These days it feels like I’m hardly doing enough. School, work, extracurriculars, internships, even juggling friends, family and romantic interests — no matter how much I add to my plate, I can’t shake the feeling of needing to do more.
I know I’m not alone in my sentiments, which, on one hand, is comforting, but also extremely frustrating. We’re stuck in a rat race and told it’s the pursuit of happiness.
The phrase comes from how rats act in a maze: racing against each other to reach a destination without a clear purpose. It’s a competitive, exhausting and arguably a pointless way of life. A seemingly never-ending chase for success, a cycle of working long hours, attempting to attain financial stability while still upholding societal expectations.
All of this without gaining much satisfaction or fulfillment.
In the context of college, the rat race can be seen in terms of academic competition, career pressures and, of course, the climb to success. As students, we find ourselves running this race where the goal of top grades or securing an internship, let alone a job, comes above all else. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be a top priority — they definitely should — but do mental health, personal development and happiness need to be sacrificed for the finish line?
The emphasis placed on success creates an environment where it can only be defined by academic performance, pushing students to compete against each other. Moreover, the pressure to enter a career that promises financial stability can take focus away from lower-paying personal passions.
Education becomes entangled in economic security rather than a journey of self-discovery. Being busy is now a status symbol. The more someone has on their plate, the more we praise them. This shouldn’t be the case. The cycle of busyness only adds to the stress and intensifies the rat race, taking away from how important balance, well-being and mental health are.
Imposter syndrome only perpetuates these concepts. The constant feeling of not being good enough or deserving of success despite achieving incredibly impressive feats forces us to keep going in these circles. It often leads to burnout and a sense of inadequacy when it should be reinforcing pride in all the hard work paying off.
The weight of imposter syndrome not only amplifies the already intense pressures but also skews our perception of personal accomplishments. Instead of celebrating achievements, we constantly doubt our abilities and attribute the success to luck or other external factors.
The irony lies in the contrast between the narrative of the pursuit of happiness and the experience of the rat race. In reality, it's not even the individual's fault, but a societal structure that fails to promote a holistic view of success — a view that encompasses not just career achievements, but well-being, happiness and fulfillment.
Breaking out of this cycle is as simple as a shift in perspective. An acknowledgment that success is not a one-size-fits-all concept and contentment and mental health should not be compromised during the chase for success.
We must reassess what truly matters and understand that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is necessary in order to escape the cycle. Find contentment in the journey, instead of only fixating on the destination.
It's crucial to understand imposter syndrome isn’t an accurate reflection of our capabilities or the reality of our accomplishments. It’s so important to remind ourselves of the effort we've invested and to give ourselves credit for what we've achieved.
It's not just an individual struggle, and when we talk openly about these feelings, we make it a normal conversation. Sharing these concerns helps everyone realize they're not alone. This support allows us to feel better about our achievements and accept a more positive view of ourselves.
Recognizing how the rat race and imposter syndrome affect us is the first step toward breaking the cycle and feeling more confident. We need to acknowledge our accomplishments, trust in our abilities and believe in ourselves. Doing so helps us detach from self-doubt and guides us toward a more content and self-assured headspace.
It’s time to gain an ego! When everyone is applauding you — take that bow.
Mia Orris is a UF psychology junior