How to cure Duck Syndrome before you drown

Photo Credit: Talha Qadir

When most of us join university, we are laden with immense pressure from society, including our family, friends, the economy, and even ourselves, with expectations of whom we ought to become. As capitalism would have it, these expectations tend to be charged with ideas of coming out ‘on top.’

So what does a ‘good’ student trying to cope with this pressure do? In the words of Madagascar’s Skipper the Penguin, “just smile and wave, boys [and girls]. Smile and wave.” The extent to which a lot of us go to keep up appearances of intelligence and control however, can prove to be quite unhealthy and regressive.

In line with the theme of birds and coping mechanisms, Stanford University coined the term ‘Duck Syndrome’ to describe how students put up positive appearances while undergoing a whirlpool of stress, anxiety, and in many cases, depression, underneath. The idea stems from how ducks appear to float seamlessly on water, while their feet work tirelessly under the surface to maintain constant motion.

This almost perfectly describes a majority of the university experience, further exemplified by the various posts on pages like the Facebook page SFU Confessions.

I remember beginning my business undergrad at a transfer college and thinking, “this is what ‘serious people’ who want to make ‘real money’ do!” I then went on with business courses for almost two years before finally realizing how much misery and regret I had built up. Moreover, I insisted, rather than reconsidering my decision, on maintaining the outward appearance of confidence, in an attempt to project what a good student I was.

I was distraught, worried, and confused most of the time, and did not take the opportunity to realize that trying to keep up an appearance was robbing me of an actual education. I felt like I had made the worst decision ever, but couldn’t quit because of my commitment to the title ‘businessman.’

Eventually, however, I realised what an injustice to myself it was to suffer in silence and not take action. With some reflection and consideration, I switched majors to Communication while still maintaining a minor in Business. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with my decision! To a great extent, I relieved myself of an imaginary and ill-fitting standard that was holding me back.

With the competitive nature of everything these days, it comes as no surprise that many of us are committed to things we do not intrinsically believe in. Many of us try at all costs to appear as though we have it all together, in an attempt to stay in an unhealthy game.

I believe that taking time to reflect on one’s personal needs before considering what society expects from you is far more valuable. Without sounding too much like yet another ‘do what you love’ advocate, I simply urge everyone to make healthier decisions and seek help when you can. Don’t be afraid of change when you have the ability to do so, especially if it is for the better.

We are never alone in our struggles. Most of the people we walk by each day probably feel  or have felt the same way we do, but simply refuse to show it. Do not let this fool you into sustaining bad situations, but make active choices to change things for the better.