By Jen Hawkins (ASSU Health Team)
We’ve all heard of the Stanford Duck Syndrome—on the surface we’re calm and composed, even on top of things. Just below it we are working our butts off and kicking as hard as we can just to stay afloat. Perhaps it’s because we tend to be overachievers who shy away from talking about our problems. Accomplishment is great, especially when pared with humility, but it isn’t so amazing when you can’t sit back and enjoy your success.
Sure, being happy isn’t always easy. Why should it be when we have so much on our plates and are constantly striving to reach the top? After all, we are at Stanford University and it costs a small fortune to be here—just the thought of paying off student loans is cringe-worthy.
Then again, college is supposed to be the best time of our lives. We finally get to escape the confines of our parents’ household rules and daily expectations. We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and we can go to bed at five in the morning after watching ten re-runs of House if we so choose. The particularly brave can even go to frat parties, hop around in fountains after having a drink, or live on a coed floor!
But when you combine newfound freedom with the pressure to do well and the delusion that everyone else is living in perfect bliss, confronting your own problems becomes nearly impossible. Sometimes the result is a vague sense of unhappiness, a restless tension. But, if it goes on for too long, depression, an anxiety disorder, or some other psychological problem can emerge. Generally, these issues are a combination of genetics and external factors, so why not control the latter to the best of our abilities?
Many Stanford students were the best at nearly everything, or one particular thing, in high school. They were the big fish in a little pond and had little trouble dominating the waters. But now, with all the big fish together in a small lake, most of them will become one of many little fish. They can undoubtedly thrive, but they have to relinquish the idea that they have to be the absolute best. Ambition is still key, but it must be paired with an ounce of realism. Perhaps that means accepting an occasional B+ or being happy to have made the team even if it takes a year join the starting line-up. Maybe it even means learning how to relax and talking about problems openly without being embarrassed or ashamed.
I believe the most valuable change to campus culture would be a decline in the Duck Syndrome. If people knew that their own problems and concerns united them with the student body, instead of separating them from it, that would bring some peace of mind. Knowing that you aren’t alone in your struggles, whether it be choosing a major or facing an eating disorder, is key to both personal growth and the healing process. And no problem is too small to address. Sometimes the fight you had with your roommate or not seeing your crush at Full Moon really is enough to set off a bad week. Talk about it so you can get over it and move on with your life—at the pace that’s right for you.