Living in the Shadow of Parents' Success

Like many UCSD students, I suffer from overly successful parent syndrome. In a sense, some would think I have the perfect life. My parents, though divorced, have taken care of me nicely. They have provided me with love, shelter, food and even dealt with my conspicuous consumption phase during high school and junior high. And even though their marriage didn’t last, my college fund did. I am going to college on Mommy and Daddy’s money.

Yet somehow the spark of life isn’t within me — the spark that most young adults my age seem to have, to go out and get that first paycheck, to settle down, have a family. My parents outdid their parents economically. It depresses me that I will have to be way more successful to even come close to their proportionate economic success. Economists have been saying for years now that the Pepsi Generation will be the first one to earn less than its parents.

The work ethic my parents have is extremely intimidating. My mom graduated from UC Davis in three years. She has been working since age 14 and has been working full-time for the state since the age of 20. She has steadily moved up the ladder in various personnel departments of state agencies, and at 49 is looking to retire in a few years.

My dad did relatively the same. He said he started working when he was eight, no joke. He is now 62 and getting ready to retire after more than 35 years of being an engineer for the state. And I haven’t even mentioned my stepmom or stepdad yet.

I cannot fully explain the type of cloud that seems to surround me every time I begin to think about my future. At times, I will be in a state of euphoria, totally at ease with life and my academic progress. And then I think, I’m a piece of crap. I haven’t worked for anything all my life. I’ve had three summer jobs, all paying near minimum wage. My parents have been supporting themselves since before they were out of high school. They paid for all of their schooling in college. No matter what I do, how can I compare to Mom or Dad?

I don’t look at grad school as an option. I look at it as a requirement. It’s the only thing I could do to separate from my parents.

I’d like to name this feeling “”overly successful parent syndrome.”” I’m sure it’ll be rearing its ugly head on psychiatrist couches across the nation soon. It’s hard to really describe the symptoms I deal with.

Pangs of helplessness, worthlessness, feeling lost. Sometimes I wonder why I’m here. I feel guilty for not having to pay for college. I think if I was paying for college, I don’t think I would have this self-formulated syndrome.

Lately I’ve been considering triple-majoring. “”Why?”” you might ask. No sane person with a social life does that. I think it’s yet another thing that would elevate my academic success above my parents’.

My parents are not the only thing that have created this syndrome inside of me, although they are a large part of it. Much of it is our society itself.

I know it’s trite, but America is one big rat race. I’m scared of getting caught in it. I feel like my parents did. My dad has told me that becoming an engineer was not his ideal occupation, but it provided stability. While I was growing up he would spend his nights reading about the civil war and Parisian art.

My dad sacrificed his life, in a sense, to provide security for me. I feel extremely guilty about that. I would rather reverse time and tell my dad to seek happiness, not stability. I don’t care if we wouldn’t be as well off. Dad got stuck in the rat race, and I think he regrets it.

Americans are naturally competitive. The growing global market and financial opportunities have transformed healthy competition into greed-motivated education. I think this has permeated into the college setting. In the ’60s and ’70s, college students were “”making a difference.””

They were standing up for people who could not stand up for themselves. It seems as if UCSD students, especially in the sciences, are more set on crushing the competition for their own gain by curving the midterm, or checking out those books a month ahead just to spite the other students, rather than helping out that freshman at OASIS.

I’m feeling a whole spectrum of emotions, and I’m sure I am not the only one. I’m scared of falling into the trap of conspicuous consumption that the media have set for us. I’m scared of disappointing my parents. I’m scared of getting a job out of college and hating it. I hope there will soon be a time in my life when there will be less fear and more excitement for the future. And I hope someone actually reads this article and relates to it instead of making a mental note to avoid the person named Valerie Burns in the future.