Over-Scheduled? Over-Achieving? That's Just The New Normal

By: Jess Berger, Regular Contributor


Once upon a time, there was a girl who was “normal.” She earned average grades in standard classes, played one sport, maybe had a hobby or two, and liked to unwind with her close friends. This girl was happy, fulfilled, and connected. Today, it seems, that girl no longer exists.

Last week I facilitated a leadership retreat for a group of 20. I introduced a fun team building exercise called Robot Writer (see pictures below) in which the girls worked together to write words and draw pictures while only holding onto a piece of duct tape that had been tied to a marker. To increase the level of difficulty for this bright bunch, I enforced a no talking rule, encouraging the girls to use non-verbal communication skills. A second time around, I had everyone in the group close their eyes except for one girl, who then had to use effective verbal communication to guide her group to success. Needless to say, we ended up with some hilarious finished products and lots of laughs!



Participants engaging in the Robot Writing exercise. Image from www.IATFconnect.com


Although this exercise develops skills around teamwork, communication, and cooperation, there is a greater metaphor underlying this silly game. I like to imagine the girls are the pen and the strands of duct tape are the various commitments they each have in their lives: school, sports, clubs, organizations, family, religious communities, artistic endeavors, friendships, intimate relationships, self care, etc. (These girls had more commitments than I could count, I felt overwhelmed just hearing about their schedules.) More often than not, girls feel pulled in multiple directions at once, just like the marker. Not so ironically, one group’s robot writer began to fall apart with strands of duct tape ripping off at the seams! Again, the parallel is clear: when we feel overworked, we begin to break.

After drawing the comparison for the girls, I wanted to offer them some tangible tools and strategies for coping with this challenge and increasing balance in their lives. I compiled a list and titled it “How to manage Overachiever-Itis.” Though the title instigated a few laughs, I felt it was important for the girls to deepen their self-awareness around their overachiever tendencies. Naturally I asked, “Do you think you are overachievers?,” assuming they would giggle and offer a knowing nod. Instead, they responded with a flat out “no.”

I was floored. I recounted to them the huge number of commitments and activities they had on their plates. I reminded them of their high stress levels and serious sleep deprivation. I pointed out that instead of one extracurricular most of them had at least three, every season of the year! I highlighted that every single one of them was overbooked and overworked. “If not overachievers, what then,” I asked, “would you call yourselves?” One of the girls flatly answered, “normal.”

So this is the state of our girls. Their perception of “normal” is so out of whack that they can’t even see it. This is not a judgment of course, and I can hardly blame them for their perspective: the competition in high school and beyond is fierce, and they don’t want to be left behind. In order to keep up, they feel obligated to accomplish more and more and more. But at what cost?

Rates of depression and anxiety are higher than ever, and the average age of onset for depression has dropped significantly from 29 to 14.5 years old. Sleep deprivation leads to inattention, high distraction tendencies, and poor focus: symptoms that mirror many of the criteria for ADHD. Is it any coincidence that there has been a 16% increase in ADHD diagnoses since 2007 and a 41% rise in the past decade? I think not.

Accomplishment and competency are two critically important facets of adolescent development. I am not suggesting that we encourage girls to give up their goals in the name of being uninspired couch potatoes. I do, however, believe it is our responsibility to encourage girls to stretch themselves only to the point of growth, not to the point of implosion. Thus, we must begin with ourselves and the model we put forth for our girls every day.

And so I ask: what are YOU modeling for our girls, today and beyond?

*For this team building exercise and many more visit www.IAFTconnect.com

*Thumbnail image from momsteam.com

About Jess: Jess Berger is a Certified Teen Girl Life Coach who supports girls in maximizing their potential. Jess' coaching provides girls a space to deepen their self-awareness and truly value themselves as confident, powerful and insightful young women. For more info on Jess and her process, check out her website here: www.MyCoachJess.com





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