Achievement pressure starts young. By the time they hit high school, many kids today are overloaded with AP classes, injured or in physical therapy with non-stop athletic activities, and all the while pressured to pad out their community service resume so they can look better on college applications. The pressure is relentless. Episodes of depression among teens are up 37% in the past decade, particularly among young girls.
Admissions essays are littered with stories of charities, constant giving, untold hours of community service. Which of course is a good thing, if done for the right reasons. It shouldn’t be about checking off a requirement or simply attempting to appear industrious and prosocial and conscientious.
Schools do want earnest, curious, diligent students, but not the toxicity of competitive, stressful environments. Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated,
“The reality is we don’t want this high-stress environment, it’s not good for students at all.” Schmill went on to say, “We don’t want students who do things just because they think they have to in order to get into a good college.”
Harvard released an admissions report about a year ago suggesting colleges should back off on rewarding kids with stacks of AP courses, and downplay resumes that feature high-profile exotic service trips (“I helped install a toilet system in Cambodia!”), and instead reward work that is local, nurturing, and smaller in scope. For example, being a big brother to someone during summer vacation. Avoid the brag sheet, and instead tackle a local problem.
Fast-forward a couple years after university. Organizations also want earnest, curious, diligent colleagues, but not the toxicity of competitive stressful environments. One way to stay focused on giving and helping others is to state those goals on your applications and resumes.
I’m suggesting that you should shorten the list of past accomplishments, and spend more time articulating – in clear and compelling language – how you intend to help, and how you will build the skills and capabilities needed to accomplish it. In short, you should be arguing to your potential employer how you intend to be a better human being.
The greatest leaders are never in it for their own credit. Helping others, helping the mission, helping the organization is about about honestly helping, not saying later how much you helped.
Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.