Tips with Trish: The Duck Philosophy

Dear Trish,

School doesn’t come easy for me but I have always worked hard and done well. I’ve been realizing that the better I do, though, the higher my expectations become. I guess the positive feedback I get from doing well makes me set standards even higher with each semester. I try to act like everything is fine and that the pressure to achieve doesn’t affect me but the truth is, it does. And the fact that my friends seem to think that everything comes easy for me is frustrating. I need help on being less of a perfectionist and not needing to put on a show for everyone else that things are fine when they aren’t.

Signed, Tired

Dear Tired,

At Stanford University, it’s called the Duck Syndrome. It comes from the idea that a duck appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it is frantically and relentlessly paddling its tiny little feet. So to translate to the world of higher education, the Duck Syndrome means that although it seems as though some students, on the surface of things, are maintaining easily and peacefully, in actuality, they may be trying extremely hard to keep up. You are right; things are not always as they seem, my friend.

First of all, if you act like things are fine, people will tend to believe that they are fine. Not just because you tell them it is so but because many people don’t want to hear that things aren’t going well. Others may not know how to respond if you do tell them the truth. Society needs to get better about being real with one another. Be honest with others and yourself. Trying hard to appear a certain way will likely only create more anxiety. Maybe if more people didn’t pretend like everything was fine, more people wouldn’t feel the need to act like it is so.

Take social media, for example. It is a lot easier to put a picture up of you and five friends having a great time on the weekend then you sitting alone discouraged and stressed out in your apartment. Both have probably happened though. Twitter and Snapchat are huge contributors to the misperception among students that peers aren’t also struggling. The variations of the struggle may differ but life is hard and if we all act like it’s a piece of cake, we are contributing to the idea that it should be easy. I’m not suggesting that you put everything that you are feeling on Instagram, just give some thought before you do put things out there. It’s bad enough to be exhausted at the end of a day of classes, stressed out about an organic chemistry problem; it’s worse when you log onto Facebook and it seems like all of your friends, both on your campus and otherwise, are living perfect lives. It’s easy to see how this could contribute to a feeling of loneliness and the desire to be perfect.

Be real and take a hard look at those expectations.

Signed,

Trish

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