Not that special after all

A week or two ago I watched an episode of Dragon’s Den, which featured the usual spread of reality TV contestants; a few who do well and a lot who fail completely. As always, the latter were the more entertaining part of the program.
One of the prospective venture capitalists was a 20-something entrepreneur with a business called The Bucket List Life. Essentially, it was a life coach networking business dressed in the carpe diem-ish philosophy which was popularized through the 2007 feel good flick, The Bucket List. I could try to explain their business plan further, but it’s kind of like the plot to Dark Knight Rises: the second you start to analyze it, it buckles like a house of cards.
As the Dragons picked his plan apart, the young entrepreneur just smiled and agreed with them, occasionally high-fiving his business partner, assumedly because he had no excuse. His plan was a weak, played out idea dressed in pop philosophy; it – and he – was all sugar and no substance.
Apparently, this is true for a majority of the college-aged population in North America. Published a few weeks ago, the results of the 47th American Freshman Survey show that 20-somethings nowadays consider themselves to be “above average” in the areas of academic ability, ambition, mathematics, writing ability and self-confidence. When these self-assessments are compared with reality, these young adults look very similar to the entrepreneur on Dragon’s Den.
Not only are the self-perceptions of these young adults ske but they consider themselves more able than the generations prior. The results of the survey show a significant rise in hollow self-confidence since the first survey was taken in 1965.
Psychologist Jean Twenge – who is also the author of a separate study showing a 30 per cent increase in narcissism in students since 1979 – attributes this to a number of things, including how we were raised.
“Our culture used to encourage modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself,” Twenge told BBC News. “It was considered a bad thing to be conceited or full of yourself”.
The antithesis of this outdated cultural value is very much alive in today’s culture. In 2012, Saturday Night Live produced a surprisingly insightful sketch on this topic, a fake TV show called “You Can Do Anything”. In this sketch, YouTube stars are interviewed about their intense self-esteem and volatile fear of failure, which had led them to believe they could indeed do anything. Characters on the show are photo bloggers, twitter-celebrities and independent filmmakers who repeatedly encourage each other to do things despite their lack of experience or talent.
The unfortunate truth is that this really is a cemented part of our generation’s culture. Most of us grew up in a society and learned in an education system that taught us we could do anything we want to. Now while I would never argue that this is an inappropriate lesson to teach children, I do believe it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
To be successful, people need to know the value of failure. They need to know their own weaknesses. Without self-awareness, self-confidence can be just as detrimental as self-doubt.

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