In the past few years, there have been several high profile cases of cheating and plagiarism among young academics. In 2006, Kaavya Viswanathan, then a sophomore at Harvard University, was accused of including whole passages practically verbatim from another author in her first novel. Her book was eventually recalled by its publisher and her reputation as an author perhaps forever tarnished. This past April, Yale student Aliza Shvarts, admitted to faking the circumstances of her senior performance art project, a controversial first-hand account of her (faked) abortion.
What made these well-educated, high-achieving women desperate enough to risk their reputations for 15-minutes of fame?
Could it be a constant pressure to succeed from parents, professors, bosses and popular media?
A query into the Merriam-Webster dictionary shows the definition of success to be:
The attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.
What troubles me about this definition is that it defines success through a third-party point of view. Gaining favor? Having superiority? These are all things subject to other people’s perceptions rather than a personal measure of fulfillment and meaning. This drive to succeed, to achieve based on someone else’s definition of success is wreaking havoc on our generation, a generation raised to believe that achievement is everything.
From a young age, most Millennials have been told they need to be “well-rounded.” College admission boards wants students who can “do-it-all,” so children are being pushed at younger and younger ages into soccer teams, ballet lessons, foreign-language classes and more with rarely a thought as to whether a child really enjoys the activity or not.
Could this pressure-cooker environment with its non-stop schedule of activities and constant competition be to blame for the rise in student cheating? Or the reason so many young people flunk out of college, go on wild drinking binges, and rack up mountains of debt before the age of 25?
Where did we all go so horribly wrong?
Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk, encourages readers to cut through the B.S. and think back to their happiest childhood memories to find their true passions:
Do you want to know what you should do right now? Do you want to know what your best bet is for your next career? Look at what you were doing when you were a kid. Nothing changes when you grow up except that you get clouded vision from thinking about what you SHOULD do — to be rich, or successful, or to please your parents or peers… the possibilities for should are endless.
By measuring your own personal success against the standards of others (not all of us can be Pulitzer-prize winning novelists or MVP athletes) you cloud your own path to true fulfillment and happiness. I recommend everyone read through Penelope’s post and take a few minutes to recall a favorite childhood memory and identify positive traits about your true self that you could be doing more to cultivate. You never know what you might be missing out on just because you never thought it important enough.