Why do Turks overestimate themselves?
They do! That, at least, is what a recent survey says. According to the OECD, only 3 percent of people in Turkey say that they are underqualified for their current jobs. The OECD average is around 22 percent. What’s more, 40 percent of Turks think they are overqualified for their jobs. The OECD average for employees thinking they are overqualified? Just 25 percent. So either we entertain delusions of grandeur, or there really are no good jobs in this country. I tend to lean toward the former explanation.
Consider that this country trails the rest of the OECD in PISA test scores for 15 year olds. Among 65 nations and territories, Turkey performs below average in reading (ranked 41), in mathematics (ranked 43) and science (ranked 43). So there is a gaping quality problem in the Turkish school system. No question about that. But an inordinate amount of us still think ourselves to be too good for our jobs.
Why is that? Was it always like this, or can we blame recent soap operas about the swashbuckling Ertuğrul Gazi, or the court of Süleyman the Magnificent? Are we, in other words, hiding in our history? The inflation of historical references among Turkish politicians, including the colorful historical costumes of the presidential guards might be a hint here. It is as if for a while we thought we had figured out the path to an alternative modernity, but we got stuck in transit.
It all reminds me of a biography of Yahya Kemal Beyatlı written by Beşir Ayvazoğlu. Yahya Kemal was a Turkish poet, born in Skopje in 1884, which was then an Ottoman province. The title of the biography? “Bozgunda Fetih Rüyası,” which means “Dreaming of Conquest During Defeat.” Yahya Kemal wrote about the 13th to 14th century Turkish pioneers on horseback, roaming the Balkans. Meanwhile, the empire that those horsemen founded was going through an excruciating disintegration process, first in the Balkan Wars of the early 1900s, then during World War I. It is telling that our television series are now following in Yahya Kemal’s footsteps.
But seeking refuge in past glories is of course not the only reason we overestimate ourselves. Another factor is our ignorance of best practices around the world. I participate in more meetings than I care to admit, and those in Turkey rarely make international comparisons to what they are doing. When they do, it is usually a way of shaming ourselves to act a certain way “This is how it’s done in the world,” we say, the implication being that it must be imitated. Few take a critical lens at practices across different countries and pick out the useful things. Without such honest comparisons, people are prone to overestimate themselves and underestimate their environments, whether it is their company, their party, or their country.
It is not an easy thing to live up to our past, especially when we are stuck in transit. Pray that our ancestors have given us the modesty to live in the present and the confidence to live among other great nations.