Be Perfect, or Else You’ll Fail

It’s a true world of “survival of the fittest” in our increasingly more capitalistic global economy. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is yawning wider as economic inequality increases within countries such as the United States, China and India. To make it into the coveted winner’s circle of those who are benefiting the most from globalization, you’ve got to compete. And you’ve got to compete ferociously.

And you can’t wait until adulthood to start competing. You’ve got to get on the racetrack in early childhood, if not sooner.

This past weekend’s New York Times provided some excellent coverage of the intense competition it takes to get into elite colleges. The article “Re-education” describes how Chinese schools are adopting more Western-style educational practices in order to produce well-rounded students who have the creativity, flexibility, and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in a global economy (and get into Harvard). Meanwhile, the article “For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too” showcases the lives of overachieving girls at one of the best public high schools in the United States as they compete to get into the nation’s top colleges.

The message from both these articles, as well as from the everyday experiences of anyone who lives in a community of college graduates, is clear: In today’s world, teenagers must compete harder than ever to get into a good college. And the price you pay for not getting into one is very high.

Earning a 4.0 grade point average, scoring in the 99th percentile on the SAT, being class president, playing on the tennis team, acting in a school play, winning numerous academic awards, and volunteering at a homeless shelter are no longer good enough. You’ve also got to help build a health clinic in Kenya, start some kind of business (preferrably an online one), and complete a near Ph.D.-level science project to even have a chance of catching the eye of the director of admissions at the nation’s top universities.

There is no room for error. You must not strive for excellence; you must strive for perfection.

This is madness. But it’s also reality. In a world with fraying social safety nets, you’ve got to compete to survive. And the competition is cutthroat.

Some may argue that this “Be perfect, or else you’ll fail” mentality is all hyperbole. OK, perhaps so. But just talk to parents and teenagers, and you’ll discover it’s at least the mindset you need to adopt if you want to get into the best colleges.

Competition is one of the world’s most powerful motivators. It’s what put the U.S. flag on the moon.

And at the present time, those who don’t take competition seriously will be left in the dust.