I was interviewed recently by The Oxford Student, the student newspaper at Oxford University in England. This interview was prompted by my request to re-post an Oxford Student blog post entitled, “Is striving for success really what we want?” You can read that blog post here.
The interview quickly moved into a discussion about students and success.
The student interviewer shared with me the pressure University students feel to strive for high grades and fill up their resumes with extracurricular activities in order to look attractive to potential employers upon graduation. That, and the reality that most students graduate with the weight of student loans on their shoulders, and the better, higher paying employment they can secure upon graduation, the sooner they can get out from under that debt.
It became clear to me that these students are merely playing with the cards they’ve been dealt.
It’s a bigger game that they’re a part of. A game that is all about competition. I think many students may feel extreme pressure to succeed, just so they can stay in the game. After all, jobs are hard to come by these days. And while a college degree doesn’t guarantee a good job, it certainly helps.
I wonder how much of today’s student’s drive is motivated by their own desire to be successful and make a lot of money and how much of it is driven by the reality of the world into which they were born. Almost a survival of the fittest if you will.
This realization made me sad.
I’m at a point in my life where I’m fortunate enough to have worked many years and built my life up to a degree that I do have some flexibility. If I no longer choose to play the game by the rules that have been created, I can choose not to. I have money in the bank. I have a husband with a good job. I can afford to take a sabbatical and stand on my principles while I am exploring the next stage of my career. I have skills and experience that I can use to make a living. I do NOT have looming student loans hanging over my head that dictate I must quickly find a good job in order to repay them.
Still, I don’t believe operating from fear ever serves us.
I do believe those students hold more power than they may see in the moment. They have a huge opportunity to shape the next generation. To begin changing the rules of the game. Will it be scary? Absolutely. Was it scary for me to step away from my 6-figure business and begin speaking out against some of the practices in my own industry? You bet.
Yet, I believe when we do what we feel internally compelled to do, and we’re able to stand up to the establishment, or what others say we should be doing, and instead follow our own path, that we are always supported. Will it be tough? Maybe. But in the end I believe it’s those who are willing to take a stand for what they believe is right, even if it goes against the grain, who stand out in history and change the world.
Today’s students have been raised on success.
Today’s high school and college students live in a very different world than their baby boomer parents. It’s highly competitive. Many may feel trapped by this game, as the student blogger wrote on The Oxford Student blog.
My conversation with this bright, young, Oxford student was eye-opening for me.
Breaking the spell is indeed a grander vision. It requires stepping back and re-evaluating the entire game, not just our role in it. However, as with all things, it starts with our role. And I believe any small steps any of us can take to recapture our power and to do what really makes us happy—as opposed to simply following the path that has been laid out for us by others—is the way to begin creating large-scale change.