Mary’s father entered the library through heavy glass doors and started looking through the stacks for his daughter. He finally found her, bleary-eyed and exhausted, surrounded by books, notebooks, a laptop, and a half cup of cold coffee. “Honey, it’s late,” he said gently. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Mary said, sounding beaten and tired.
Mary put her head in her hands. Full days in the toughest classes at school followed by afternoons and evenings crammed with activities “designed to impress” pushed her studying into late hours most nights of the week. The pace was frantic and the pressure intense, but Mary kept at it because of the carrot at the end of the stick. If she could just keep up this brutal pace for a few more years, she’d be able to get into a “good school.” That would automatically lead to a “good job,” and the money from that “good job” would lead to happiness and success.
At least that’s how the plan was supposed to work.
Cal Newport, one of my favorite authors on the subject of college and career success, argues that students like Mary are breathlessly and frantically climbing ladders leaned against the wrong wall.
Newport’s book How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out) breathes out hope for exhausted, over-wrought students by saying this:
What if getting into college didn’t require four years of excessive A.P.-taking, overwhelming activity schedules, and constant stress? In How to Be a High School Superstar, Cal Newport explores the world of relaxed superstars—students who achieve high levels of success by leading uncluttered, low stress, and authentic lives. Drawing from extensive interviews and cutting-edge science, Newport explains the surprising truths behind these superstars’ mixture of happiness and admissions success, including:
· Why doing less is the foundation for becoming more impressive.
· Why demonstrating passion is meaningless, but being interesting is crucial.
· Why accomplishments that are hard to explain are better than accomplishments that are hard to do.
These insights are accompanied by step-by-step instructions to help any student adopt the relaxed superstar lifestyle—proving that getting into college doesn’t have to be a chore to survive, but instead can be the reward for living a genuinely interesting life.
I, personally, have several objections to the “push-kids-toward-frantic-pursuit-of-elite-schools-because-that-leads-to-happiness” mentality.
1. Gallup research shows that elite education does not actually lead to a happier life.
I’m not making this up; this is what the research says. You can see my emphatic post on this subject here.
2. Pressure of this kind can cause an unhealthy psychological condition in teens known as “launch anxiety.”
I explain launch anxiety and provide 7 ways parents can help alleviate it here.
3. Other things besides college and career pushing have been proven to be far more effective at increasing human happiness.
Lisa Evans (quoting Neil Pasricha, author of The Happiness Equation) in this article says that walking briskly three times as week, journaling daily about what we’re genuinely grateful for, and performing five acts of kindness a week can actually land teens and adults in the happy zone faster (and, I observe, less expensively) than elite college and career ever will.
But here’s the best news for teens and adults who are happy first, before they start pursuing college and career: According to Evans, “a Harvard Business Review analysis of hundreds of happiness studies showed happy workers were 31% more productive, had 37% higher sales, and were three times more creative.”
This might be the biggest reason to allow your exhausted, high achieving teen to “just relax.” It could actually set him or her up for far greater success and happiness in the long run.
There’s no part of parenting more important than setting your kid up for successful college and career life.
For clear, step-by-step help getting your kids through college debt-free, don’t rely on a loose collection of blog posts. You’ll miss hundreds of details that way. Instead, get your copy of my book:
You can “Look Inside” the book on Amazon for free by going to:
(Tell your friends.)
You can see the “Top 9 Questions Parents Are Asking Me About LAUNCH,” here.
Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1-3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college and career at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it – especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
Do you have friends who are parenting kids ages 12 – 22? SHARE this post on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn right now.
What about you? What are your thoughts on this idea of allowing teens to do less so they can achieve more? Comment below or LIKE Jeannie Burlowski Author on Facebook, find this post on that page, and let’s talk about it there.
Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, author, speaker, and podcast host. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.