Apart from Their Achievements
Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic-and What We Can Do About It by Jennifer Breheny Wallace
Portfolio, August 22, 2023
Journalist Jennifer Breheny Wallace’s new book on the dangers of a hyper-competitive adolescence features harrowing vignettes. The student-athlete runs with her eyes closed to compensate for sleep lost to endless studying for an advanced course load. The suburban mom obsessively micromanages her son’s every academic and extracurricular move, cultivating the “spike” that will help him stick out in college admissions, simultaneously alienating the anxious boy. Wallace heartbreakingly paints a picture of exhausted and stressed out Gen Zs and Alphas. A 4.0 GPA isn’t enough, it must be a 4.8. Seven AP courses aren’t enough, it must be 10 APs, and with top scores in all. Varsity athletics aren’t enough, it must be year-round dedication to the sport, from a very early age, with awards, accolades, and a strong social media following. Achievement culture has taught today’s kids that they do not personally matter apart from their achievements. These messages are reinforced, sometimes unknowingly, by well-meaning parents, and certainly by social media and our race-to-the-top culture. Though directed primarily at parents, this book can help educators better understand the motivations and fears of their achievement-oriented families. Chapters detail action plans and resources. Though it may sound like we as a society are past the point of no return, much of Wallace’s book actually reads as a how-to. How to help parents confront grind culture and hyper-competitiveness. How to help kids find value and meaning in themselves and the world around them. And how to unlock a sense of collective belonging in a world seemingly hyper-focused on individual accomplishment at seemingly any cost.