I have a bad habit. I idolize people.
When I was much younger, I was not a very supportive friend - or a supportive person. In one of my many drastic personality shifts, I committed myself to being a better friend. Everyone should know how cool my friends are.
Unfortunately, I’ve gone quite too far.
I struggled with this significantly in high school. I had the pleasure of working with some absolutely wonderful people. We debated together and against each other; ran conferences and events; did community service. I’d constantly rave about how insane, out of the world, and unbelievable they were. It was constant and nagging. It seeped into my personality.
In this process, I put a few friends on an impossibly high pedestal. And it ruined us.
Your relationship becomes damaged. You view them as a sum of their achievements, instead of just another person. You implicitly invalidate any struggles they have, and eschew their private life. Your praise becomes so diluted that it’s meaningless, just another reflex or polite gesture. And, god forbid they ever deviate from this god-like persona that you’ve created for them.
Beyond the immediate relationship is a more pernicious harm. First, you signal that you only care about an impossibly high standard of individual achievement. If others aren’t at that point in life, it makes them feel awful, reinforcing their impostor syndrome.
More broadly, you shut out nuanced conversation on journeys, failure, and how one begins to define success. Instead, you create an idolization arms race. People are relentlessly pitted against each other in praise; those who aren’t a target feel left out, and either join a toxic compliment chain or become completely alienated from the group.
You don’t think ___ is the best person you’ve ever met?
Unlearning this has been an uphill battle. Coming to college, I vowed to give up this unhealthy habit. And I succeeded - for maybe a quarter - until the habit kicked back in again. If I had to guess, it’s a combination of meeting some truly amazing people at UCLA, but also an unhealthy mix of “CS god” and internet stan culture. And, I’m unhappy to report, I think I’ve been at my worst in the past year.
Only recently have I realized that I’ve helped create this unhealthy culture, yet again. Within UCLA CS, it has created a toxic, exclusionary space that benefits no one. It is a clear contributor to impostor syndrome. Bottom line, it harms people.
And of course, this isn’t unique to one little CS community at one university.
I know, this all sounds a bit dramatic. But I’m serious. Seemingly “little” things like this build cultures, and culture is power.
I’m spending some time re-evaluating how I show appreciation. I’m not exactly sure where this balance is yet. All I know is that we’re due for a healthy dose of stan iconoclasm and a purging of false idols. Thou shalt have no gods before Me.