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The Pressure to Succeed

Posted by on Dec 24, 2016

This post was inspired by a conversation with a young person that I work with and while it may seem a little off topic, I believe its valuable and needs to be addressed.  

Anytown U.S.A.  Enter stage left.  An incredibly intelligent young woman who has aspirations that are maybe, how do you say?, out of the ordinary.  She doesn’t want to proceed with the typical life and speaks about a desire to leave the U.S. all together in pursuit of another path.  She’s 16.  Our talks usually end up the same way – she’s stressed about the future and it’s all because of a huge pressure to succeed and follow an expected path.

In a young person’s life there is a great deal of change and a great deal of stress, that naturally (and often unnaturally) follows that change.  The pressure to succeed on many of our young people today is often too much to handle and should not be ignored.  Their schedules are packed from 7 am until late at night with classes, homework, sports, college prep, and a plethora of after-school, extracurricular activities.  On top of just showing up, they’re expected to not only do well but to be great.  Often times they are told, if they just try their hardest that’s okay too. Clearly, mixed signals are getting sent.  

Not too long ago, I was in her shoes- applying to college, taking college-level classes, playing in Band for hire Melbourne, sports, homework, social life, and generally trying to figure out what it all means – all at the same time of being told repeatedly- “you will need this for college.”  The future seems bright…sometimes.  Unfortunately, for the young people with the most talent and intelligence, the pressure that is placed on them (either from themselves or others) can influence their decision making abilities… and not positively.  So it seems, the pressure to succeed usually causes many to fall short of their potential or even fail.  To put it bluntly, this dilemma is a disease.  One whose symptom includes believing that they should forego their dreams for more ‘reasonable’ aspirations.  

On another occasion, I spoke with a teenager and an overbearing mom who would not let her son speak for himself.  I politely asked the mom to simply allow me to hear from her son directly.  I asked him what he wanted to do, more precisely I inquired, “What are you passionate about?”  He said -acting, especially theater.  However, before he could even complete the thought that was his heartfelt passion, his lifelong dream, he paused.  He held back.  “But,” he started, “it would make more sense to do something like accounting, so…”  He trailed off and I interjected, “But what about your passion and dream of acting on Broadway that you just told me about?”  “Well, it’s not that logical and it probably won’t happen.” 

This kid was not dumb.  He knew what he wanted to do.  He said clearly his dream was to act and he was quite talented, but he was already infected with this disease.  He was expected to live up to the usual standards – go to college, get a good job, make some money, have kids, etc – and had already deferred his dream and passion.

If you want to talk about a way to make yourself completely miserable, ignore your heart.  Ignore the little voice in your head that says, what if?  What if I pursued my dream?  What if I forgot about what’s expected of me?  Stifle that voice with overstretched expectations, stress, and the pressure to succeed.   You will surely end up like far too many in the world- living a life that someone else has set out for them-  unhappy and unfulfilled, with that little “What if” voice now saying regretfully, “What if I had gone after acting/music/etc?  What if I hadn’t succumbed to the pressure to succeed?”

Failure is ok.  Making mistakes is okay.  But allowing stress or pressure, whether internal or placed on you from another, to sway your heart is not okay.  Failure is a major and necessary part of success.  Making mistakes is another word for learning.  We need to remind the younger generation that the “failure is not an option” mentality is bull.  We also need to remind them that if they pursue what they love, whether its taught in school or not, they will not only be successful but more importantly happier

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