Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Under pressure (#SiliconValleySuicides)

My heart broke so many times while reading "The Silicon Valley Suicides" in this month's Atlantic.

I remember all too well the unbelievable pressure and expectations in high school to perform, perform, perform. Achieve, achieve, achieve. Win, win, win. And I don't lay all the blame on my Tiger parents. It was also the expectations I put on myself, competition with my peers, and a culture of achievement that was so pervasive in my high school (University High School in Irvine, California was very much like the schools depicted in the Atlantic article).

We didn't have train tracks nearby. We never contemplated swallowing bottles of pills. But what if we did? What if, in 1993, I had entertained those options?

When I got that D in AP Calculus my senior year, I thought my life was over. But what could I expect? Five AP classes, ASB President, Varsity swim team, Latin club, Tae Kwon Do champ, church Sunday School teacher, dutifully fulfilling the role of "perfect student" and "perfect daughter." Craziness. It was too much for anyone, let alone a 17-year-old kid. I couldn't keep it all from falling apart. I had my first nervous breakdown.

It's weird, but looking back I think failing that class saved me. I realized life went on and I think something in me learned to say, "F*ck it!!" I survived high school and made it to college. I tried my hand at pre-med ("You hate math and science, dummy! What are you doing?!") and after nearly failing Intro Chemistry I said, once again, "F*ck it!!" and followed my heart. I pursued what made me happy.

My insides ache for the kids at Gunn and Paly. My heart breaks for the parents. As someone who survived that kind of brutally competitive atmosphere, I would tell those kids IT'S GONNA BE OK. I PROMISE. I would tell the parents to CHILL THE F*CK OUT. HAPPINESS TRUMPS ACHIEVEMENT. AND YOU ARE GOING TO BE OK, TOO. I PROMISE. 

Let's stop the madness. Let's be kind to ourselves. Let's embrace failure as much as we strive for success. Because the beautiful mess is what makes us human. 

Illustration by Julie Peterson for The Pioneer.