Dr. Richard Leahy, a prominent psychologist and anxiety specialist was quoted as saying, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”
What I see more than anything else is an unquestioning embrace of performanicism in all sectors of life. Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance and accomplishments. Performancism casts achievements not as something we do or don’t do but as something we are (or aren’t). The colleges those teenagers eventually attend will be more than the place where they are educated— – they will be the labels which define their value as a human being, both in the eyes of their peers, their parents, and themselves. The money we earn, the car we drive, isn’t merely reflective of our occupation,; it is reflective of us, period. How we look, how intelligent we are, and what people think of us is more than descriptive,; it is synonymous with our worth. In the word of performancism, success equals life, and failure is tantamount to death. This is the reason why people would rather end their lives than confess that they’ve lost their job, or made a bad investment.
This is not to say that accomplishments are somehow bad, or even that they aren’t incredibly important. It is simply to say that there is a difference between taking pride in what we do and worshiping it. When we worship at the altar of performance—and make no mistake, performancism is a form of worship — we spend our lives frantically propping up our image or reputation, trying to do it all, and do it all well, often at a cost to ourselves and those we love. Life becomes a hamster wheel of endless earning and proving and maintenance and management and controlling, where all we can see is our own feet. Performancism causes us to live in a constant state of anxiety, fear, and resentment, until we end up heavily medicated, in the hospital, or just really, really unhappy.