Success is an insane system.

. . . School metamorphoses the child, giving it the kind of Self the school can manage, and then proceeds to minister to the Self it has made.

—Jules Henry

Jamie Kyra O’Keeffe, Ph.D., studies the shadow side of the culture of success. She conducted a two-year study at one of the world’s top universities, where students shared stories of chronic stress as they struggled to maintain their impeccable images of success. Major research themes included:

  • THE STUDENT STRESS CYCLE:a pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that keep students trapped in a cycle of suffering, including:
    • SHAME: feeling disgrace for anything less than an extraordinary performance
    • COMPARISON: viewing oneself as "better" or "less" than others
    • THE INNER CRITIC: attacking oneself for not being better
    • DUCK SYNDROME: projecting an image of competence and calm above the waterline, while paddling frantically underneath
    • IMPOSTER SYNDROME:fear of being "found out" and excluded

This research documents the personal and social costs that may come with academic achievement. Ultimately, student stress is a sane reaction to an insane system. Students are striving to excel in the heart of American success culture, where the extraordinary gets cast as the norm and the ordinary as shameful. Many students believe they need to be THE TOTAL WINNER, the mythical hero figure who can "do it all" with grace and ease.

This work holds the potential to inspire a major shift in how we learn and work. Rather than training our young to compete and outperform one another, we can cultivate a culture of radical choice and compassion instead.