Whilst capable of creating diamonds, pressure is an oppressive thing. Unchecked, it can grow stealthily, and it has the potential to suffocate you. When this pressure is created by the need to succeed, it is downright inescapable in today’s cut-throat, corporate environment. Now, it seems that success has its own deadline and, naturally, for students, deadlines are never a good thing.
Success, and the desire of it, is not a new phenomenon. Since the beginning of time, we have craved success – be it our ancestors succeeding in finding food, or victory in an ancient battle. The satisfaction provided by a sense of achievement is largely incomparable and as students, we can recognise the motivating effects that can be found within achieving a good grade.
Yet, success and what ‘counts’ has slowly been evolving into something more insidious to such an extent where it is in fact the age you are successful that determines true success and not the achievement itself. The Boar Features wanted to investigate how the pressure to meet major life milestones affect Warwick students’ perceptions of achievement and whether we are all feeling a pressure to try and succeed at such an early point in our lives.
Of those surveyed by The Boar, 68% of Warwick students said they felt a need to be successful at a young age and reported that they would in fact feel unsuccessful if they had not achieved certain goals by the age of 25. They stated that, along with the influence of social media, the feelings of being left behind by their peers were crucial in the creation of this pressure alongside the current state of the economy. It is no wonder that the two go hand in hand.
In the last two decades, there has been a drop in global youth employment by 12%, and when combined with an inflation rate of 5.4% (UK) and pandemic recovery, the job market is bleak for hopeful youngsters. Furthermore, the share of graduate job listings on sites such as Indeed has fallen 23% since 2019 while searches for such positions has increased by 5%, highlighting the increased competition between peers. This unpromising economic climate acts as something of an omnipresent threat to young people and when combined with the potency of social media, we can see the true roots of the pressure to succeed at a young age.
At Warwick, this pressure is indisputable and it manifests itself among the student population through the pursuit of Spring Weeks, internships, graduate positions, and general employability development. 77.3% of the students surveyed reported pressure to be applying to such programmes and that they also knew other people experiencing the same pressure to maximise their career potential and reach success. When asked to elaborate as to why this burden exists and is so widespread across campus, a common theme emerged.
“There’s a lot of peer pressure. Everyone is so stressed about Spring Week applications that you automatically become stressed as well. Students from different years are saying that you must do anything possible to get an offer otherwise you won’t be good enough for summer internships and will struggle to get a good position after university.”
Another student noted that: “Warwick has a wide array of connections to an ever-wider field of top industries so naturally attracts a lot of people who want such careers. While it’s nice to be surrounded by driven people with similar goals, it makes for a very competitive environment. You feel like you are constantly missing out and that you are behind your peers if you are not applying.”
It is just a never-ending race
– Warwick Student
The student culture at Warwick, which is no influenced by social media’s intoxicating reach, deep into our unconscious, would appear to be the driving force for this pressure. Interestingly, students did not feel that this pressure came from the university itself. One student stated that: “We all came to Warwick with high grades and academic achievements and so we already had a taste of success. Now, though, it is just a never-ending race. To become better, to get the best internships, to find the perfect job. It is just the nature of the culture that exists here that we created by ourselves.”
This student culture may be inevitable – when young people are pushed together in today’s corporate climate, success may feel like the only option. This perhaps particularly applies to students who are the first in their families to attend university and so feel even more pressure to succeed. At the moment, it appears that students feel like everyone around them is a threat to their own achievement – a 21st-century rendition of Darwin’s survival of the fittest.
Coupled with the rise and total domination of social media, we are now also incessantly inundated with images and videos of success. The highlight-reel effect is powerful. Every picture packs the same punch, no matter how innocent it may first appear, and forces upon you the idea of perfection and utter prosperity. As 87% of children aged 11–15 use social media, this image of success has become rooted deep within the imaginations of young people.
Simultaneously, there is a culture of young people being thrust into the limelight and skyrocketing through their careers – particularly with the help of social media platforms such as Tiktok. Take Addison Rae for example. She joined Tiktok in mid-2019 and has since experienced astronomical success. She is now reportedly worth $8 million .
Likewise, LinkedIn, and its inescapable notifications, never fail to force a feeling of imposter syndrome upon you.
Rae is not the only young person with an overnight success story. Many of her peers have also tapped into and harnessed the force of the internet to accumulate mass wealth and solid career foundations. Once they reach success, they then promote it to their young audiences creating and recreating a vicious cycle of influence. Likewise, LinkedIn, and its inescapable notifications, never fail to force a feeling of imposter syndrome upon you.
Together, these young success stories and young, influential audiences have redefined our perception of success. Without realising it, we – as a society – have accepted that success does in fact come with a deadline, one that feels like it is fast approaching for many of us.
The rhetoric of the need to succeed by 25 runs deeper than logic and in today’s whirlwind society it is abundant. The widely apparent growth in people accumulating wealth and reaching certain career milestones at a young age, has forced success into a time-constraint, and with it allowed an immense pressure to gather over the heads of many young people.
Yet the deadline on success is irrational for students and society as a whole. Vera Wang, one of Hollywood’s go-to designers, designed her first dress aged 40. Likewise, the man who made McDonald’s the world’s most successful fast-food restaurant, Ray Kroc, was not involved in the company until he was 53. By forcing a time-pressure upon ourselves, we may be overlooking the subtle power of succeeding later in life. Greater experience, and knowledge of the world could combine to help reach dizzier heights of achievement.
Learning to shut out the hyperbolised posts on social media, realising that comparison serves no purpose in your own personal development and that careers are built slowly may prove to be the antidote we need to break the spell that has us enthralled and remove the overwhelming pressure to succeed before the age of 25.
But with the outcomes of applications being unremittingly released, and exam season looming, it would appear that Warwick students have yet more work to do before they are free from the grips of the pressure to succeed.