We all remember the reputable opening line to the Pokémon theme song despite probably not sitting through an episode in years. I’d hazard a guess that at least 5% of readers will have the tune on their iPod for those moments when it’s “just necessary” to put on. Although perhaps not the most dignified example of the point I’m trying to push, it does underline the importance of “being the very best” as something drilled into us from an early age and staying with us through to adulthood.
Striving to achieve great things has always been seen as something positive and healthy; the motivation a parent gives their child to win the race in sports day or get the certificate at the end of assembly being the unquestioned foundation for a successful life to come. Having dreams and even daily goals is our reason for getting up in the morning, if you don’t want anything it is easy to slip into a seemingly pointless routine of get up, eat, sleep, repeat.
Question is: to what extent is wanting to be the very best a good thing for our emotional well being? How do you find the balance of a driving, competitive nature that pushes you to your limits in order to succeed and satisfaction with one’s self?
It’s interesting to hear people’s views on the term “being competitive” and how different childhood experiences can lead to it being either a good quality to find in someone or an undesirable characteristic. A lot of people simply settle with “it depends” because, fair enough, it’s all about striking that balance.
Have you noticed that if you’re working or get on with a competitive person you’ll usually accept that it’s ‘in their nature’ and substitute words such as “spirited” or “hard-working”? Put in a position where you’re working against or already have a negative predisposition of such a person the terms “bloodthirsty”, “aggressive” or even “psycho” get muttered disapprovingly.
Think again back to Pokémon. Not too soon after his 10th birthday, Ash Ketchum sets out into the big wide world to travel across the land, searching far and wide for the substantial selection of Pokémon he can battle, catch and train in order to become the best Pokémon trainer there ever was. For such a young boy to have this driving force inside him means his competitive nature is seen as a positive thing that we all wanted to relate to. Then consider Team Rocket, the bad guys obsessed with capturing and selling rare Pokémon for profit no matter what evil routes they had to take, (usually involving Ash and his friends in some way). Their motivation was money, but think about the pickles they got themselves into. After being thrown off cliffs, drowned and “blasting off again” on numerous occasions you’d have to class the double trouble team as competitive too, right?
The reason I got thinking about all this was after reading “Affluenza – How to be Successful and Stay Sane” by Oliver James. The comparison to Affluenza used by James himself is the HIV virus. “Just as having the HIV virus places you at risk of developing the physical disease of AIDS, infection with the Affluenza virus increases your susceptibility to the commonest emotional diseases: depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorder”.
James used the term Affluenza to describe one’s obsession with becoming an affluent character as something like a virus. “It is a set of values which increase our vulnerability to emotional distress. It entails placing a high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others and wanting to be famous.”
Although it’s common and accepted that many people in the Western world strive to be wealthy or famous or admired, James attempts to highlight why this isn’t such a good thing for our emotional well-being.
Many of you, as I was before reading this book, might be wondering why wanting the best for yourself is possibly a negative thing that could develop emotional distress. Those few people that settle with a job that pays just about enough to live comfortably are viewed as lazy and having no aspirations. Surely we should use what we have to the best of our ability rather than pathetically drifting through life accepting we’re not good enough to be the best?
Fact is guys; we AREN’T good enough to be the best. No matter what mummy and daddy or that motivational character in most television programmes that comes out with a line similar to “you can be whatever you want to be if you put your mind to it” told you, no matter how hard you work you are never going to be the best.
It all started when our pushy parents forgot the meaning of unconditional love and “motivated” us to be the best in class. Whether they were living vicariously through their children or thought their child having this title would show the world something about them as parents, majority of them are guilty of it. Any parent reading this, or James’ book, would retaliate with “I only wanted the best for my child”. Exactly. Read on.
So, once you’ve won the title of being the best in class and achieved the top grades in your exams, you can move on to one of the best secondary schools in your area. Without top grades in your exams in the best secondary schools you can’t get into the top universities, and without the top grades in your exams at one of the best universities you can’t get into the best jobs. Scary to think that such young people are under so much pressure, isn’t it? Once you’ve secured a place in one of the “best jobs” your next goal is to get to the top. Something like a managerial position perhaps? And why wouldn’t you; your whole life has been spent working towards being the best so far.
Say you succeed and are earning a six-figure salary in one of those swanky offices where all the walls are made out of glass, the bin men and teachers and other ants of society scuttling around on the pavement in clear view 47 floors below you. Are you going to stop there? Of course not. Why would you settle with what you have when there’s always more to get? Once you become comfortable with your standard of living that voice inside of you that’s been constantly pushing you to get more starts niggling away. Why settle with this salary when I can have more? Why drive a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa when I can cruise the streets in a Ferrari 250 GTO? Why live in a flat in London when I can relax in a detached country barn conversion and commute to work with my personal driver?
If you live your life always striving to be the best your mindset becomes flooded with ways in which you can have more. “Needs” are confused with “wants” and you will never be satisfied with what you have because there’s always, always more. You can tell yourself “this won’t happen to me, I’ll get X amount a year salary and live in Y and be happy” but you’ll have already contracted The Virus. Affluenza will reside in you subconsciously and the tiniest of mistakes or missed opportunities will develop into emotional distress.
The cure? I’ll let James tell you that, (wouldn’t want to ruin the book for you, I know you’re all dying to read it now).
Of course I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try your best or want to achieve great things. I simply believe that the pressure we have to compete from such a young age affects us in ways we don’t even realise. Where do you think the jealousy for your best friend’s iPhone comes from? Why do you feel ashamed when you give out your postcode to a family from Mayfair? Why do you sit in the dark thinking “why am I still single?” when you receive the invite to the wedding of someone you went to school with? We as humans are said to be naturally jealous and self-loathing creatures – why should we accept that and carry on slowly destroying ourselves? We can live in a world where we’re happy for our friends and family for succeeding and not let it doubt our own position in society.
People want everything, and they want it yesterday.
I wrote this blog post to give my readers something to think about just as the book made my mind go into overdrive. Think about Affluenza as a concept, and consider how it might already be affecting you. Statistics show that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year – how much of this is Affluenza-related in the Western world?
Why are we so obsessed with succeeding? The media poisons our perception of being happy with characters in good jobs and living in houses on the beach. We all want to leave our mark on the world – life is short and it’s normal to want to achieve what we can in the time we’re given.
In my opinion, we should learn to be satisfied with the simpler things in life. Think about all the people’s day you make better just by turning up, complementing their shoes or even taking out the time to read their blog (wink nudge). If you weren’t around, who in your life would it effect negatively? For example, I doubt my baby sister Scarlett appreciates me for who I am for getting good grades in my A level exams, but for rolling around in the grass with her when I get home. Work hard, do your best, but don’t push yourself to the point where succeeding only leads to negative consequences in yourself. Succeed for personal pleasure, not to prove a point.
I suffer from Affluenza just as much as everyone else. Understanding does not necessarily mean overcoming. Leave a comment below and tell me your view on being the very best and how this natural human instinct can be conquered.