The stress Olympics is a term used to explain the challenges associated with portraying an image of perfection despite piles of stress. “I have so much homework” is something I will constantly complain to others only to be met with a response like “well, I have to study for 3 tests tomorrow and only got 4 hours of sleep.” I believe conversations like these are a defense mechanism. This desire to portray a perfect status comes from the need for validation from others, but it is ultimately up to us to cancel and change this toxic culture.
As a teenager, I confess that I prioritize the need for perfect grades over my own happiness and mental health. I try to keep up with my peers and feel the need to satisfy my family and make them proud; consequently, this pressure can bring about negative emotions.
In a survey conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Born This Way Foundation, 22,000 students were asked about the emotions they feel throughout a day of school. Stress, one of the top three emotions, was reported to be felt 80% of the time. The students were then asked which emotions they wanted to feel during school. Happiness, excitement, and energy were the top three desired emotions.
This toxic culture of stress can hold students back from the happiness, and the success, they wish to achieve. A student who chooses to take a class that is perceived to be elite, rather than the class they have a natural interest in, can keep them from a self-awareness of what they enjoy and are skilled in. When students don’t have the ability to experiment and explore, it can prevent them from achieving their own success later in life.
My Jewish values have always helped me work hard and value education. I wanted to see if there was anything in Jewish literature that would help me think about the stress Olympics in a different light. I came upon a story about an early Hasidic rabbi in Europe. On his deathbed, Rabbi Zusha, cried while surrounded by his students. He was asked, “Why do you cry? You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham.” Reb Zusha answered, “When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won’t ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham,’ rather, they will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’ Why didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path that could have been mine.
In the end, fulfilling our potential is something that can only be accomplished when we have the ability to choose our own paths– not compare and contrast them with others. Zusha’s story teaches us that we should all pursue becoming the best version of our own selves and not someone else. For this reason, instead of conforming to the standards and ideals of our peers, shifting our mentality to embrace individuality will help to find one’s inner purpose. Whether it is changing what you are studying, or the sport you are playing, stepping outside of your comfort zone will allow you to find yourself, which will only open new doors to a brighter future.