Do better. Get it together.
These are words often meant to inspire change within individuals, a change toward a more organized, perfected lifestyle that is free of drama, problems and circumstantial issues — as if one exists.
Those who say “do better” and “get it together” aren’t usually thinking of the 50 errands you need to run before your literature class that has a paper due. A paper that you didn’t finish because you were practicing all night for an audition for a play. A play you desperately want to be in because you feel theater provides an escape from your rigid IBE classes. It’s an escape that you need because, without it, the prospect of switching majors becomes more promising every day.
But even that is impossible because you’re a junior and it’s too late to switch majors so this audition for the play is the next best solution. It is the only thing that provides a viable outlet for your frustrations. So you don’t write your paper and receive a zero for the assignment in order to get into the play. You are wholeheartedly convinced that this is a worthy trade off, but to your professor, your friends and to anyone else who only witness this moment of your most necessary failure, there is supposedly no reason viable enough for you to receive a zero on an assignment.
Consequently, the words “you need to do better, you need to get it together” roll off their tongues or are written on their faces with such disregard and ease. The conviction packed within them is enough to make you question your entire decision. You begin to think, “Yes, I need to do better. I need to get it together.”
Despite the nuances within it, it is impossible not to find yourself in a similar situation at some point in your college career. Such is the inevitable dilemma of the college student, the unnerving pressure to always “do better.”
This insatiable need to be better is no stranger to the students in Lehigh. Betterment fills the air like a plague, it’s infectious and unavoidable. The prestige of the campus and the distinguished accomplishments of its students feed into it and sustain it. At some point everyone catches betterment, as we all should. Wanting to be better is not the issue. There is nothing wrong, and everything right with progression and advancement. There is nothing wrong and everything right with growth and expansion.
However, I believe the problem presides in the constant unwavering over glorification and idolization of what are usually unattainable and unrealistic achievements, while simultaneously disregarding the impressive accomplishments that have already been won. This is only worsened by the unsought after remarks for improvement by those who are oblivious to the many hurdles that were overcome to reach such accomplishments. Although these remarks are usually made jokingly, they leave a poignant residue that remains in our subconscious and reminds us that we need to do more and essentially, what we have done is not enough. This can be a slippery slope towards many issues namely, depression, anxiety and even suicide.
In an institution such as Lehigh, the “work hard, play hard” mindset is so prevalent. We recently ranked 11th place in Business Insider’s “Work hard, play hard: The 30 most intense colleges in America” list. There is an expectation to meet a certain level of performance in academics, jobs and social life. And there are real effects of not doing so.
Among college students, the negative effects associated with the overwhelming pressure to do better are steadily increasing. In 2010-12, 23.8 percent of college students seriously contemplated committing suicide due to being over-stressed. Since then, this percentage has increased to 30.3 percent in 2012-13. In the same school year 48.7 percent of students reported attending counseling for mental health concerns, which is an increase from the 45.2 percent reported in 2010-12.
However, despite the increased implications from pressure and stress in college, there remains the expectation to perform better.
Many times this pressure is self-inflicted as well. Not only do we deal with the inevitable stress of college, we also take on the judgement of others and of ourselves. A judgement which forces us to tackle more and do so exceedingly well. We are never satisfied with our accomplishments and if we ever are it is only for a moment until we can no longer ignore our hunger for more.
How can we be better? How can we get it together, if we are always chasing after an unattainable and indefinite definition of success that is both forced onto us and created by us?
I believe it is important to appreciate our achievements and the work that was put into them as they come, while living in the mindset that there will always be room for improvement and growth. If we need to be better, we should be better first and foremost, for ourselves and not for the approval of others.
Ashley Omoma, ’18, is a multimedia editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]