Tip for life: "Don't get up in the morning to be average. Be extraordinary.
" - Prof Fiona Wood
I just want to say - I'm sick of this crap.
As a lapsed overachiever.
From the time at which someone identifies you as "gifted", this kind of "motivation" is heaped upon you. It's as though you are an especially strong seedling which has emerged from the earth. Having seen this seedling the parent / teacher / mentor desperately wants it to be the tall poppy. I don't know if it's for some kind of bizzare pleasure of being able to say "oh yes, I knew from the moment I saw them, they were going to be something extraordinary". Maybe it is altruistic: maybe the overseeing garderner just wants to create the very best plant that they can.
In any case, when the seedling has surpassed it's youth, when it is a moderate shrub, it can spot all the other plants around it. And it notices so many other plants, so much taller than it.
Many a person has talked about the harms of telling children that they are exceptionally smart. It is harmful to make children think they are "exceptional" in themselves, because it makes them feel distanced from the exceptional-ness of their work. They don't feel that the effort which they expend is beneficial in achieving goals. Rather, it is their magic, special, selves which has made things work out okay so far.
When things start not to work out, you start to feel like you've lost your knack for things. You don't feel motivated to put effort into moving things back on track: after all, it was just that you were "gifted" or "talented" that made your work good in the first place.
And then you feel that the gardeners were probably mistaken. You weren't cut out to be a tall poppy. Struck with debilitating self-doubt, almost every action feels doomed. Your life is not in your control, and you feel resentful of every person who told you that you were brilliant.
You don't have to be a kid who was identified as gifted or talented to feel this way, though. I was reading some reseach on brain stimulation to enhance performance
, and the following sentence really resonated with me:
"What if you could take a very specific vacation only from the stuff that makes it painful to be you: the sneering inner monologue that insists you're not capable enough or smart enough or pretty enough, or whatever hideous narrative rides you."
Please, sign me up for this vacation.
The article goes on to relate how certain kinds of brain stimulation can remove this self-doubt. Once this is done, the subject can perform tasks with greatly improved skill. Apart from this research being interesting in terms of the practical benefits, it is interesting to note that these devices show that when we doubt ourselves, we become less good at performing.
So, let's link this back to what Fiona Wood said. I'm sure she had the best of intentions with her encouragement, but is it useful? I'm a kid who was told I was brilliant and promising and all of that. When I wake up in the morning, I check twitter. I look guiltily at the clock until I can no longer justify snoozing. I drag myself out of bed, take a piss, and feed my cats. I browse the internet as I eat my breakfast (yoghurt, museli, fruit, and tea). I shower and I dress in a kind of PhD student way (jeans, t-shirt, jumper, sneakers). I cycle to uni (usually late).
This is not an "extraordinary" morning. In fact some mornings I find it harder than others to get out of bed and things can get worse from there. Look, Fiona, I don't think this bodes well for the extraordinary nature of my day. My days lack promise. They often are pretty damn (professionally) depressing. I would be happy with a string of very ordinary days right now. I think most adults would. You're not helping us come to terms with the fact that our lives are strings of failed attempts to do some thing or other.
And I already have the near-constant inner monologue of "you're not good enough to do science which works". Sometimes "I should have done this so long ago, ack, I feel so ashamed". Or worse, "you used to be so brilliant, what happened?".
I don't think it's useful
to tell people to try to be extraordinary every day. I especially don't think it's useful to tell children this. They'll find the inner monologue of self doubt without fast-tracking them there by heaping this "motivational" bullshit on them.
I think what we should say is "really enjoy what you are doing. Be engrossed, be involved in it". My best days are the days I have become too interested in my science to notice my inner monologue. They are the best in terms of my happiness, and also the best in terms of my productiveness.
Stop talking goo.