As undergraduate students, we are all at various stages of our lives. Some of us are just entering university for the first time – straight out of high school at age 17 or 18 – and others are entering their last semester or year of their undergrad careers. Although many people are at different stages, one thing remains the same all across the board, the pressure. This pressure comes in many different forms. It may be in the form of conversations with family members who judge what you’re currently pursuing or from those who show no interest at all. There is also the pressure that appears in the form of ‘following in the footsteps’ of a successful parent or someone who society has grown to appreciate. In general, placed upon every students’ shoulders is the heavy and enormous pressure to ‘be successful.’

But what does ‘being successful’ even mean? From September to April, university students are constantly nagged and nudged about maintaining high GPA’s. On top of this, you are expected to balance cooking, cleaning, exercising, nourish relationships, possibly work a part time job, and so much more which all makes for quite the pressure cooker feeling. For these months, this high GPA is what many people would deem successful. What outsiders may not realize is achieving and maintaining a high GPA is not an easy task. As young adults we juggle many different things in our day-to-day lives. Between focusing on school, working a job, joining extracurriculars, checking in on family back home, seeing our friends, and a global pandemic it takes time to find a healthy balance. Additionally, with school being virtual for at least the first semester this year, finding this balance will be even more difficult as boundaries will be crossed and workspaces will become cluttered until there is a safe way to study in a library. So yes, in an ideal world we would all love to have high GPA’s. However, don’t lose sight of the fact that the world we are living in is not always so ideal.

Logically following the long and hardworking months of the school year, you’d think we’d get a break from the pressure during the summer months. You’d think that from May to August we would get to kick back, relax, and enjoy being young. Nevertheless, that is unfortunately not always the case. Instead, the cycle continues, and students are questioned about what amazing job they’ll be working during the summer months, how they’ll be staying busy, and what they’ll be doing to get ahead. Yet, what does this successful summer job that everyone raves about look like? 

As a result of the year-round pressure, students push themselves to their limits to try and impress the people around them in hopes of meeting this quota of success. But it all comes at a cost. The impacts of these pressures on students’ overall health, both mental and physical, is staggering. “When stress becomes overwhelming and prolonged, the risks of mental health problems and medical problems increase” (CAMH). And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The pressure placed upon students at this young and impressionable age does not just cause temporary setbacks. “Long-term stress increases the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, substance use problems, sleep problems, pain and bodily complaints such as muscle tension” (CAMH). It is time to listen to our bodies and our minds, before we listen to the pressure placed upon us by others.

If “[p]revious research indicates that academic-related stress can reduce academic achievement, decrease motivation and increase the risk of school dropout,” why are students pressured into feeling this way? (Hetrick and Parker). The answer is both simple and complex. Put in simple terms, this pressure is not the fault of individuals but rather the fault of society. In modern day society people are raised to believe that a successful life is a conventional one. It is having a stable job, with a family, that includes retirement and a happily ever after. Quite frankly, this ‘conventional life’ is not the life for everyone – and that is more than okay. 

“For students to be able to learn at their peak capacity, they need to be physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually well,” says Louise Douce, PhD, special assistant to the vice president of student life at Ohio State University. The only way to be well on all fronts, is to focus on yourself and not give in to the pressure and expectations surrounding ‘success.’ What should come first is impressing yourself. You should check in with yourself and consider what you can be doing to be the best version of yourself in that exact moment.

Now more than ever, it is important to check in with yourself and do what makes you happy. You should be spending time pleasing yourself, rather than giving into people’s pressures. The best version of yourself doesn’t need to be pressured into living your life in a way that other people want you to. The honest truth is, to ‘be successful’ should really be to be happy and proud of yourself. 

HEADING IMAGE SOURCE: @orangejuicefordinner –


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