Sunday, January 21, 2007

American Idol: Idealizing Riches and Fame, Ignoring A Great Life

I wrote the other day about my shock and awe, and ultimately, dismay at the display on American Idol. The only time I watch "reality" TV is on vacation where there is cable, or when I get my annual pedicure by Khan who tapes all the "reality" shows (he loves ABBA in addition to loving "reality" TV, so I have seen amusing early-80s videos of them crooning--they are the definition of croon--and came home to promptly down-load some crooning tunes from iTunes).

My American Idol post was unduly harsh, but I stick by my message: America has created a culture where young people are deluded into believing in their own greatness when there is scant evidence for that belief. It's more like faith--"the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen" (and that's a paraphrase).

And it isn't just singers. There are deluded doctors, lawyers (Nifong), accountants, engineers, managers, teachers, who are so convinced of their own excellence that they are above criticism, above feedback, above an editor. They leave death and destruction, both literal and figurative, in their wakes. Worse than marginally talented, they are morally deficient. Their confidence in their own wonderfulness makes them lazy. Slack. They are the worst sort of slackers.

MaxedOutMama puts it this way (a post from a year ago linked through the Anchoress):

Believe me, you don't want to drive on a bridge the slackers designed. You don't want to drive a slacker-built car. You don't want to get medical care from the slackers, and you don't want slackers doing your taxes or keeping your books. There is nothing that slackers do well, and this generation hasn't been taught the huge difference between showing up versus achieving something. I see it everywhere.
This calls to mind the formation of a special department during college that assisted those with disabilities (ADD) to pass exams. And my question was this, Do we really want people who can't pay attention to X-rays long enough to give an accurate diagnosis a degree? Surely, someone besides me sees this as problematic? It was all a scam anyway. There were taxpayer dollars to be had if one could prove a mental condition, and there just so happened to be a local psychiatrist who could find disorder just about anywhere, and the assessed students did a phenomenal job of acting disordered. So there you go. Who's going to pass up free tuition even if you have to act dull-witted and attention deprived? But I digress.....

Back to American Idol and it's portent for America. The point of my post wasn't to further denigrate the unfortunate souls attempting to seize their American dream. This was my point:
And worst of all, we're deluding ourselves--staying trapped in a fantasy land of wasted time, wasted energy and wasted gifts trying to make something happen that just isn't happening.
These kids should have been lovingly steered toward their true talent somewhere along the way. How many people do you know who pine for what "could have been"? Oh, there are the actors who took a class with so-and-so and would have made it "big time" if only. There are the singers, who never got to Broadway. There are the baseball players. It goes on and on. No one ever dreams of being an engineer or accountant.

And yes, as a parent, I know "steering" is easier said, than done. Here's how the Anchoress (she posted on this whole topic a year ago, which was before I was aware of her writing. I've only been in Blog Land for a year and so I missed it. Should have known she thunk these thoughts first!) puts it:
Parenting involves balancing, trying to find the right way to encourage a child without filling his head with false notions of superiority or dashing her dreams by treating them with disrespect. Are we failing at this, are we out of balance? If so, the whole world, the great majority of us average folk, will pay for it.
In my opinion, America is so out of balance, there may be no swinging back. We have three generations now steeped in the narcissistic pursuit of self-aggrandizement. Is there any going back? There are far too many people who give themselves too much credit and don't work enough to be better. And some, like the idol contestants, don't even know where they should apply their effort, should they ever decide to put forth any.

People seem to be unaware of the soul-satisfying comfort in finding your mission, using your talents to apply to that mission, and doing it. Usually, a small piece of the world is affected by fulfilling this mission, yet it is very important. We will have to answer for it. So essentially, this topic is of spiritual importance. Millions wander in delusion never applying their God-given talents to a higher purpose. And that's a shame.

Beyond celebrity, people are also side-tracked by the "love of money" (remember the root of all evil?). Part of my home consulting business (doing what I can do to stay home because practicing chiropractic full-time takes me away from the family) is administering personality, aptitude, relational assessments. (Team building, too.) First, a note: Anyone can be anything, but he must realize that he may be competing with people who have more talent and find the related tasks easier. Since people tend to move toward what is "easy", that is, fits with our gifts and therefore feels easy, the person swimming upstream will have to work much harder to achieve the same thing. Make sense? I don't tell people they can't do anything. I do tell people that they will have to work much harder, based on their aptitudes and personality, than someone else to find achievement in their "dream" area.

The most challenging assessments are the ones conducted with people who are completely self-unaware. The assessment I use [if you're interested, email me, it can be done long-distance] is pretty iron-clad, with great internal validity and long-term integrity (it doesn't change every time you take it, unless you try to game the system--some people try to answer the "right" way, but there is no "right" way). For those who don't know themselves, receiving any data that doesn't conform to their delusion can be shocking.

For example, one young man I worked with had a desire to be a medical doctor. Fine. So I looked at his assessment. He was everything a doctor wasn't--he liked the outdoors, he liked intensely physical activities, he liked competitive environments, he didn't like to interact on a personal level (okay, that trait tends to go with surgeons, but whatever), he liked being part of a team, he liked knowing who was boss, he hated classroom learning. Um, what part of being a doctor would he like? The money. He wants to make lots and lots of money. In his world, doctors were the American Idol, the ideal, the sure thing. "You want to be a doctor even if you end up hating your life?" I asked him. But doctors are rich. When I mentioned that doctors don't become the richest people (and I know this because I am one and my husband is one and my neighborhood is full of 'em and we are all upper middle-class at best), he seemed shocked. In this young man's case, he listened to reason and together we worked out a plan to get him into a profession that suited him--most likely it will include his love for scuba diving, his desire to be part of a team to work on something challenging. He will probably end up making a gazillion dollars in the oil industry working in the deep sea. He was shocked that he could use his talents, combine them with his loves, and actually make money.

He might end up rich. But he'll probably still end up average. The Anchoress says:

It is simply true that most people live their lives unknown to all but their immediate family and friends, and they die and in a generation or two, they are completely forgotten - except, perhaps, by people like me, who like to go to cemeteries and take rubbings from headstones. This has always been true, since the dawn of time, and there is absolutely no reason to downplay the dignity and effectiveness that comes with being an average human being.

There was only one Moses, but it was the whole anonymous gang of average Jews who eventually populated the Promised Land. There was only one Martin Luther King but the whole anonymous gang of average marchers who made the trips to Mobile and to Washington DC. There was only one Churchill, but hundreds of thousands of average allied soldiers who put his policies into effect and beat down a great evil. There is only one Dubya, but 150,000 troops liberating Iraq and trying to make a risky-but-visionary effort succeed.

Individual, if anonymous, effort adds up to greatness. And people identifying their gifts and using them adds up to greatness.

If I could have one super-power, it would be the gift of healing. I'd love to be able to say a word and heal a person, like Jesus. Beyond that, if I could fulfill one mission, it would be to help every person reach their God-given potential. Does that sound corny? Well, it's exhilarating work and I love it--even though I'm touching just a few lives and will probably die anonymously, as the Anchoress says.

I wish this sort of happiness for everyone. And when I watch American Idol, and see a professional hair stylist who is obviously gifted at what he does, desire to be a singer instead, it's depressing. This guy has everything already and he doesn't even know it. There are too many people just like him. And worse, there are too many people who will never look honestly at their talents and use them to serve their fellow man.

And, ironically, we might be able to blame it on misapplied efforts to boost self-esteem.


Anonymous said...

My problem with aptitude tests is that I have so many interests and so few occupational prejudices that my responses seem to come out all over the board with no clear direction indicated.

To wit, I took one as a high school freshman and, to make a joke I guess, the teacher told me (in front of the class) I should be a chicken farmer. I actually considered it. But I was really disappointed because I was looking for some guidance.

David said...

Good work with the potential-doctor-turned-scuba-driver.

There seems to be very little useful material available to help kids understand the realities of various careers. They may know something about what their parents do, and have a glamorized idea about those jobs that appear on TV (cops, lawyers, and doctors) but beyond that it's all pretty dark to them.

Dr. Melissa said...

Anon 3:38,

Interest surveys are not aptitude tests. And most personality/aptitude tests don't have much reliability until at least after High School. By 25, things stay pretty constant.

You should look into it. The one I use can be taken on the web. The "debrief" can be conducted over the phone. It can be a life-changing experience.


I think kids learn the basic careers--computer programming, make that game design, engineering, accounting, etc. But tied into all these careers are jobs that pull from many different directions and make for complex and interesting lives.

While I don't like kids being "pigeon holed" too young, I think a solid aptitude/personality profile can clarify things wonderfully.

Christy're said...

Dr. Melissa, this sounds really neat. I think my husband could really benefit from it, and so could I.

kman said...

Great post. I have gotten the opportunity to tell several young people to follow what they love to do and figure out how to make money at it. They are still teens but they have taken the advice to heart. I am certain it will turn out well for them.

I have to agree with David. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I got out of High School. I enjoyed science and math and my parents encouraged me to get into Engineering... but it still took me 2 years to discover I was well suited for Electrical Engineering. I took a lot of programming classes (just for fun) and I've worked as a Software Developer ever since graduation. I still think I got a little lucky to get into a career I love.

Anonymous said...

"The one I use can be taken on the web."

Do you have a link? I'm about to turn 58 but I guess it's never too late eh?