Why our relationship with young achievers is so complicated – BBC News

Grandmaster Chess

Its not just salacious scandals that cause young achievers to disappoint. At age 14, US tennis player Jennifer Capriati was the youngest woman ever to win a match at Wimbledon, going on to win an Olympic gold medal at 16. But in the ensuing decade she struggled. Despite winning Grand Slam tournaments and hitting the top spot in the rankings toward the end of her career, much of the media narrative around her centres on the idea that she didnt live up to her young promise.

Watching young prodigies fall from grace can trigger a feeling of schadenfreude among onlookers. We love to see talented young people achieve impressive things, but there is also a sense of envy always lurking in the background, says Plucker. Beyond jealousy, he says, negative emotions toward young achievers could be due to feeling that your own accomplishments are underappreciated by comparison.

Taking satisfaction in seeing gifted youth fail also goes hand-in-hand with the misconception that they havent worked as hard as others to succeed, says Baudson. By that logic, their downfall restores the balance and belief in a just, meritocratic world, where people get what they deserve for hard work.

But success is not a zero-sum game, and there are a litany of factors that contribute to success beyond natural ability and hard work, including personality, environment and support system. Just like the challenges that come with every age, life stage and skill level, the success that accompanies each will always be unique to each person.

We should not make our own definition of success contingent on others success, says Baudson. We do not become better when others fail, and we do not become worse when others succeed. Bench-marking yourself against prodigies is unhelpful. It makes more sense to apply a clear-cut criterion of what you want to achieve and focus on your personal progress.

In the meantime, when young talents like poet Gorman rise to the fore, we can recognise them as the rare gifts they are, instead of holding them to impossible standards or judging ourselves for being less exceptional. Just like the feel-good headlines they spark, young stars can inspire and brighten our world for as long as they shine.

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Why our relationship with young achievers is so complicated - BBC News

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