The increasing pressure to succeed at UMass

Go at your own pace

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(Collegian File Photo)

By Irina Costache, Collegian Columnist

Coming into my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, I was incredibly excited to start making new friends, learn about my major and enjoy my newfound freedom. I expected that I’d work hard throughout the school year to get good grades in my classes and then, only during the spring semester, would I begin to think about applying to potential summer jobs and internships.

Less than a month in, however, this perception changed completely. Many of my friends have already started to attend career fairs, and I myself signed up to attend an alumni networking session that was announced to me through a college-wide email. I have even seen “résumé writing workshop” posters plastered on the concrete walls of my freshman dorm. All of these are created by the University to get students to start setting up a path toward post-graduation work.

Though it is great that UMass provides us with these resources — in fact, I think we are very fortunateto have these opportunities available to us so easily — being thrown all of this information right at the start of the semester, especially as freshman, can very quickly feel overwhelming. With the struggle of adjusting to a new set of classes and living arrangements, worrying about advancing our professional career becomes much more daunting.

This push just adds on to the pressure to succeed that we already feel coming into college. As concluded in a meta-analysis done on Canadian, American and British students, today’s generation of college students feel more pressure to be “perfect” than students in previous generations. Writers at the National Post use social media as one factor to explain this feeling of stress. Growing up with online platforms, we have always tried to put forward an image of having a perfect and put-together life. This translates into a desire to live such a life day-to-day, growing strained when it doesn’t turn out that way.

Our generation has also become increasingly obsessed with the idea of becoming very successful in a very short amount of time. Everywhere you look online, you see younger and younger people reaching every goal imaginable: money and financial independence, lots of followers and business deals. This is just the tip of the iceberg­; there are many more in other specific fields.

This expectation isn’t reasonable and it isn’t healthy, either. A lecturer at Stanford concluded that this type of duress could lead to higher rates of stress and anxiety. This is something that I have definitely experienced myself, and seen close friends go through as well. Moreover, this stress can manifest itself into even more negative impacts on our health, social life and academic career.

So, while setting goals and pushing yourself to do well is really important, we should all be mindful to use these career-oriented resources at UMass with a grain of salt. Some of us may be ready to take these steps, but I’m sure there are also a good chunk of us who are still working on just finding our path and not yet ready to start making career decisions. That’s okay and, frankly, quite normal. Despite everything that we’ve been taught since childhood, I do think it’s really okay to not be constantly aiming to get a good job. Sometimes we need to just focus on working through one day’s work at a time until, finally, our path forward becomes clear.

Personally, I’ve learned that it’s very easy to compare my path to somebody else’s path. Usually, we look to others in this way with the intention of just making sure that we are relatively where we “should be.” However, we should always make sure that, when doing so, we aren’t collecting other people’s definitions of success and allowing them to influence our own definition. The actions we take, or choose not to take, must be ones that we personally feel are right for ourselves.

Irina Costache is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]