The Lek Paradox & The Myth of Better

We too, as the female peacock have been socialized to always strive for better. Yet, we run ever faster toward the finish line of “better” to get there and realize that it is merely the start of the next race.

Peacocks have an incredibly unique and intriguing mate selection process. This process of seduction is known as “Lekking”, after the Swedish word, “Lek”, which is the word for play.

During breeding, males gather in Leks, where they cluster together and mark out their territories. Once their territory is marked, the males wait for the females to arrive.

The female peacock is incredibly selective. She spends several days contemplating the goods on offer, with the ultimate goal being to select the best male.

At the core of it, she intends to acquire the best genes for her offspring and as asserted, and since confirmed, by Charles Darwin, the female makes this decision based on the length and ornateness of the tail of the male peacock (they are not actually tails but elongated rump feathers that cover the tail).

Once she has found her match, the male mounts atop the female. Minutes later his job is done.

At the lek, one or a few males achieve most of the matings. A single male may perform half of all mating’s at one lek.

Interestingly, female peacocks display a great degree of choosiness, yet choice matters the least within the species – otherwise known as the Lek Paradox.

The Lek Paradox arises because, if all of the females choose to mate with the same few males – those with the ‘best’ genes, then there will be much less genetic variety in the population in the next generation, and over a number of generations we might expect this to lead to no variety, making it impossible to sustain any choice.

Therefore, for the females, there is no reason to be as choosy, as the males they are choosing among were all fathered by the same few males in the previous generation.

Why does this process continue? Why do female peacocks continue to be choosy in selecting to mate with the few males with the most ornate and longest tails?

It is because the cost of doing otherwise, or mating with a short tail male, are perceived to be too high. Any female who bucks the trend, and chooses a short-tail male, will have a short-tailed son, condemning him to celibacy, given the selection criteria of the rest of the females.

In turn, each female is on a treadmill. They dare not jump off, as it potentially jeopardizes the fate of their offspring. They are constantly running (by being so selective), yet staying in the same place (having no variety to select from).

So, what does this have to be with human beings?

We too, as the female peacock have been socialized to always strive for better.

A better job.
A better salary.
A better title.
A better house.
A better car.
A better school.

Yet, we run ever faster toward the finish line of “better” to get there and realize that it is merely the start of the next race.

The solution is to realize that “better” is, in fact, a myth. You don’t have to run in the race. You can dare to jump off of the treadmill, recognizing that it is, in fact, not a race at all. You can change the narrative.

Instead, it’s about doing things that you care about.
Things that make an impact.
The house you can afford.
The car that merely gets you from point A to point B.
The school that is in your best interest – the one that facilitates the environment in which you will best be set up for success.

While this narrative, as the Myth of Better, doesn’t have a finish line and is just as grueling, it’s sure to be a much more fulfilling journey.

The choice is yours.

Don’t end up like the female peacock.