Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a trend in adolescent and young adult clients (16-24 year olds) self-describe as being a failure, or not good enough. They record feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, anxiety, and low satisfaction in life. Interestingly, I live in an affluent area of the country where most of these young men and women have supportive families, great educations, and seemingly endless potential. Often, these are high achieving college and high school students. So why are they so down on themselves? I’m going to describe what I see in a baseball analogy.
Imagine that your favorite baseball team has finally pulled together a great year. Everything comes together at the end of the season and they win the championship. Fans flood the streets with excitement! The players feel like they’re on top of the world, celebrating the accomplishment of beating the best. In the off season, the team adds a couple of pieces and grows in confidence to become the best team in the league. They win the championship again, this time as the favorite. Once again everyone celebrates in the success. In year three expectations are much higher. Fans expect perfection on the field. The team plays at a very high level, but it’s less about enjoying the season and more about winning the championship. Mistakes become unacceptable. When they win, players express relief instead of excitement. The expectations completely change their experience.
Now compare those baseball teams to what adolescents and young adults face today. Their grandparents were that first winning team. They succeeded against the odds. Most didn’t have college degrees, yet they persevered through a depression and learned to sustain and grow wealth. Rightfully, we celebrate their grit and their success. In the next generation (90s, 00s), college education became the norm for many as young adults strived to exceed parents’ standards. Home ownership, incomes (along with cost of living) grew along with financial independence. They (we) are the second championship team. This takes us to the current adolescents. They are the third championship team. Just like previous teams (generations), they are trying to exceed expectations. These kids are no longer able to be the first to go to college, get a Masters, or find a steady career. They have to accomplish these things just to meet expectations to achieve what their parents achieved. They carry a pressure to excel in a life defined for them. They aren’t afforded the opportunity to fail (at anything) from a young age.
It’s critical that we allow our younger generations to define their own success. It’s on us to set aside our own expectations, let them struggle through their own challenges, and live meaningful lives.
Chris Guzniczak, LPC
Flower Mound Counseling