The Struggle for Individuality

As juniors prepare for the college application process, they can begin to question their originality or unique values.

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photo courtesy of Tekedia

Individuality is preached in our schools, but it takes a lot more than diversity quotes and TED Talks to cultivate originality.

Claire Majerac, Staff Writer

A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times showed that humans are more afraid of failure than they are of the supernatural, of spiders, and of being home alone.

On a student level, fear of failure can be a constant. I remember crying for hours the first time I failed an assignment, terrified that colleges would be able to tell when they saw my grades.

In a world where students are trained to be perfect, it’s hard to accept that failure is a part of the learning process. But for a large portion of students, the fear of being average — called koinophobia – is just as prevalent. 

The logic is that if you are average, you have relatively no impact on the world. You are merely a drop in the ocean, just another voice in the crowd.

Since elementary and middle school, we have listened to the narrative that we’re all unique. Now, as students in 11th and 12th grade, we’re beginning to realize that perhaps we aren’t as special as our elementary school teachers may have promised us. 

College applications put high school students through the wringer, essentially asking them, “What makes you special? Why should we pick you?”

After years of being told you’re special and accepting it as the truth, it’s hard to formulate exactly what makes you stand out. And we all know, average kids don’t get into above-average schools. Many students begin to adopt the belief that they must be exceptional or be nothing.

College applications put high school students through the wringer, asking them, ‘What makes you special? Why should we pick you?’”

In an academic sense, this idea certainly seems to ring true. A 2014 study done by the American Psychology Association reported that students’ stress levels during school “far exceeded what they believe to be healthy.” 31% of students report that their school-related stress causes them to be overwhelmed, and 30% claim that stress makes them depressed or sad. Even worse, nearly a fourth of students have said that school-related stress has made them skip a meal.

From a social and extracurricular perspective, there’s almost even more pressure to stand out, and it has consequences far beyond college applications.

I remember that in elementary school I would argue with my mom about getting dressed in the morning. I was resistant toward the outfits she had picked out for me to wear. It wasn’t that the clothes were ugly– I didn’t want to wear them because it wasn’t what the other girls were wearing. I had a fear that I would be socially rejected if I stood out.

I even convinced my mom to go to Justice and buy me a $40 t-shirt that said Love 2 Dance, even though I had never done dance at all.

But now, nonconformity is cool. Individuality is praised in our communities. Celebrities like Harry Styles and JoJo Siwa are popular today because of the way they embrace their true selves.

These people are incredibly courageous, but what about the rest of us? What if we have nothing we can be courageous about? We were so used to that idea of conformity that we’ve forgotten how to be our own person. 

With the rise of social media, it’s hard to be individualistic without feeling like you’re the carbon copy of someone else.

A year ago, the “VSCO girl” stereotype was all the rage. A girl couldn’t wear a scrunchie on her wrist without having people go “sksksksks” at her down the hallway. Even if you didn’t have a big t-shirt on or carry a metal straw with you at all times, you were immediately labeled as that kind of person.

If you’re a girl who plays video games, you’re looking for male attention. If you like certain bands and wear eyeliner, you’re an “e-girl.” If you like reading, you’re trying too hard to be different.

How can we embrace being unique when we’re immediately sorted into one category?

The issue applies to boys as well.

“If you come off too feminine, whether it be through your actions or how you look or dress, guys won’t want to hang out with you or be around you,” junior Edwin Stover said.

For the sake of our own originality, it’s important that we stop caring about what others think of us.  In fact, it will make us happier. People who feel internally validated are statistically more content than those who need constant approval of people around them.

That being said, it’s okay if you haven’t found what makes you stand out yet. Studies have shown that most people recognize their life’s purpose at the age of 60.

While college applications may demand that students define their unique attributes and their personal story, it’s important to remember that you’re more than that application and that your personal journey will continue long after your acceptance letters.