Our Obsession with Impressive

It’s one of the questions that I dread the most when I meet someone new on campus. "So, what do you do?" It’s one of the easiest questions to ask, a primer, a conversation starter. "What are you involved in on campus?" "What takes up your free time?"

I hate answering this question because my own inquiry always pops into my head: what free time? With assignments, readings, papers, midterms, finals, and quizzes, not to mention socializing with friends, staying connected with family and, oh yeah, breathing, where does anyone possibly find the time to squeeze in anything else?

The problem is that it seems like everyone else is finding this time except for me. When I answer with a non-committal shrug or mumbled response to this dreaded question, whoever I’m talking to always seems more than ready to dazzle me with their own list of extracurricular activities. They seem to have no trouble fitting it all in and managing to have styled hair at the same time.

Now, I know that just because someone seems like they have it all together, does not mean they necessarily do. But it’s hard to stay motivated, and feel accomplished, when I’m surrounded by people who are doing double what I am and looking fabulous while doing it. Logically, I know I’m doing the average: school, friends, family. Not everyone is out there curing cancer or building rockets.

So why do I feel so ashamed when I can’t ramble off a huge list of after-school activities? Why does my gut twist when I think about my simple resume, my ordinary hobbies, my standard achievements?

I think our generation has created some real problems when it comes to ideas of average. We've inflated the idea of ordinary, made it much bigger than it is, much more difficult to achieve. And this makes extraordinary almost impossible to reach. We’re bombarded every day by images of people our age doing it all, living their best lives, contributing in huge ways or making immense change in the world or in their own lives. A huge percentage of celebrities are our age or even younger. 21 is no longer considered being a kid; people my age have started businesses, crafted new technologies, written bestselling books. It makes us feel like our small, daily achievements are not enough—like being average isn’t enough. Like being us isn’t enough.

It seems like the “wow” factor has increased exponentially, like our generation has taken the idea of impressive and conflated it with impossibility. It seems like we have to do so much more than we used to in order to impress people.

Maybe the real question is, why are we so obsessed with impressing people? Why are we transfixed by the concept of being above average? Why is ordinary, or everyday, or standard, synonymous with mediocre, underachieving, or disappointing? “Exceptional” has been decked out with so much dazzling glitter and shiny material that it’s all we can think about. Impressing people (often people we don’t even know or don’t even like) has become essential for us.

I know I struggle with this too. I want to be the best, to be the top of the class, to be doing something remarkable in my spare time, to be viewed as someone who will change the world one day. I get so stressed out about making things perfect, about using every moment outside the classroom as efficiently and impressively as possible, and it’s driving me crazy.

Many would argue millennials are the generation of stress. Society brings it upon us, our friends and family bring it upon us, and most importantly, we bring it upon us. We push ourselves to our breaking points for that momentary satisfaction of someone being impressed by us. We risk our mental (and often physical) health trying to achieve something that probably isn’t even possible, just because we saw someone our age on the morning news do it.

I will always believe in striving for your best, doing all you can to make your dreams a reality, believing in yourself and your ability fully. I think everyone should have goals, and believe that it’s an important part of life. But perfection can’t be one of them. We need to ditch the idea of perfection, throw it out the window, burn it to the ground. We need to embrace the fact that we are not perfect, that doing our best is more than enough, that not being the best is totally okay - that it’s great, even. We need to give ourselves a break, give ourselves some rest, and let go of the obsession with impressive.