By Joanie Connell
College students, beware! Make the most of your summer break and take care of yourselves when you go back to school. There is enormous pressure on you to continue exerting exorbitant efforts to maintain your academic competitiveness, after nearly killing yourselves getting into college to begin with.
Overachievers burn out young. On Harvard College’s Admissions website, there is an article written by the dean of admissions and other Harvard educators that advises high-achieving students to take time off to avoid burnout. The letter starts out by describing the over-stressed lives of children who are pressured to achieve. At Harvard, they know about college burnout and they have noticed a definite increase from one generation to the next. Harvard is not alone in seeing the correlation between high achievers and burnout; the mainstream media has noticed as well.
“It is common to encounter even the most successful students, who have won all the ‘prizes,’ stepping back and wondering if it was all worth it. Professionals in their thirties and forties – physicians, lawyers, academics, business people and others – sometimes give the impression that they are dazed survivors of some bewildering life-long boot-camp. Some say they ended up in their profession because of someone else’s expectations, or that they simply drifted into it without pausing to think whether they really loved their work. Often they say they missed their youth entirely, never living in the present, always pursuing some ill-defined future goal.”
It’s not just the high achievers who are at risk of burnout. The kids who do not have high grades can be at risk of college burnout too. Some of the top predictors for college burnout, according to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute and the Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence at Texas Christian University, include a low high school GPA and a lack of comprehension of the material. In other words, if students are pushed into achieving a higher level than they are able to achieve, such as getting into a more difficult school than they can handle, they are more likely to burnout and dropout.
A major problem for young people in the workplace is that they are already burned out before they get there or crash and burn shortly after they arrive. Even if they do not burn out, they feel they are entitled to greatness after all the effort they put into getting there and all the promises of sweet nectar from the heavens they have heard from the adults in their lives. Don’t work yourselves so hard that you crash and burn—either in college or when you start working. Pace yourselves. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.