Coming home from college is always something to look forward to. You get to go back to your hometown, reunite with old friends, reunite with family and fall victim to questions like “What are your plans after college?” Questions like this often add to the stress that many teens and college students face when it comes to thinking about success or career plans. The American Psychology Association ran a study in 2015 and found that 36 percent of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) reported an increase in overall stress levels. The increase of stress can be attributed to a number of things, one of them being the pressure to find success at a young age. It is fueled by family, peers, the media and the pressure to succeed is often nurtured at a young age.
Ultimately, however, the reasons for this stress are misplaced. The expectations upheld by society are an unreasonable standard, and failure to reach them is nothing but normal.
Children in our society are raised with an ambitious “reach for the sky” mentality, with a promise of great rewards if one just applies the right effort and motivation. However, as we get older and reality hits just a little harder every year, these promises made years ago seem unrealistic and induce anxiety.
Throughout our educational careers, we are trained to achieve what seems like perfection; be a straight A student, join clubs, play sports or participate in some form of extracurricular activity, all while juggling our personal lives and social relationships. All of this is meant to help one get into a good college, earn a degree and ultimately secure a “dream job” that provides both emotional satisfaction and financial stability. I, myself, was raised in an environment that had very similar expectations for all its students, and while each student is working to reach their end goal, there is a looming feeling of pressure to “outdo” the next person, or somehow catch up to the peers one inevitably compares themself with.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Two psychology researchers, Thomas Curran of the University of Bath and Andrew Hill of York St. John University, describe perfectionism as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.” In their analysis of 42,000 college students from North America and Britain, Curran and Hill found that the amount of students who display traits of “socially prescribed perfectionism — or perceiving the excessive expectations of others” increased by 33 percent over a 27-year period from 1989 to 2016. Students are trying to outcompete each other, to achieve what society sees as perfect or ideal, in order to feel secure and successful.
The media doesn’t do much to soothe these feelings of inadequacy. Social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook often show a constructed idea of a perfect reality, where users only post what they want us to see and which we unconsciously use as grounds for comparison. As I scroll through Instagram during the day, I see people my age traveling the world, creating art or starting their own businesses and every single time I ask myself “Why haven’t I done that yet?” Social media seems to show us all the things our peers have accomplished, making us feel like we’ve done the opposite. We are surrounded by people who seem to be living their best lives, and while it tugs at our self esteem a bit, it also plays a part in motivating us as well. Seeing what other people are doing can help you find what you want to do, but it shouldn’t be your only path to self discovery and success.
Getting caught up in competing with our peers to achieve success quickly is unhealthy and ultimately won’t help us get to where we want to be. If we are constantly worrying about what others are doing and what we aren’t, we are going to lose ourselves and that will be what drags us down. Realizing that success doesn’t happen in a month or overnight is one step to take towards personal satisfaction, but realizing that and actually taking the time to find your own path and do things at your own pace is what will be more beneficial in the long run.
Success doesn’t necessarily mean having your own tech start-up at 20, or being a musician at the top of the charts at 16. Vera Wang didn’t start her design career until she was 40, and Stan Lee didn’t write his first hit comic title until he was 39. We don’t need to get everything done at once. Take the time to figure out what you’re good at and what will personally benefit you the most. So when the Forbes 30 Under 30 List rolls out, don’t get disappointed when you don’t see your name because you’re doing just fine.