The self-pondering, stressed, and overachieving 21 or 22 year old describes many students in their last 2 years of post-secondary. We’re part of a generation that runs on triple espresso shot lattes from Starbucks when we need to cram for an exam, and our spiritual satisfaction derives from our favourite Netflix show. The term “existential crisis” commonly occurs in our vocabulary, and ways to outperform and succeed are a worry for many.
Throughout high school and university, I’ve met many overachievers and burnouts. In fact, I was once proud to consider myself a part of this category until my health started taking a toll. You know the group of people I’m talking about though—they’re running 5 million clubs, have an awesome part-time job, keep up their grades, and have some time for hobbies and a social life. I’m not saying that there’s a problem with juggling so many commitments and succeeding. If you have a certain personality type, this kind of lifestyle can be very fulfilling and happy.
Setting the bar a little bit higher
The problem is that nowadays this kind of lifestyle is a way of validating yourself and more people are jumping on the bandwagon. In a way, it’s cool to be doing a lot. And the bar we set for our engagements keeps on getting higher. There are so many stellar, perfect-hair, perfect-resume students that keep on striving for more and more just to be noticed. More than before, students are trying to prove themselves in a society that puts increasing pressure on the need to succeed academically, professionally, and socially.
Thirty years ago, it was enough to go to school and get high marks. Now, just going to university has become too simple; you need a part-time job, a real job, volunteer experience, international experience, and the list goes on. Oh, and did I mention that you still have to look top-notch while you’re doing all of this?
Reaching for the moon, and losing track of ourselves
By being this young, ambitious, and overachieving student, you’ve ultimately become a slave to the system on which the certainty of your future relies. And each time you achieve something awesome, you think, “yes, I’m one step closer to my dream job”. You see, there’s always a conference, professional engagement, or a course that will supposedly get you further. There’s always a list to be completed in order to make your resume a little bit stronger.
We’ve become so caught up in creating ourselves that we forgot what it really means to be ourselves, being simply human. It has come to the point that generosity, kindness, or altruism doesn’t matter if you don’t have some kind of proof of credibility to back up your worth.
What these expectations create is an army of graduates that have it all—the degree, the right experience, and the work ethic. And they’ve worked hard for all of it. But even having all the right things in place might not guarantee you a job when you’re done. No wonder more and more young people have existential crises. Heck, nowadays you could have an existential crisis every year with a legitimate enough reason behind it.
My main speculation as to why we experience these crises as university students is because our competition-driven society is teaching us that being a better person means having more. It’s not about your morals, values, or just being good. It’s about who’s resume looks more sophisticated, who gets all-expenses-paid gigs as part of their job—it’s about being the best of the best. This often goes hand in hand with filling your life with hundreds of things to cross off your list because the semblance of busyness is just as fulfilling as actually doing something concrete and of value.
If we don’t make the effort, we will never be ready to just settle and breathe a little. The ball will keep viciously rolling and any achievement you have will flow into the next. But you will keep feeling unaccomplished, wanting to make more of yourself because we’re so used to comparing ourselves to others who essentially are striving for the same thing as us: success.
I once thought that eventually all this running after yourself would end because one day you’ll wake up with an awesome career and you’ll be ready to start a family. But the more “adults” I meet and talk to, the more I realize that there are still those who are restless and unsettled even though they have achieved everything they sought out to do.
Clearly, it’s not a matter of age or accomplishments—feeling fulfilled is setting your own criteria for happiness and living in this kind of mindset. More importantly, it’s reminding yourself that being good is enough in itself. When you discover the principles you want to live by, you don’t always have the follow the herd.
Let us know how you balance your lifestyle! @HCuOttawa
Images: http://becuo.com/girls-tumblr-photography & Her Campus photo library