When a duck swims in a pond, it seems to glide across the water smoothly, gracefully and effortlessly.
One would never know from watching how furiously the little duck is paddling its feet below the surface.
This observation is what gave rise to the term “duck syndrome,” a phenomenon caused by the pursuit of perfection in many college students. The name suggests that while so many students put on a face of calm and tranquility, they are struggling just below the surface to keep themselves from sinking.
Life on campus can often feel like a constant competition between yourself and everyone else to have the most credit hours, the highest GPA, the best internships, the most exciting posts on Instagram, the hottest body; the list goes on and on. Deacs treat hours of sleep like golf scores — whoever has the lowest number at the end wins.
Our campus climate not only rewards the exchange of mental, physical and emotional health for competition and overachievement but expects it.
When is the last time you heard a struggling classmate shrug off their problems and attribute them to “Work Forest?”
There is nothing inherently wrong with high achievement or self-improvement. The problem stems from where the motivation comes from and how we deal with failure.
Being motivated by genuine interest and excitement feels a lot different than being motivated by an internalized need to be quantifiably better than everyone around you, and it is no coincidence that Wake Forest’s high-achieving student body has garnered us as the 14th party school in the nation according to the “Princeton Review.”
Wake Forest students overwhelmingly use drinking as a coping mechanism for stress and as a way to level the playing field a bit while meeting new people.
Partying responsibly to have fun with friends is not usually a cause for concern, but the trend towards functional alcoholism that seems to be so prevalent in Wake Forest culture is a scary look at how students deal with their stress in unhealthy ways.
There is no simple or easy solution to this. I like to think that a good starting point would involve destigmatizing the idea of struggle.
Every single person you meet, even the people who seem perfect in every way, are struggling with something. Instead of hiding that, it should be more acceptable to share our experiences and doubts and ask for help and support when we need it.