May 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Mindset of Competitiveness

Spoiler alert: This column installment talks about finding a balance. It’s a cliche theme that I’ve used before, and I apologize for bringing it up once again, but to me it’s a very important thing to remember when I encounter different issues both in my own life and in the society we live in. In fact, what I’m about to discuss is something that pertains very much to what I myself am currently going through, but I’m also going to discuss it more generally to connect it to the world at large.

Now that I’ve gotten that preamble out of the way, let’s talk about my favorite C-word: college! Yes, this is coming from someone who once wrote a piece entitled “How Not to Think About College.” Times have changed and I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve been meeting with a college advisor at school and making plans to visit different universities. I’ve taken an SAT and am thinking about how I’m going to set up my college applications. It’s certainly a common discussion topic in my grade. The second half of junior year is when we really enter into this exciting but somewhat frightening new realm.

I’m not reflecting this on my own school—I feel that this applies to every school and plenty of teenagers—but it somewhat bothers me how much of a focus I’ve suddenly found myself and others putting on the path we’ll take after high school. The timing makes perfect sense, don’t get me wrong. It feels right that we’re starting now to look at colleges and get a feel for what they’re like. Also, we want to be properly prepared in time; starting late could have drastic consequences. (I’m sure there’s some school that has the Latin motto “Don’t be late.”) It’s also just very exciting to unravel, to some extent. College is a defining period in anyone’s life, and the choice of school could determine one’s entire future. (Emphasis on could—I’m well aware that one could also end up taking a completely different path after completing university from what they majored in or intended to do.) Just thinking about the endless possibilities and what is yet to come is quite enticing.

But on the flip side, I’ve started to be concerned that it feels that it’s taking away from my junior year. Once again, this is not meant to reflect back on my school. I think this is a symptom of our competitive society, the ambition and drive we all catch to strive for the best, to keep going and get past others. This isn’t a positive or negative thing in itself; it could go either way. But this mindset in our society of thinking so much about the future starts to take away from the present. I mean, just talking about myself, if I spend too much time looking up colleges and checking the College Confidential forums about what major to choose, I’ll miss out on all of the fantastic opportunities from my junior year. (I also might miss out on the schoolwork, which despite its relative monotony would be just as bad.) I want to focus on the present, making sure I’m getting all of my schoolwork done, having a chance to hang out with friends, to enjoy my far-too-many clubs and extracurricular activities. (It is my pleasure to officially announce the Ramaz Making Clubs Club! Just kidding.) How can I do that if there’s this mindset I’m succumbing to where I must, must think about the next step?

I can’t speak for all teenagers, obviously, but this is something that I know many struggle with.

I already warned you that this column would feature the idea of balance, so it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that balance is the key here. Finding a balance between what’s occurring in the present and what’s to happen in the future is the solution. The issue is that it’s not so easy when, as I mentioned, the broader problem is more societal than just personal. I can try my hardest to get into the mindset of setting aside some time for college prep, some time for junior year, and feeling as if I’m successfully juggling the two. But it’s very hard to escape a mindset that seems engrained into our society, into the lives and culture of teenagers anywhere. Maybe that’s where we should all take some initiative. We should reduce the mindset of needing to get ahead, to compete, to always plan too much ahead, without getting completely rid of it. It’s probably idealistic and impossible to do so, but that’s the issue I wanted to raise—something connected to myself, my friends and the society at large.

(I do know that it’s the season where many schools announce their admission decisions. Best wishes to everyone currently waiting for responses…)

Oren Oppenheim, age 17, is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist, but currently is drowning in emails from colleges. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim

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