The Daily Northwestern

Goodman: Is NU’s over-achieving culture stressing us out?

Meredith Goodman, Columnist

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After the deaths of multiple students last year, I was glad to see that Wildcat Welcome featured an Essential NU on mental health. Although I was not present, my friends who were peer advisers told me the powerful speaker from Active Minds did an excellent job.

One friend, however, remarked there wasn’t much an ENU could fix or prevent in regards to mental health.

(New mental health Essential NU opens dialogue, explains resources)

“Northwestern is too competitive,” he said.

I thought about times when I had three midterms in a week, other homework and multiple student group meetings and considered perhaps the school’s over-achieving culture does stress me out sometimes.

We are a competitive breed here at Northwestern. As one of the top 15 schools in the nation (and yes, we frequently tote that statistic), we all excelled in some area just to receive admission. We slaved away at SAT/ACT prep, practiced musical instruments for hours (or at least me personally), pulled all-nighters cramming for tests and earned myriads of academic awards. Stephen Colbert joked at his commencement address in 2011 that even on Dillo Day, Northwestern students form “a mosh pit filled mostly with National Merit finalists.”

When we left our frenzied high school environments for NU, it seems that we took our hyper-competitive attributes with us. We apply for multiple student groups and complete rounds of interviews just to get into “inclusive” school clubs. We try our luck at becoming a tour guide, but wouldn’t you know, it’s more competitive to become a tour guide than to get into the university. We keep the same expectations for perfection in high school as in college, even though straight A’s at NU are nearly impossible to attain in any major.

Have you noticed that very few people on campus are involved in just one student group or have just one major? It’s as if being only a biology or an English major isn’t enough. There must always be a second major, or a minor or two, or even triple majors. Being intensely involved in a single student group is frowned upon here. We are expected not to just dabble in multiple student groups, but also hold tangible leadership positions.

From Greek life to multicultural students groups, tour guides to PAs and all other campus groups, it is rare that I hear students proudly proclaim that they are intensely involved in one or two student groups. When I tell people that I am involved in Jewish life, Greek life and am a columnist for the Daily, I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough — in fact, I’m searching for additional student activities this quarter.

We are a student population that loves to do it all, and do it all at a very high level. There is no way we can get a decent night’s sleep every night, eat nutritious meals and exercise regularly when we pride ourselves on being over-achievers.

To avoid stress in college, I suggest that we all take the colloquial “chill pill.” We should realize that a major and a minor is perfectly okay, and maybe even drop our minor to focus on our major. We should pick only a select number of student groups to dedicate ourselves to, and not run ourselves ragged to meetings every night.

We should realize that students are not supposed to be over-achieving super-humans, and treat ourselves like regular people who need balance. And with a dose of perspective, I think we can break NU’s competitive culture, relax and enjoy our time at college.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at meredithgoodman2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, leave a comment or send a letter to the editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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