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Susan Boyle's Breakdown: Isn't she a bit like you and me?

Susan Boyle's breakdown in the aftermath of "Britain's Got Talent" illustrates two perplexing areas of human behavior: depression and procrastination. Why do people get stuck in unhappy life spaces?
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Susan Boyle's breakdown in the aftermath of her second place finish in "Britain's Got Talent" finals Saturday night illustrates two perplexing areas of human behavior: depression and procrastination. Why do people get stuck in unhappy life spaces?

The Susan Boyle story - like all such narratives - is irresistible. Unemployed, 47-year-old, small-town church volunteer, never been kissed, leaps to international acclaim. An obviously talented person, after decades of anonymity, suddenly becomes a worldwide sensation with over 90 million views on You Tube.

Isn't this rags-to-riches success story what every human being hungers for? Perhaps. But why was Ms. Boyle alone and unemployed? Surely someone with her talents could have achieved some success - had a job, perhaps some lovers. Maybe "success" is the wrong word - let's call it, well, living.

What keeps people -- talented people, all people -- from striving to attain more? We're used to stars who fade due to their own self-destructiveness. But a much more typical story line is the person who never risks anything, who keeps a lousy job or unsatisfactory relationship out of. . . fear. "Isn't this a bit like you and me?" to paraphrase John Lennon, a man who spent his last years locked in a New York apartment bathroom.

As a rule of thumb, people prefer known discontents to scary unfamiliar terrain. It's why telling people to do something never works - they cling to their own, perhaps short-sighted and limited, goals and actions. These are within - a phrase everyone understands - their comfort zone.

At a bar mitzvah I attended, the seventy-something grandfather of the feted lad spoke: "If I knew all along what I know now, I would have taken all kinds of chances." I didn't believe him. The same psychic corset he has always worn was still in place; he would make the same choices today that he did when he was younger.

Boyle was reportedly having a mini-meltdown before her final performance. Rush to the rescue one of the judges - Peirs Morgan - who persuaded her to carry on. It said something of Ms. Boyle's state of mind that she repeated her opening number on Saturday. Simon Cowell, famous for his dismissive, insulting assessments of contestants, meanwhile "disagreed" with "some people" who said she "was completely unequipped to deal" with the experience. Nonetheless, the unlikely star had an emotional collapse following her disappointing finish.

Cowell actually had an ulterior motive for his boosterism. He has a record deal with Boyle to cash in on her popularity, a plan he has indicated he is carrying on in the aftermath of Ms. Boyle's collapse. Like Morgan, Cowell is a man who welcomes attention, even notoriety. Cowell's, like Morgan's, primary talent is chutzpah.

These men are projecting their own aspirations and psychologies on Ms. Boyle. A more humane assessment came from Fred O'Neil, Boyle's former voice coach: "It's such a tragic situation, a woman who really just loves to sing, an innocent woman really, who is just caught up in this fame game. I just hope that whatever fame that she has got out of this will eventually bring her some happiness. Obviously at the present time it is not."