This past Advent on campus seemed to be more forgotten than usual, and in its place manifested a season of breakdown, fear, and anxiety. No one needs to formerly articulate the season, one can clearly see it on the faces of the students, hear it in the halls of the dorms, and streaming down through the tears of the students crying in my office. It is difficult to remember Advent when you feel like the world hinges on the physics final or that organic chemistry lab you handed in late.
Other than the expected consequences that come with procrastination, why (you might you ask) do students feel so much pressure, anxiety, and fear at the end of the semester? I believe it is because today’s college students fear failure. They believe that doing more will help them become successful – and they desperately want to be successful (we could also insert perfect here). Not being successful is terrifying to them. They believe that to be successful you have to be the best and the only way we become the best is to do the most, the best.
I realized this year, more than ever, that the world and pressures today’s college students live with are vastly different than the world and pressures I grew up with. The days of feeling secure about straight-up following your dreams, even if they don’t align with today’s job market, are over. The job market is rough, the economy and necessary things like housing and health care are uncertain. Welcome to the era of dog-eat-dog job security and college students feel this pressure more and more. For them, thriving is necessary and success is to thrive.
Like many 18-23 year olds world-wide, our young women and men need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their lives and make their way in the world and we need to continue to encourage them onto this. Additionally I believe that we never want to discourage excellence and would offer that everything we do should be done with excellence. At the same time we need to offer our students some helpful encouragement to combat the pressures of success and perfection they feel from society, their campus community, perhaps their families, and themselves.
First I believe we need to continue to pass the peace to our college students. In the mass there are numerous moments when the community joins together in sacred connection and passing the peace is one of those moments. Our students will often take the plunge and offer hugs during the peace, and I think this is beautiful. It is a symbol that peace, the peace that Christ offers us is real, encouraging, and inviting. You can’t pass the peace incorrectly– all are equal and participating in the same moment of grace. There is no higher success to achieve or busyness needed in that moment, only to recognize what Christ has offered is deep peace- we only need to accept it and offer it to another.
Second I believe we need to offer the encouragement that failure is necessary for living – it just is. Someone once said to me, “Melissa, don’t worry about failing – it will happen eventually. But God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.” This thought hasn’t left me. Our college students are terrified of failure, they need to know that failure is a part of life and that it is in failing and then getting back up, taking a second or third try, that we learn our greatest lessons that propel us forward. History is full of great people who failed, but got back up.
Finally I believe that we need to be creative and innovative when it comes to how we work with college students. If we are both willing to sit, share, and listen then we have a great opportunity to be involved, even if in a small way, in the evolution of a life and we have a chance of helping them re-envision their future or life, if they are open to it – not be so busy, take time to pray or sit in peace, seek personal time for reflection, self care, and fun, engage others in friendship, put the phone down (maybe for an hour), be bold about envisioning the future to align skills and passions etc.
While these encouragements won’t be the answer to every problem our college students face, they might be just what our students need to hear.