I’m a licensed therapist, and I have a problem with the way our society treats teenagers.

I’ve worked with teenagers who can juggle more in 24 hours than functioning adults can juggle in 24 days. We’re talking rigorous advanced placement course loads, varsity sports, community service, music lessons, and (gasp) socializing with their peers.

They are multitasking and multidisciplinary machines. They have dreams, higher dreams than most generations before them, and anything less than perfection tends to be unacceptable and even laughable.

It’s no wonder that most of them are painfully anxious, and that most of them are painfully insecure and terrified.

I once bought into the dream school fallacy, too. I once wanted to get into the fancy, prestigious university with the fancy, prestigious price tag. I had the high grades. I belonged to the high-achieving honor society. I did well enough in sports, though I never did music. I was Harvard or Yale-bound, and anything lower than that seemed like settling.

In essence, I was sixteen going on thirty-two, a miniature woman who thought I was somehow an adult. I was as grandiose as I was naive, and I believed that the college I went to somehow defined the person I could be.

It was an identity issue, but all teenagers have those, don’t they?

In the end, life happened, as it typically does, and I went to a mid-tier state school. The world didn’t shatter, and I didn’t fall apart, either. In fact, I graduated without student loan debt and finished a year early. I majored in psychology and went on to graduate school.

I stopped letting school define me. It meant shedding some of my precious ego (and I had a big one), and it meant humbling myself, which I believe all of us can benefit from doing.

Today, I still have a life beyond my wildest imagination. I have a husband I adore, a home that I love, and a career that I enjoy going to every day. I have a life of abundance, and it has nothing to do with the school I went to or the labels I carried.

I’m tired of the dream school fallacy. There’s nothing wrong with prestigious universities, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with striving for high success or ambition.

What is wrong? Selling a pipe dream to people who may not be old enough to really make the decisions that can impact them for the rest of their lives. Acting as if college is the single defining factor in life success. Putting tremendous pressure on our children to be perfect in a world that can and never will be perfect. That’s what’s wrong.

I work in mental health. I see anxiety and depression and insecurity all day long, session after session, and I see the human condition in its rarest form.

Dreams are great, but if they cost you your self-esteem and if they cost you your mental sanity (which has been the case for too many of my teenage clients), are they really worth that cost?

Author's Bio: 

Nicole is a freelance writer and expert in mental health and psychotherapy.