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Stress Is Inevitable for Success

Students today are under enormous pressure to excel.  Whether in high school or in college, competition is intense and unrelenting ("The Season to Be Stressful," The New York Times, Dec. 19). Some students can handle the stress better than others.  Those who can't often suffer severe anxiety and depression.

I understand how debilitating those conditions are.  But I wonder if they don't serve a useful purpose.  When students graduate and enter the workplace, their prior history of anxiety and depression can be an invaluable guide to making choices best suited to their personality and temperament. The highest-paying jobs require long hours, with constant deadlines.  For example, if students want to work in Wall Street or in the Silicon Valley, they better be prepared to handle extreme stress, or they risk being fired.

My point is that self-knowledge is indispensable in choosing a career that is gratifying and sustainable.  For example, I know many lawyers who graduated from top-tier law schools, but whose health has suffered because of the demands of the work.  Although they experienced severe anxiety and depression in high school, they paid too little attention to those conditions.  Instead, they applied to and were accepted at marquee-name colleges and universities. There they continued their misery, which they extended to law school and then to their careers.  Perhaps if they were more in touch with themselves, they would have known their limitations and made more suitable choices.

None of this is intended to be callous.  On the contrary, it is statement of reality.  That's why I urge students to ask themselves why they think their lives will be less stressful once they graduate from high school or college.  I hate to see young people making decisions based on what others think they should do. In the case of stress, if they can't stand the heat, then they should stay out of the kitchen.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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