“You don’t celebrate second place at Notre Dame”. Recently, a friend of mine vocalized something about Notre Dame that drives me nuts. There’s an incessant pressure to perform, succeed, excel. I, like many others, chose Notre Dame for the prestige and for the academic challenge. Once I got here, I quickly realized that everyone here – EVERYONE- is great at something. Excellence is implicitly expected.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing; it can be incredibly motivating to be part of a whole that is so esteemed. It can push you to work that much harder, in the classroom and elsewhere. However, it can also create an overwhelming pressure to be the best, always. In a way, it makes the highs underwhelming and the lows crippling. With the high expectations comes a nuanced disappointment, because you don’t see anyone around you failing. This type of environment does, then, have a tendency to exacerbate mental health challenges. Running to keep up can only be motivational so far as success feels attainable.
This type of pressure isn’t confined to academics, as it can be felt in the pursuit of professional opportunities and leadership positions. For student athletes, this pressure extends from the classroom to the locker room. Whatever you’re doing here, there’s an expectation of excellence. Professionally, it can feel like everyone is getting piles of amazing offers and you can’t even get an interview. If you don’t have an offer letter by October, it’s easy to think that you’re laps behind everyone else.
With another year coming to a close, I think that this feeling is all the more prevalent; summer plans and finals are never far from the conversation. I’m not sure if the constant game of catch-up is unique to Notre Dame, or if it characterizes college experiences across the board. My instinct is that this is typical college to an extent but there’s something about Notre Dame that screams: “second place is just the first loser”.
As much as I’d love to offer some sage advice about focusing on yourself and not comparing your successes with others, I’m painfully aware that that’s far easier said than done. If that were easily attainable, this crippling fear of failure and not measuring up wouldn’t be profound enough to consider. Honestly, the only thing you can do about this pressure to perform is to be aware of it and of its effects on you. Whether you’re feeling it on the field or during finals week, it’s there and it’s not going anywhere.
Good luck these next couple weeks, Irish.