Blog post

Kill Your Idols

Various forms of “kill your idols” exist. “Burn your idols,” or “kill your darlings.” They each mean something slightly different (“kill/murder your darlings” is more about writing; cousin idioms, if you will). I’m here to talk about killing our idols, and pedestals, and distances.

For the record, please do not go out and actually kill anyone. Metaphors, people.

“Kill your darlings” goes hand-in-hand with impostor syndrome, except rather than focusing on your perceived short-comings, we’re examining the perceived perfections of those we look up to. Think of the people you look up to, and the traits and qualities you admire in them. If you’re one for making lists, you can do that, too, although I imagine it is going to be a long list, waxing poetic about their virtues and talents.

That list makes that person (or those people) seem larger than life, right? So high above you. If you lifted your hand and stood on your tip-toes, you still can’t reach them. The pedestal they’re standing on is made of all the things you love and admire about them, and it puts so much distance between you. The sun rises and sets around them, they can do no wrong, every word they say is gospel, and no one else can compare.

I am so guilty of this. “I’ll never write as beautifully and poetic as ___ so why should I even try?” “___ is so kind and thoughtful and generous. I’m not worthy of their friendship.” “Why would anyone look twice at me when ___ is there?” “I finally got validation from ___. Now I actually believe I might have [random quality] despite what everyone else has told me.” “My favorite [author/artist/whatever] was further along into their career when they were my age; I’m such a failure and so far behind them.” “No one can hold a candle to ___ so we might as well not even try.”

These thoughts are toxic and problematic. Don’t siphon off your own positive self-image just to feed into your projected image of someone else. It’s exhausting. I should know, I do it all the time. I drain myself of any good things I may think about myself, and fuel it into my thoughts of others: “yeah, I’m cute, but ___ is cuter,” or “I’m proud of this thing I wrote, but ___ could do it way better,” or “I’m a good listener, but ___ is so much more caring and compassionate,” or “I’m funny, but ___ is way more entertaining and memorable.”

Stop it, self. Stop doing that. It is so unhealthy. The pedestal helps no one.

Not you, and certainly not your idol(s). How does it make them feel, knowing the expectations you have of them? To feel like they need to live up to those expectations and perceptions? What if they fail? Why do their admirable qualities mean that you aren’t worthy of them?

And the people around you? How do they feel about the way you put this person/people above all others? Why aren’t they worth the same consideration and appreciation? Are you singling out this person at the expense of acknowledging and showing gratitude for the other people in your life? Are their contributions not as important?

So you have this person, and in your mind they are out of reach. You know what you admire about them. But this person? These people? The heroes you look up to and try to emulate? They’re people, too. With flaws, believe it or not. Think about those flaws. Make a second list, and with each flaw you realize, drive it into that pedestal, use it to chip away at the raised platform. Bring that person closer to your level.

It’s okay if you don’t bring them all the way down to where you’re standing; you admire them for a reason. The goal is not to hate them and to change your mind about looking up to them. The goal is to kill the unattainable image you have of them. This perfect image only fuels your impostor syndrome, and puts more pressure on the person you’re projecting onto. Encourage them, believe in them, support them, and be there for them, but don’t erase their humanity. Don’t deify them; but if you do, remember that even gods have flaws and make mistakes.

So take that image of the people you think are out of your reach, then punch it in the face. Stab it. “What? I would never want to hurt them!” Trust me, you aren’t hurting them. That perfect, flawless, carved-from-marble image isn’t them. You’re doing both of you a favor by gutting that image and then reshaping it.

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