CBS Sunday Morning on St.Patrick’s Day included a story about Alexandra, a smiling, laughing, successful high school student who had a bright future ahead of her. Until she committed suicide.
She wrote in a journal about her unhappiness. In the story, her family and friends tell how shocked they were to learn that while they were experiencing this young woman as happy, talented, and successful, she was writing about how unhappy she was with herself. She wrote about how untalented and unsuccessful she felt. She also wrote about being sure that no one knew how she really felt. (I encourage you to watch it to hear more from her friends and family directly.)
Hearing her story reminded me of so many people I’ve experienced who’ve been in the same darkness and made the same choice; parents of friends, a college classmate, and a high school senior. It also made me think of so many others I know who carry a sadness in their life’s journey.
I found the timing ironic, falling on the heels of the announcement of wealthy parents paying for their teens to get into the colleges of their choices. What’s wrong with a kid not going to the college of their choice, or any college? The word that came to mind was pressure (which then made me think of Freddie Mercury, the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Queen song “Under Pressure”). There is so much pressure on kids these days to grow up, and grow up fast. This is not new to most, but what feels new is the acceptance of it. I believe it was the motivation for at least half of those rich parents. It feels like the motivation for sports, too. Kids are fighting to get onto the “right” sports team in as early as elementary school. It seems kids have little to no options for recreational sports. Remember when sports WERE recreation? And then there’s school. Heaven forbid a smart kid take average classes to move at a pace that works for them. I don’t know of many kids who have time to be kids. They seem to have so much homework, and activities, they don’t have time to just “be” or read a book (you know, those paper thingies that entertained us back in the olden days?).
My question is – WHY?!? Does being busy really help a kid become their best selves? Is it worth cheating or sacrificing childhood? Does getting into the “right” college really guarantee long-term success? Here’s what I do know – employers are hiring people for heart, for personality, and for authenticity. They are also letting people go when they don’t have these things. Not that skill isn’t an important part of many jobs, but very few don’t look for at least equal parts personality and skill. I just wonder what we will see in 10-20 years as the ultimate impact of the pressure. I applaud the parents who insist that kids go outside and play (or the modern day equivalent). I also applaud the parents who truly let their kids pick their own college.
Some of the happiest, most joyful people I know are truly authentic individuals who know and honor themselves. On the other hand, I’ve watched external pressures become internal pressures and cause good people to implode.
My final thoughts and arm-chair advice?
- Honor YOU. Be YOU. Love YOU.
- Honor others for who THEY are and love them for who THEY are.
- Don’t assume that what you see is what you get, especially with young people.
- Don’t try to fix people, but do give them support. Don’t dishonor their darkness, but do shine light. (Don’t ignore thoughts of suicide and do consult professionals https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/)
And finally, PLEASE encourage recreation for kids (and all ages of adults)! Let’s honor PLAYING more often, enjoy life. Let’s ake the pressure off each other, and ourselves, to be anything other than the amazing and wonderful beings we are and are meant to be. There’s a saying that basically reminds us that we don’t take all our stuff with us when you die, but we can leave footprints that made a difference to those around us.
Be your best self, LIVE as your best self (no pressure, just encouragement) in the way you define it to be.