FRANKE: Surviving the Pressure Cooker

011_FRANKE_JOHNI sat in my sixth hour english class listening to Mr. Hagedorn discuss the phenomenon he deems “junior stress syndrome,” when a relatively simple question caught my attention.

How many of you are involved in so many activities and interests that you can’t find the time to genuinely enjoy any of them?

Without a word, all but two students raised a hand. My hand went up without hesitation.

The discussion continued, but my mind lingered on that question. How had I gotten to the point where genuine enjoyment was a thing fondly remembered instead of actively lived? And how had a sizeable majority of my classmates gotten to that point as well?

The answer is found in our shared environment. They call junior year “the pressure cooker.” But the title doesn’t have a necessarily negative connotation. It has the connotation of separating the men from the boys; the strong from the weak, so to speak.

I had accepted this as the fate of my junior year and began to welcome the challenge. But Mr. Hagedorn’s question made me ponder: at what expense was the challenge met?

It is fair to say that this “pressure cooker” atmosphere is preparing my fellow juniors and me for “the real world” to some degree. I have no doubt that learning time management skills through first hand experience will benefit me in college and beyond. Is time management worth the passion sacrificed to achieve it?

I argue that it is not. What good are the bullet points on your resume if they don’t represent your passions? It is true, they can be valuable to colleges. But there is something fundamentally wrong about allowing an external force (a college, in many cases) to determine your priorities for you. You can and should consciously set your own priorities and execute them with passion.

Consciousness should not apply only to priority setting, either. There is one appallingly simple, yet vastly significant truth that is not often addressed during junior year, or during high school at all for that matter: real life is right now. It does not begin with a high school degree and end with retirement. Yes, preparation for college and future careers is tremendously important, but it is not worth ignoring the life you can enjoy right now in high school.

This point was driven home for me personally last week. I sat in the upper deck at Kauffman Stadium and watched the Royals battle their way to a victory in the penultimate game of the ALCS. Despite the incredible enthusiasm of the crowd and the importance of the game itself, I could not focus. In the back of my mind was a list of assignments that I was blowing off to attend the game. For two entire innings I wrestled with the options of not sleeping to finish the assignments, or taking the hit in my grades. All of this was running through my head, and as a result, the spectacle in front of my eyes was lost.

Admittedly, part of the problem lies in my own personality. I am the kind of person that is inclined to worry, but my worries were heavily amplified by the conveyed importance of the work. In a world where everything revolves around preparing for the future, it is too easy to lose the present.

I don’t say any of this to discredit hard work or preparation for the future. Of course these things have enormous value. But if you are like me, you need to be reminded that there is a place and time for the future.

Be conscious, and be involved in your life. Set your own priorities and do what you are passionate about. Above all, don’t get cooked by the pressure.

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