It’s senior year and recently I’ve felt a wave of stress just wash over me. I’ve been thinking about the piles of work that I have and will have in the upcoming year. I worry that I might not get into a college that I want when I apply. I feel like I have to be this perfect student UC’s look for and take and pass these classes that I am not interested in and get involved in extracurricular activities that just simply “look good.”Also, I am one of the big contributors that commit to this club and we have to present to 100 plus kids in a big crowd from time to time. I have this huge fear of people judging me if I make mistakes, or do things that aren’t the most fun in presenting and appealing to people. And on top of that, I feel so intimidated by the other big contributors because I know they won’t have a problem since they seem so confident and I have to catch up and get on their level.I feel like there’s a fine line in what I want to do/be and what others expect of me to do/be. I feel as if there might be too much on my plate and I’ll be incapable of putting my best efforts in what makes me happy and others around me. Do you have any advice?-High School Senior
Dear High School Senior,
I remember feeling similarly before and during my senior year. It’s a crazy busy time, but it can be fun too. Here are some suggestions to help you out.
Don’t Worry, Be Ready. Prepare yourself by tackling your concerns one at a time. Get organized by setting weekly goals for all of the tasks you need to get done. Remind yourself of why you are doing all of this. What are your dreams for the future aside from your parents? How is all of this work moving you closer to achieving them? You don’t have to have it all figured out, but try to focus on what’s in it for you. When the “What if…?” worries start swirling around, stop them by reminding yourself of all you are doing to work towards those bigger goals. Tell yourself that worrying doesn’t move you forward; it puts you at a stand still–sometimes literally.
Recognize the Perks to Being “Well-Rounded.” Colleges want to know that you are a hard worker who can juggle multiple activities, manage your time efficiently, explore different interests, challenge yourself, contribute to your community, and show that you are an interesting individual who is determined to succeed. That’s a heck of a lot to expect. But at least they are trying to look at you as more than a number. It sounds like you’re already doing everything you can to make a great impression. Just try to stay open to the classes that don’t seem interesting. Some of them might surprise you. The same goes for extra-curricular activities. They might help you see a different side of yourself, discover something you’re good at, or even introduce you to a new friend or two.
Tell Your Inner Critic to Shut-Up. As for your fear of people judging you, it sounds like you need to silence the inner critic in your head. Often we’re just projecting our own negative feelings about ourselves onto people around us. It may seem like people may feel a certain way, but we don’t actually know. The only way to control that is to use our nervous energy to motivate us. When that inner critic starts hurling doubts and fears, we can combat it with how much effort we’ve made.
Remember the Truth About Public Speaking. The truth is, no one can be the perfect presenter to a huge group of people 100% of the time. People make mistakes, even those who you look up to who seem flawless. Teachers are presenting every day, performing in front of students with their classroom as their theater. Even your favorite teacher screws up lesson plans, forgets things, doesn’t always get the info across clearly, or has “off days” when he/she isn’t very engaging, helpful, or humorous. That also applies to professional comedians, talk show hosts, singers, etc. They all started right where you are, nervously talking in front of a group and messing up from time to time. I’m sure they all felt judged at times too, and still do. But everyone has to decide how much they are going to let that affect them. Yes, there are some ridiculously judgmental people out there, but they’re just sitting around passing judgement not doing a thing to help or connect with anyone. Judging someone is easy, standing up in front of a huge group of people takes guts.
Only Compare Yourself to One Person. The only person you should ever compare yourself to is who you were yesterday, last year, your freshman year, etc. This is hard to do, but keep this in mind whenever you find yourself looking at people who seem so confident. They might be as nervous or as insecure as you are. Even if they’re not, how well they do doesn’t impact your life. Only you can do that. Measure your success based on your own progress and remember that everyone has strengths, insecurities, and things to improve on.
Discuss and Balance Expectations. Dealing with your parents’ expectations can be really difficult. Talk to them about how you’re feeling before you get caught up in this busy year. Discuss your goals and tell them what you expect of yourself. Ask them exactly what they expect of you so that it’s crystal clear. Explain that you really want to make the most of your last year of high school by making time for social activities, which will help keep you happy by motivating you. I understand wanting to make your parents happy, but you have to make yourself happy too. Try working with your parents to find a balance. See what events, get-togethers with friends, and activities can fit into your busy schedule. By sitting down with them to communicate all of this beforehand, you’re showing how important doing well is to you, and how much you want to manage their expectations of you with your own. It will also help you avoid potential melt downs because nobody wants to deal with a stressed out senior who never gets out and knows her textbooks better than her friends.
Make a Bucket List for this Year. This year needs to be experienced not plowed through. Make a bucket list of activities you want to do before this year is over so that you aren’t just academically ready for this year, but excited for it as well. Maybe you want to do karaoke for the first time, go on a midnight hike, learn to play an instrument, jump into a pool fully clothed, have a massive food fight, admit to someone that you have a crush on him/her, go on a road trip, etc. This is your year so make it count!