July 27, 2015

Highly Recommended: A recipe for Unhappy Pre-Meds

Rob Humbracht

Highly recommended article: Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection

Here's a great way to make yourself unhappy: spend a lot of time comparing yourself to other pre-meds. I'm not talking about the real versions of these pre-meds, as in who they actually are.  I'm talking about the glorified versions that these students present on social media and online.

On the one hand, I understand where you're coming from.  There are limited spots in medical school, and without a sense of where the competition stands, how will you know your own chances?

The problem, of course, is that most human beings don't go around talking about their flaws.  Instead, we see brilliant, hard-working people around us, and we assume that we can't stack up.

A moving piece in the New York Times yesterday showed how these social comparisons, when taken to the extreme, can lead to a dark place. The entire piece is highly recommended, but this particular section, I think, shows why so many pre-meds are making themselves unhappy:

The existential question “Why am I here?” is usually followed by the equally confounding “How am I doing?” In 1954, the social psychologist Leon Festinger put forward the social comparison theory, which posits that we try to determine our worth based on how we stack up against others.

In the era of social media, such comparisons take place on a screen with carefully curated depictions that don’t provide the full picture. Mobile devices escalate the comparisons from occasional to nearly constant.

Gregory T. Eells, director of counseling and psychological services at Cornell University, believes social media is a huge contributor to the misperception among students that peers aren’t also struggling. When students remark during a counseling session that everyone else on campus looks happy, he tells them: “I walk around and think, ‘That one’s gone to the hospital. That person has an eating disorder. That student just went on antidepressants.’ As a therapist, I know that nobody is as happy or as grown-up as they seem on the outside.”

So the next time you see another pre-med, don't think about how amazing they are.  Know that on the inside, they're struggling just like you.

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