Beware of the “College Application Industrial Complex.”
That was the warning from Rachel Simmons, a noted author, educator and consultant who talked to Culver Girls Academy students on staying true to themselves and becoming more assertive and resilient in the process.
Simmons, who has been there, told the girls that “crafting yourself into the most perfect specimen” for your college resume is leading this current crop of students to become “the most miserable generation on earth.”
Simmons said she had the grades and the resume to get into Vassar College. After she graduated, she received a prestigious Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford University. And once she started at Cambridge, “I fell apart. I forgot why I was working so hard.”
So she quit. The president of Vassar told her she had “embarrassed the university.”
But she had lost herself in the process. And she sees herself in other girls. Simmons said it is getting to the point that if a teen “hasn’t saved a child from a burning building” by the time they reach middle school, they think they will only have a mediocre college application.
And researchers are finding that this current group of students are more stressed and feeling more pressure than ever, which is leading to real issues of anxiety and depression. The march toward grades, community service work, athletic excellence, and a “totally lit Snapcat” is making many girls believe “you are not enough as you are.”
But you can be successful without sacrificing your wellness or self-esteem in the process, she said. In this search for “effortless perfection” that shows up on Instagram, girls are starting to believe “that everyone is doing – and being – more than you are.” And in the process, girls have stopped supporting each other. And with social media, it is even easier for them to feel threatened by others.
Simmons said the girls had to remember that “nobody accomplishes amazing things all the time.” She suggested taking the big goals and breaking them down into smaller bites. Goals can be accomplished while you preserve your wellness. And ask yourself two very important questions if the goal isn’t accomplished: “What is the worst that can happen?” and “Can I live/deal with that?”
When people catastrophize a minor failure, that thought (“My life is over!”) embeds itself in your head.” Girls need to look at risk in a smart way, Simmons said, and be realistic about the worst case scenario that can happen.
Some girls have turned self-criticism into “their Red Bull,” she said, but beating yourself up all the time will rob you of your motivation. Practicing mindfulness, self-kindness, and understanding that you are not the only person feeling that way are important steps in understanding “why you are enough as you are.”