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Elementary school is great. It's the time where you haven't yet realized that you have limits, bounds past which your raw talent won't take you. When it's time for PE, everyone goes out and has a blast playing kickball or dodgeball, and as long as you had at least average physical grace, you're good enough to be the hottest thing on the playground for at least a few days sometime. Music is the same way: everyone is handed a recorder when they hit fifth grade, and everyone learns to play a scale on the thing. In all things, you could be good enough to be good at all things simultaneously, with minimal effort. There are no decisions to be made.

It's a curious feeling, that first day when you observe someone doing something you can't do, not even with a few minutes of experimentation and practice. It kind of turns the world upside-down, because now a line is drawn between that person and you, and you're left to wonder how you can go about distinguishing yourself.

It's with a tinge of sadness that I watch masterful artists, whether the art be playing an instrument, coloring a canvas, or rolling a mosaic of words from the tip of their tongue, and realize that I will never accomplish their level of mastery they posess. In response, I pursue the things that I hope will become my own unique voice, my verse in life's poem. And I am contented.

I don't know, I remember that even in early elementary school days, there were some kids who owned the four-square court and some who never fell off the wooden equipment we all clung to when we played lava. And even as early as fifth grade it was becoming aparent to us that some kids excelled at school, others excelled at attracting attention from the opposite sex, still others ruled in athletics. It was like something I just accepted; something I considered a given truth.

For me, this moment of realization came early, and I don't remember ever lamenting it. I was never interested in being better at football than Mike Brown, or even as good a clarinet player as Jazmine Cameron.
Instead, I was keenly aware of my fellow artists, subconsciously comparing myself to them; their skill level, the things they could do and how these things were received by others. Even in my earliest days of elementary school I knew that I was among the kids considered (by teachers/peers) to be "good" at art, and I knew exactly who the others were. They were the people I quietly envied and competed with, while nonchalantly living amongst the various other talents that were already starting to shine in those of my peers with whom I had never aspired to equal.

What I now see is that I was one of the lucky ones; able to realize and embrace at a young age the fact that I was good at something, while some kids find it hard to realize even that until much later, if ever.
As media, particularly television, have brought us face-to-face with an unprecedented variety of other people, a side-effect of the sheer numbers has gotten lost in the splendid variety.

When humans lived in small groups, everyone knew everybody else well and had few if any encounters with outsiders. And I don't just mean hunter-gatherer societies; most of us lived this way until the Industrial Revolution. This meant that while you may not have been at all the strongest or fastest or handsomest in your group, the pool of talent/character/skill among the group was still small enough that you had a good chance of excelling at something: if not hunting then singing, or perhaps finding truffles.

It is important for a healthy psyche to have confidence in your ability at something, anything, WRT other people you know.
Two factors in the modern world are working against this natural confidence-builder.
  • Homogenization: pressure to be like other people, and a decrease in the number of ways to be different. These lead to aggressive nonconformity, and an attraction to things with shock value. Nevertheless, rebelliousness still only addresses the surface problem; no one confuses outrageousness with real talent. (pace Howard Stern junkies) Least of all the rebel.
  • Scale: The real problem is that thanks to TV, and to a lesser degree the Internet, the pool of talent we all have to compare ourselves against is now huge, even global. The trendmakers are only interested in the Michael Jordans and Janet Jacksons, because it's through them that trends can be branded and marketed. Only a tiny, tiny percentage can compete in that game, leaving the rest of us to feel like fifth wheels despite having no less talent or skill than people before us.

    Solution? From me? Hahahahaha…
    I think a healthy respect for oneself comes from not focusing on being the best, but rather on doing something well. It probably helps to have parents who encourage persistence, thoroughness, and unorthodox solutions rather than just the quickest path to Harvard. Oh yeah, and

    kill your television.

  • A conversation from Friends:

    Chandler: You don't have to be good at everything.
    Monica: Oh my god, you don't know me at all!

    I've always had such a diverse base of interests that there was always someone better than me at each of them. Either that, or the things I was good at/knew about, no one wanted to hear (just try telling someone eating a stir-fry how soy sauce is made).

    But the moment that really drove home the point that there are some things I shouldn't even be trying was very recent.

    I was at a party with some friends. Some of them had started drinking very early and were hammered by 9 PM. By about 1 AM, one of them was holed up in a side room, surrounded by her six closest friends who were trying to keep her from committing suicide. Finally, they called in someone who wasn't at the party to talk her down.

    Now, there are those who doubt the sanity and competence of the person they called, and in fact, I sat there grumbling to the others not in the side room, "Why can't I help?" But this other person had training on a crisis line, and in fact, was able to help.

    It took me a day or so to realize that crisis intervention is just not my area. After all, I switched out of a psychology major before even a year of study.

    My dad always said I could do anything if I put my mind to it. I agree. What's harder to realize is that for some things, "putting your mind to it" means a lot of training and study. So what I had to do was actually choose the thing I want to put my mind to. That's been the biggest thing holding me back in life.

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