At this point in my life, I feel like I’m caught in an unending game of tug-of-war. All aspects of my being (whatever that is, I haven’t exactly figured out who I am at this tender age of 17) are being pulled in different directions; my brain receiving conflicting advice, and continuously flip-flopping from one decision to another.
As my senior year approaches and expectations augment, I can’t help but wonder, as I try to navigate through the intimidating college application process, is it possible to have it all?
Is control and security, over all aspects of one’s life attainable? Is equilibrium between school, work, and life feasible?
Howard Stevenson, former chairman of Harvard Business Publishing, equates this perpetual balancing act to “walking on a balance beam while trying to juggle an egg, a crystal glass, a knife, and any number of other fragile or hazardous objects.” Top that with high expectations, increasing responsibilities, and the realization that university is just around the corner, and you’ve got a right mess of nerves and anxiety.
In a previous article, I addressed the unhealthy need for perfectionism that many students face. However, as we all know, it’s not just that students need to get straight-As, but it has become expected that achieving a 4.0 comes naturally, effortlessly, and thus, students face pressure to excel in everything.
Personally, I like a bit of pressure. It makes me go all, “I’ll show you!” à la Elle Woods, forcing me to hit the books and study hard. This type of positive pressure helps motivate me on days when I’d really rather prefer to curl up and marathon Netflix all day.
But the positive pressure seems to, more often than not, go the wrong way. Instead of motivating and encouraging hard work, the pressure viciously demands it. It starts as a Superman feeling, the sensation you get when you’re extremely motivated and ready to tackle the entire world. While this works for some time, as the days go by, the drive gets slower, and the motivation dwindles. Now, what used to excite and entice brings forth dread and distress, leading to the inevitable burnout. The stress becomes intimidating and demanding, causing anxiety and negativity to be the major drives of work.
“How dare you not have high marks in all 5 APs and join debate while playing goalie and being second chair in band?” the nagging voice in the back of your head hisses, horrified at your “failure.” There’s an ingrained mentality that if you’re not winning at everything, you’re losing it all. Understandably, it’s difficult for an overachieving student to accept that they cannot do everything. It’s a concept I’m battling to grasp as I attempt to narrow down my career plans. While I understand you can’t be a doctor, lawyer, politician, writer, and businesswoman at the same time, a part of me foolishly holds on to the notion that all of this is possible if you work hard enough. But no amount of studying, planning, or bullet journaling will allow you to enjoy or excel when you’re biting off more than you can chew.
Thrusting impossible demands on ourselves, cramming more into an already overpacked schedule, and ignoring the much needed rest and relaxation our bodies require cannot be natural. Human beings are not made of elastic; we cannot squeeze and contort ourselves and expect to snap back to our original form.
While it’s true that as students, especially in high school, when we’re still figuring out ourselves and our passions, it is important to try a variety of things. However, being an all-rounder shouldn’t mean sanding your edges off. Hobbies, interests, talents, quirks, these are things that make you, you; they are not to be utilized for the sole purpose of an interesting college essay or fluffing up a resumé. Ultimately, “having it all” means to be self-defined. But it’s difficult to ask a high schooler who they are – we have no clue!
So can we have it all? In a word, no. Having it all is a fallacy; “having” is weak verb that equates living life to a series of boxes to tick off and “all” represents an obsolete and out-of-date reality that is a thing of folklore, not of common folks. It’s time we realized that life is a dynamic, living, breathing, and moving animal unto its own that we should not try to tame but instead allow to run free and be wild.
“Having it all” should be the feeling you get when you’re help someone else, or when you spend time with your mom. It should be synonymous to the rush of pride experienced when you finally understand that chemistry concept or ace a calculus quiz. Because if we make “having it all” symbolize complete control and effortless success in all domains of life, then these little moments, the ones that truly matter, will be forgotten and feel like failure, when really they’re what define us.
I don’t think I’ll ever “have it all.” But I know I’ll still be okay.