We race for success, but what’s at the finish line?

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

University culture encourages competition and stress among students in their 20s

​Trying to be successful in a short amount of time definitely comes with a lot of stress. As university students, many of us feel the need to accomplish as much as we can as fast as we can. The pressure we put on ourselves to succeed creates a stressful environment for us to live in, knowing very well there are more important things to worry about.

I don’t believe there’s an approaching deadline for success, seeing as so many well-known people became successful later in life. However, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and pressured to accomplish “success” in school when you hear your classmates talk about their achievements.

We often hear stories of young adults who have already accomplished so much. For example, Chloe Kim is a 17-year-old American who won gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics for the women’s snowboard halfpipe. It can be tough to watch a bunch of fit 20-somethings achieve the highest level in their field. It reminds us of how unaccomplished we are in our own lives. Although there is no time limit for success, especially not in yours 20s, it can certainly feel that way sometimes.
​University culture plays a big part in the pressure to amount to something. We should be focused on our schoolwork and nothing more, but many of us can’t help but feel the need to get a headstart on our careers. Whether that means starting a blog or getting an internship, any step we can take to get closer to “success,” we take it.

The majority of university students I talk to usually say they’re stressed almost all the time during the school year. Although some stress is normal, our overthinking about success causes a large amount of unnecessary stress. Our 20s is when we start to figure out what we really want from a career and build our way up from there. We can’t expect to accomplish all our goals in such a short amount of time.

​In 2013, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that almost 50 per cent of students listed anxiety as the main reason for seeking help from a school counsellor. Even though there can be many reasons for having anxiety, I believe a major factor is school-related stress. In the same year, another study revealed that 55 per cent of Canadian post-secondary students feel stressed because of health, relationships and academics, according to The Globe and Mail.

Countless articles discuss the pressure students face to feel accomplished; it affects our health and self-esteem, and it sabotages our academic experience. However, I believe very few of these articles discuss why we feel this pressure in the first place. Maybe we don’t quite know all the reasons behind it. What I believe is that putting students in such competitive environments creates a pressure to be better.

The other students in your program are generally striving for the same career as you and can, therefore, be seen as competitors. This level of competitiveness is too often seen as positive because educational systems have emphasized that competitiveness is one of the ways someone can be successful. But there is no race to success. We have our whole lives to be able to accomplish everything we want to, so we shouldn’t rush through our younger years, always feeling stressed out.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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