Easing the Pressure of Perfection

The following is a compilation from the NY Times article, “Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection”, and comments from readers.

Tens of thousands of students started college this month, taking another step higher on the ladder of success. As freshman eager to prove themselves, many will take a tragic fall.

Kathryn DeWitt, The young woman featured in the NY Times articles, Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection, “…conquered high school like a gold-medal decathlete. However, when she went to the University of Pennsylvania she found herself surrounded by people with seemingly greater drive and ability, she had her first taste of self-doubt, ‘Everyone around me was so spectacular and so amazing and I wanted to be just as amazing as they are.'”‘

Madison Holleran, a popular and talented Penn student, killed herself last year. Credit Courtesy of LetsRun.com
Madison Holleran, a popular and talented Penn student, killed herself last year. Credit Courtesy of LetsRun.com

“When, on Jan. 17, 2014, Madison Holleran, another Penn freshman, jumped off the top of a parking garage and killed herself, Ms. DeWitt was stunned. She had never met Ms. Holleran, but she knew the student was popular, attractive and talented. In a blog post  soon afterward, Ms. DeWitt would write: ‘What the hell, girl?! I was supposed to be the one who went first! You had so much to live for!”‘

“Despite her cheery countenance and assiduous completion of assignments, Ms. DeWitt had already bought razor blades and written a stack of goodbye letters to loved ones.”

A traveling exhibition by Active Minds, an advocacy group, consists of 1,100 backpacks representing the approximate number of undergraduates who commit suicide each year. Photo Credit: Activeminds.org
A traveling exhibition by Active Minds, an advocacy group, consists of 1,100 backpacks representing the approximate number of undergraduates who commit suicide each year. Photo Credit: Activeminds.org
Kathryn DeWitt, a University of Pennsylvania student who has battled depression, shares her experiences at a chapter meeting of Active Minds. Photo Credit: Mark Makela for The New York Times
Kathryn DeWitt, a University of Pennsylvania student who has battled depression, shares her experiences at a chapter meeting of Active Minds. Photo Credit: Mark Makela for The New York Times

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

All of us at The “V” Channel are deeply saddened by the loss of young lives tragically cut short due to psychological problems. We are grateful and give thanks to the therapists, counselors and support groups devoted to suicide prevention.

Fortunately, Ms. DeWitt was able to rise above the pressure of perfection. She prevailed over her depression and is now helping students deal with anxiety.

Hopefully the NY Times article touched many of today’s parents who are obsessed with giving their children the winning edge in life. “Given the global competition in a world of diminished possibilities, well-meaning, yet fearful parents don’t give their kids one moment of peace in their entire 18 years of grooming for accomplishments.” Beginning as early as pre-K, they push their kids to gain an advantage over the competition, often at the expense of teaching them basic virtues such as caring, kindness and friendliness.

As parents we can give our children food and shelter. We can give them toys and shell out thousands of dollars on education. However, the most valuable things we can offer our children are unconditional love and emotional support. We can also give children our time. Time to play, to listen, and to experience the virtues from “A” to “Z” together.

Virtues are the building blocks of goodness and character. They give kids confidence, empowering them to rise above the pressures of school, knowing they are special and unique regardless of their GPA or popularity.

My son, Nicolas, outside his dorm at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
My son, Nicolas, outside his dorm at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

My son started college this month. Like most young people he dreams of being wildly successful. I hope he practices determination, self-discipline and steadfastness, and reaps the benefits of a higher education to make his dreams true. When he succeeds I will celebrate with him. And when he fails I’ll offer him a shoulder to lean on, and my companionship to help him see failure as a teachable moment, so he can nurture himself with compassion and forgiveness. I will also do whatever I can to inspire him to never give up!

Life is a series of highs and lows. As we pursue our dreams the pressure of perfection will push us to the brink more than once. To ease the pressure we can take a few moments to be thankful for the goodness each day has to offer, “to appreciate little things—a flower by the road, the stars at night, a challenge met, a laugh with a friend, a sorrow shared.”

“To be truly thankful, we don’t need to wait for a dream to be fulfilled. We can celebrate the moment.”

Wishing you, and all of our kids, the very best!

Scott Feraco signature

Scott Feraco
Founder and Creative Director
scott@theVchannel.com
917.445.0102

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Special thanks to The Family Virtues Guide, by Linda Kavelin Popov with Dr. Dan Popov Ph.D., and John Kavelin, and The Virtues Project, a global grassroots initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.

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