refuse to let it make me feel miserable either. Like everyone, I admire people who are good at stuff. I'm not trying to deny people their pride. I don't want to claim ambition is a sin either (even though we tend to make the "ambitious people trying to accomplish something" the ultimate role model, and I disagree with that).
But I just wish we were somehow less obsessed. What's so frustrating is that we're aware of this tendency. We know we can't evolve by trying to crush other people. We know that too much ego is a sure way to be constantly worried and, in the end, unhappy. But we just can't stop comparing our qualities, our skills, our accomplishments to everyone else's. And it makes us so superficially happy when we think we're doing quite well (at least it makes me happy).
In the end, focusing on excellence is selfish reasoning. It is sterile and douchey. This focus on ourselves (namely "the best version of ourselves") is separating us from other people. Couldn't we achieve a paradigm in which what is important is not what one's qualities, skills and achievements say about himself/herself but how much empathy one has and how much one is committed to improving other people's life?
And if you think about yourself so much because you have low self-confidence, don't worry, you're the best!