The Age of Achievement: How the Pressure to Excel is Striking the Young

Relax - there's plenty of it to go around.

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The quest for success is a seemingly relentless one; we define ourselves by it, compare each other’s level of it and spend most of our lives striving towards it. This isn’t a new concept, yet placing a higher value on those who are both successful and young, is. For the Millennial generation, it’s no longer enough to be accomplished – it’s almost as if we have to be both accomplished and barely out of our teens in order to really be held in high esteem.

Regardless of our actual age and perceived level of success, this added pressure is having a debilitating affect on us both professionally and psychologically, says Life and Confidence Coach Lisa Phillips.

“[I am] seeing both men and women of any age increasingly putting pressure on themselves to ‘keep up’ with society’s belief of what they should be doing and how they should be living their lives,” says the Sydney based coach, adding that we “beat ourselves up” when we believe we have fallen short of society’s expectations of ourselves.

While success and career progression is a priority which transcends all generations, Lisa notes that Millennials also place a high value on having a worthy existence.

“Everyone is different, but I am seeing a trend for the Millennial generation to expect to find a career which is more aligned with their values and meets their needs. It is not just purely success that they desire, but more a worthwhile career.” Unlike other generations, Millennials want to feel that their work is personally valuable and that their efforts are being recognised. “The attitude is different to other generations as they expect more for themselves – and why not?” says Lisa.

Yet when those expectations aren’t met, it can send us into an anxiety-induced tailspin. “One of the easiest ways to reduce this anxiety is to make peace with where you are and live your life according to your own expectations, rather that societies expectations,” urges Lisa, who adds that much of the pressure we’re all under is both societal and internal.

While the fear of making a misstep can often render us incapable of making any decisions at all, Lisa urges us to let go of the notion of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ life choices. “There are no bad choices,” says Lisa. “If things don’t work out according to plan, it’s better just to acknowledge that you learned something from it and you will be OK.”

As for the nagging little voice that tauntingly whispers ‘it’s too late for you!’ every time we hear of a fresh-faced entrepreneur striking gold with a start-up? “It is never too late!” maintains Lisa, who adds that our bodies are our best compasses and we should listen intently to them. “Learn to encourage yourself to try something new rather than scare yourself into thinking it is too late.”

Indeed, it pays to remember that many successful people have started a new career late in life (take our very own founder, Lisa Messenger). “I often ask people to check in with themselves and think about what will happen if they don’t change careers: if this fills them with negative emotion and dread then I remind them that they may feel like this for a long time if they don’t do anything about it. Again, it is about trusting yourself, expecting good things to happen and taking this process step by step,” says Lisa, who leaves us with this sage advice.

“Learn to care more about how you feel and do things that feel good. We are not here for a long time but we all have the ability to make it a good time.”


Completely agree
I also think our children are being placed under this pressure
I’ve decided to take a step back and really think about success and its definition and what it means to me


I wonder if some of this pressure comes from having a a frequent stream of information about the state of the world. I feel a lot of pressure to contribute meaningfully to the world’s problems in a way my parents never have. But I’m living in a world of information and global connection that they didn’t. They cared and contributed locally. I sometimes find myself walking around feeling like everything I do (or don’t do) has a responsibility to everyone. Which I recognise intellectually isn’t healthy or realistic but I still find myself doing it!


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