Prior to the 2012 baseball season, Albert Pujols, commonly referred to as the best hitter of our generation and a future Hall of Famer, signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for a 10-year, $254 million monster of a contract. Along with the obvious excitement and expectations, questions and speculations dominated the headlines. At 32 years, is he on the decline? Will he be worth the money?
Fast-forward to the present, 30 games into the worst season of Pujols’ career. Pujols failed to hit a home run until his 111th at bat on Sunday, the longest drought in his career. Every couple days, there was a new video or article on ESPN about why Pujols was hitting so poorly, and they all agreed he was pressing; he was trying too hard. Despite everything he said in interviews, his swing showed he was trying to break the pressure of the media and prove he was worth the $254 million contract. He was swinging at bad pitches and pulling long shots foul by getting ahead of the pitch. Rather than just playing the game he’d always played so well, he was trying too hard to prove himself to others. And ironically, his first home run came after taking a game off.
I would be audacious enough to assume that no one reading this article is getting paid $254 million dollars to do their job or having every grade and every comment scrutinized in the national media, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel the pressure to perform or prove ourselves to others, or maybe even ourselves. I feel a lot of college students feel the weight of unbearable pressures and expectations, and the harder we try to uphold them, the longer we stand directly beneath their weight until we eventually cave in.
I recently talked with a sophomore who is finishing the HumBio core this quarter. She’s struggled and despised every minute of it since fall quarter, but continues taking classes because she feels she has to prove something to her parents. Since starting high school, her parents had always pushed her to be a doctor — not in a threatening way, but because they truly believed that’s what she wanted. She is no longer studying for herself or those she may be able to help as a doctor, but to not disappoint her parents. Every test has become about how many points she’s missed the curve by, and every day is pervaded by her fear of not getting into a medical school.
I have another friend who is the first of his family to go to college. He has two younger sisters and a younger brother that look to him as an example. He feels that, given his opportunity, he has a responsibility to his family to make tons and tons of money in order to improve their life. And when he didn’t get the internship he wanted this summer, he broke down. He felt guilty that he had let his family down.
As a college student, I often get caught up in the day-to-day routines and tasks and don’t stop to ask why I am doing what I’m doing. Is it because I truly enjoy it and made a commitment, or is it because I feel I have to prove myself to someone? The latter may not always seem like a bad thing. Sometimes it leads to better grades or a better job, but it also robs us of our worth and places it in the hands of another person just as broken and insecure. Rather than acting out of a pervading sense of freedom in the options and opportunities in front of us, we become enslaved to what we believe others expect of us.
When will you have accomplished enough that you no longer feel the need to prove yourself? Once you’ve won a World Series? Once you’ve signed the second-largest contract in baseball history? Maybe that point never comes, and maybe it is better to identify the source of pressure so you can step out from underneath it. Take some time for yourself to figure out what you really love doing. Create space to develop your individuality. Have those difficult confrontations with the people you feel pressured by. Odds are they don’t realize how negatively their words and actions affect you. Surround yourself with encouraging people who don’t make you feel like you have to earn or deserve their approval. Don’t cave in.
Feel like caving in to Chase’s charms? Send him an email at ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.