I was brought up to believe that I am special. I was told that I am unusually smart and gifted. Whether or not this is true, it has given me a deep-seated expectation of myself to do great(ish) things, to achieve a bit more than the average Joe, to stand out from the crowd, to gain recognition.
Most people of course achieve very little that is noteworthy beyond the solid humble everyday victories of a quiet life. I’m sure that most people do not have a sense that this is in any way insufficient. I’m also sure that many of these average achievers have talent and potential far beyond that needed to live a standard life. They just don’t expect of themselves to do any more than the average person. I believe they are by and large content.
The skills and training I have are not much sought after. There is very little professional demand for me. This clashes badly with my grandiose ideas about myself. I achieve things that I am proud of on a small one-man-project scale, but few care, and I gain little recognition. I am frustrated.
So I’m thinking that maybe it isn’t such a good idea to tell your kids they’re anything else than just plain Joe & Jill. Because regardless of how talented (or not) they are, it is clearly possible to live a happy life without standing out in any way. It might be better for the world if every talented person were encouraged to achieve their maximum. We’d get more scientific breakthroughs, more great art and music, more just and competent leaders that way. But it is probably not in general good for people to be thus encouraged, since most will still not achieve much — only feel the expectation to do so. What good does it really do me, for instance, to believe that I should be a university lecturer and head projects involving thirty people?
Think about it. A child of sub-average or average talent will almost certainly not be happier if they grow up to believe that they should be able to accomplish great things. But nor will in most cases a child of above-average talent. Because smart people are a dime a dozen. There isn’t any great demand for them.