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August 19, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Editorial – Self-Improvement

At some point today—most likely more than once already—you will have wished you got a better mark on a test, wished you looked a bit different, wished you were into cooler music, or wished you were just… better. From grand goals to small steps, us humans are obsessed with self-improvement. Since the beginning of time, we’ve been convinced that the key to happiness is simply being better—regardless of what the end goal is.

And this pursuit of happiness isn’t getting any easier. As society moves away from set expectations and moral guidelines as to what constitutes a ‘good’ person, we have to set our own boundaries: these days most of the goals we have to strive for are hyperbole—smartest, richest, prettiest, funniest. In academia, we see this obsession manifest itself in an ever-growing number of specialisations; if you can’t top the subject, simply create a new branch to succeed in.

We all like to be a winner, and if we can’t win it ourselves, we want to back the winning horse. We support sports teams on the quality of their stats this season; swing voters are swayed by polls which popularise a particular leader, and if Victoria’s cleverly crafted marketing campaign brought you here, it was because you wanted to associate yourself with the best. Get amongst!

In this kind of environment, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that unless you’re the best, you’re not worth much at all. If you beat the rest, then why try at all? All or nothing; go hard or go home. If we stopped for a minute to consider this way of thinking, we would realise how ridiculous it is. Failing to be the best does not make you the worse, nor bad, nor mediocre. Failing to be the best can simply mean second-best.

Which is still really very good.

Our obsession with first place, top-ranked, gold medal winners means that we fail to face up to the facts of human nature: no one can ever succeed at everything; no one will ever be the best at everything. But because we are so intent on winning a title, we forget that there are plenty of qualities that go unnoticed, unranked, untitled, unacknowledged. We forget that those who we put on pedestals have faults of their own, just like the rest of us. And we forget that when we compare ourselves to others we will always come away lacking: when we turn a critical eye on ourselves we are very good at seeing the qualities that we don’t possess, and never those that we do.

Even the University, which purports to create well-rounded graduates, places heavy emphasis on the “graduate attributes” they are able to measure: scores, results, rank, title. Year after year a number of our peers are offered scholarships, tutoring positions, research roles, or access to higher education because of their ability to excel within a framework that the University recognises. Attributes that are easy to label—such as test results or sporting medals—are rewarded, whereas those that are harder to define; like being genuine, or helping to build a community, go unnoticed. When it comes to understanding each other, this approach leaves us with the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

So the next time you wish you could just be better, make sure that you’re not selling yourself short.


Molly & Stella

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About the Author ()

Molly McCarthy and Stella Blake-Kelly are Salient Co-Editors for 2013, AKA Salient Babes.

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