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Falling from Perfection
“The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in this business. You’ve got to keep on working that talent. Someday I’ll reach for it and it won’t be there.” – Irving Berlin (1882-1944)
High school can be a hassle enough but vying for the spot of “Queen Bee” or “Big Kahuna” amongst a sea of equally endowed individuals can cause a load of stress and unnecessary pressure. Nowadays there is so much pressure put on kids to be the best of the best amongst their peers. This has led to a “dog eat dog” mentality among students. It’s not about making friends anymore, it’s about making connections.
Performance generated activities such as cheerleading and performing arts leads to an even higher competitive realm. Community theatre regular Alexis* says, “Girls are raised to be bitches.” Fellow theatre veteran and technically trained dancer Sarah* says, “I’d rather be friends with a guy any day. Girls are way too dramatic and competitive and are always out to beat each other.”
It’s not just in entertainment worlds. A-‘s are not good enough as colleges nowadays look for the highest among high scores, well-rounded resumes of activities are a must, extensive volunteer work is a given, commitment to family and friends is required, and extreme drive and determination are the seals on this deal, sense of purpose and goals, healthy body, and a well-structured exterior.
This leads to tired, stressed out students who find themselves overcommitted in order to be a step ahead of everyone else. International Baccalaureate (IB) student Aaron* says, “I never get a weekend off. School takes up all of my time and when I’m not doing that I’m earning volunteer hours and sleeping. My goal is to get into the University of Florida next fall and I can’t afford to slow down now if I want to make it there.”
These overworking teens burn themselves at both ends. With early mornings and late nights, immune systems run low and human batteries get drained. There are many horrible side effects of such a detrimental lifestyle. 16-year-old Sandra* knows this all too well. Over two years ago, Sandra was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia are conditions that involve intense pain throughout the muscles and soft tissues in the body. This pain is usually unending and cannot be subdued unless medication or physical therapy is prescribed. Scientists have yet to pinpoint a cause of these disorders but many believe it is due to severe amounts of stress.
Before being diagnosed, Sandra* was like any other highly-competitive, strongly-motivated teenager. She spent many long nights up studying for the SATs all while taking all honors classes, competing in speech and debate club, and staying an active member of the local symphony. However, things drastically changed once she started feeling emotionally and physically drained. She was finding she didn’t have the energy to perform simple tasks like walking across the room without getting short of breath and experiencing muscle weakness. Soon, other symptoms started showing up. Sandra* had frequent nosebleeds where she was forced to carry a box of Kleenex in her purse.
After her doctor’s orders she was forced to drastically cut back her schedule. After a couple weeks of a lighter schedule, Sandra* began feeling better so she brought back her already overwhelming schedule to a bigger extent. It was then she took a turn for the worse. Sandra* found she was having trouble eating, trouble walking, and trouble with even simpler tasks such as picking up a fork. Then one day Sandra* was rushed to the hospital. A feeding tube was placed in her stomach in order to give her food and she was placed on IV’s. Many did not know if she was going to make it or not.
Many weeks later after several days in the hospital, dozens of physical therapy treatments, and an almost non-existent schedule, Sandra* has mostly recovered. But there was one thing that Sandra* had learned from her ordeal was how she spent her time. Never again would she tax her mind nor her life with endless tasks, chores, and assignments. She was just another one of us, pressured by the demands of the world to succeed and rise to the impossible tasks ahead.
We can all get too competitive, busy, and stressed for our own good. And not only do we feel pressured to keep up an entertaining list of accomplishments but we also have to look great because everyone knows that no matter how much you do, if you don’t good on the outside none of it will matter to anyone. Yes, the wives tale of “appearance sells” is unfortunately true. Is the girl wearing sloppy jeans and a t-shirt or the lady in a nicely fitted dress and heels going to win the job interview? How about the 250 lb. guy going to get the job or the 180 lb. guy? Yes, ladies and gentlemen it’s the ugliest of ugly truths. It’s quite sad but unfortunately true in today’s society.
We are taught that no matter how hard you work or how much you’ve accomplished, it doesn’t mean a thing if it doesn’t match the outside. Your exterior does count which puts even more unnecessary pressure on teens. Look great + act great = great. Simple mathematics. Because in the long run you are going to be up against people who are equally qualified as you and it will come down to who presents the better, um, package?
The truth in all of this is that this world is a crumbling society. People are forced to act their best and look their best 100% of the time. No room to grow, change, heal, relax, or be yourself. It is drilled into our minds that we cannot fail, we cannot lose, we must not fall from perfection.
The ultimate question is when will this vicious reality cycle end and people be allowed to create, feel, express, and find a way to learn how to impress only themselves and not try to be what other people think we should? But for now, we will all struggle to gain our own little taste of perfection.
*The names of the individuals have been changed to protect their privacy.*