Why we can't (or won't) move on from bad jobs, bad relationships, and bad habits, and how we can all move ahead.

Mirror, Mirror Syndrome

Arguably the most popular aspect of one of the world's most popular shows, the American Idol auditions -- set to start again next month, as the new TV ads declare -- are striking because they reveal the total disconnect between the worst singers' talent and their perceptions of their talent. They think they're good enough to record chart-topping CDs. They think they're good enough to be assessed by industry professionals on national TV. They enter the audition room unaware that their performances will be aired not as art but as comedy. And millions of snickering viewers wonder: Can these people not hear themselves? Who encouraged them to sing in public, much less to believe they had a shot at stardom? Because somehow, somewhere, sometime in their lives, these auditioners were told things that filled them with impossible pipe dreams. Why? Read More

the me generation

I'm all for the me generation actually. Better to be a little over the top on the 'mirror-mirror' then to adopt limiting beliefs. If you fall down, in most cases it will make you stronger anyway. The nice thing about being a little overconfidence is that you'll look for ways to achieve something. Not believing in something will just enforce evidence that supports it.

Being 'realistic' or 'historically accurate' is an exercise in mediocrity. So yes maybe saying 'you can do anything' repetitively gets a little cliche and a little trite. To do anything new you need to believe it. Without the beliefs of possibility you can not go beyond what you yourself and other people expect and thought was possible.

The friends I have who have 'realistic' and 'accurate' awareness about their abilities are also the ones that settle and lead lives they're not all too excited about (actually in most cases they vastly underestimate, because overconfidence is often judged as a bad thing by others).

We also seem to forget that having dreams that are 'unattainable by statistical probability' do not have to detract from the experience of having a dream. Let's say you feel you are a superstar singer. If you feel that, even if you are not, what does it matter?

The ironic thing is that the Idols contestants most people really feel poorly about and ridicule are the ones that keep on believing in their 'image' even though they get a boatload of criticism (when a 'reality check' doesn't come through). It's seems at though they are impenetrable of 'logical' thought, the only other explanation we make is that they must be stupid. They rob us from an almost cynical shared feeling by the public that the person should be 'punished' and adjust to a more realistic type of thinking (keep-it-real-for-us syndrome I guess?). But for whom do they need to be realistic anyway?

I think those people that are oblivious to public opinion are great teachers of feeling good about yourself in the presence of overwhelming objection and rejection. Not a bad thing.


Hi Anneli :)

This part of the show has always been a guilty pleasure of mine as well as baffled me. Thanks for the amusing explanation..

It seems like such a delicate balance to create a confident yet realistic child. You try to give them a positive self-image, and they end up being publically humiliated on American Idol. You criticize them too much and they end up with no self-esteem or become self-destructive. You shelter them too much, and they end up a "super-truster" who gets hurt later in adulthood anyway versus the kid raised in a hostile environment who doesn't trust anyone..

I've always been a fan of the quote by Goethe,"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now." And I guess that is true in part, but this goal/dream should also have some sort of truth litmus test associated with it so one can know if they're wasting their time (as I'm sure some of these AI kids feel later). Although, I wonder if they still refuse to take the dose of self-awareness with them anyway and continue on their delusional path..

All of those Disney movies were the worst, too. My little girlfriends and I seriously though that love happened like that with Prince Charmings and all..

I've also wondered if it's unhealthy to have your kids growing up with Santa Klaus and the Easter Bunny, too..

I guess all forms of delusion work themselves out in the end, it just doesn't HAVE to be that way.

Thanks :)

stacy hanephin

stacy hanephin

Learning to Fail

To me, part of the balance between confidence and realism is being taught how to deal with failure. It hurts to face an impossible challenge after being told "you can succeed at anything you put your mind to". After all, if I'm supposed to be able to succeed at everything if I try hard enough, but no matter how hard I try I can't succeed at A, then maybe I can't succeed at anything by trying hard.

This creates a bit of a trap where you HAVE to succeed at something you've put your mind to, even if you are pretty sure it can't be done, or else you are a loser who can't succeed at anything. It can take some guidance to realize that just because you can't do A doesn't mean you can't do B.

That's my two cents anyway.

Good point, Speckles

You're so right -- learning to fail is one of the most important lessons we can experience in this life. None of us ever WANTS to fail, but it's bound to happen, and if we know how to bounce back, then we'll also know how to seek other things to try. It's all about resilience....


I've been thinking about this a lot recently, and I almost drew the same conclusion as you. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the no-hopers - these people who are horribly untalented but seem to think they are - are actually in a small minority when one considers the population as a whole. The very fact that these auditions are one of the most popular aspects of the show indicates that there are many, many people who are well aware that the no-hopers are suffering from delusions of grandeur. If there really is such a thing as "mirror-mirror" syndrome, then we have to ask ourselves why the sufferers are in a small minority? If the "generation me" is so pervasive, then why aren't there more people with this disconnect between talent and perceived talent?

My preferred explanation is that there will always be a subset of people who have very poor self-awareness, and all that's changed is that X-factor makes them more visible to the population as a whole.

Also, another consideration here is that politeness principles usually dictate that if a friend (or even acquaintance) seeks an opinion of their "talents", then you're expected to say something nice or say nothing at all. So there is quite a strong chance that these people have rarely heard any criticism - but not because of a "generation me" ideology. Simon Cowell's blunt honesty is probably one of the first criticisms they have ever heard.

Generation Me/American Idol

Andrew Hirst, I could not agree with you more. The group of "no-hopers" as you call them, are not a realistic sample from the population. They are selected by the producers, and we can often see that their lack of self-awareness is perhaps, only one of several co-morbid factors that create a side-show for entertainment value.

American Idol (and every other consumer industry) exploits people who may be vulnerable or even mentally ill in some cases, and I don't think they should be also exploited as a "case study" for a book that blames an entire generation of "over-praising" parents.

I don't watch television, but

I don't watch television, but I had a thought; can comedy not also be seen as a form of art? I think I tend to agree with the first poster; better to believe in yourself overmuch than to despise yourself. And the thing that really separates the snigglers on the couch from the people on American Idol is that the people on American Idol GOT UP AND DID SOMETHING.

Learning to FAIL?

Are you kidding me? Please give me an example of a human being that has lived a life that lacks failure on any level? It is built into the experience.

Are their parents who have tried to prevent their children from failure? Of course and does that ever work?

It is so easy to to sit and point out the delusions of others, to judge their experience however painful their experiences are to watch and to judge ourselves on a scale of "Well at least I am not that bad," we are a culture of judges always weighing the lest of us compared to those who we consider the most of us and they are always found wanting, used to teach the rest of the judges how to judge properly.

So, in my admitted limited, wanting, delusional judgmental way, at least I not as bad as you.

I liked this article. It was

I liked this article. It was a very accurate description of the generation of kids that are my age (17-18). They think that everything will just be handed to them on a pedestal and they will not have to work for anything. They've grown up all their lives being pampered by their parents who have given in to their every demand. Going back to the mirror, mirror on the wall theory, for example if a overweight boy asks his parents if he's overweight, of course they're going to say no. Where as on American Idol, the three judges will give you the blunt truth. This article is very well put

I definitely agree with

I definitely agree with Jake!!! A kids parents are obviously not going to put them down and make them feel bad... Some see it as a joke, so we think. Others are not expecting to be put down by the judges. Its hard to believe that some of the contestants actually think they are good, and then are surprised when they don't make it. It blows my mind but then again you hear yourself differently than you actually sound so it would make sence going back to the "Mirror, Mirror" theory.

I agree with this article. I

I agree with this article. I think the Mirror, mirror syndrome is an understandable theory. Now days the teenagers think fame and fortune are what life is all about, obviously it's not. This generation expects this to become reality when it's very unlikely. When my Dad was young he was an extremely hard worker who deffinately had his priorities straight but this generation's teenagers don't have much of a work ethic. His parents were the type of people that put him to work, now we're spoon fed by parents until the time we're out of college

stacy hanephin

This article is redicuious in my opinion. Children need to be told they can be somthing great.It is possible to become anything you want to be it just takes alot of work and determination. Children need to be told they can amout to great things because they can, and if they arent they could have serious self esteam issues in the future.How would you like your mother or father to tell you you were wothless and you werent going to amout to anything in life. It could go eather way. They could eaher one:stop caring, have low self esteam, and not care at all about life school or relation ships. Or it could go the other way. They could try and prove the parents wrong and develop a hate of them. Eather way its not fare to the child.

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Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.


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