The College Admissions Scandal— How It Explains Why You Never Feel Good Enough

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Did Your Parents Always Go to Bat for You? Their Best Intentions May Have Caused a Big Problem!

The feeling of “not being good enough” is everywhere these days.

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Nobody talks about it—instead they are posting photos on their Insta showing how wonderful they are, how beautiful their life is. We are all guilty of this. Even when we feel like absolute shit our social media says “winning”.

So why do I get calls every day from young adults who are confused and upset that their life isn’t going anything like what they had planned? I think it’s because my generation was afraid to let their kids fail at anything while growing up.

When today’s young adults were kids, they got a ribbon for everything they did. “Participant” ribbons were aimed at uncomfortable parents more than the frustrated kids. Kids know they didn’t do anything particularly great when all they get is a “participant” ribbon. They are not fooled. They didn’t want a ribbon, they wanted to win! Instead of helping our kids process the frustration of not winning, we told them that all that mattered was that they tried. Oh, and here’s your pretty ribbon.

Kids aren’t stupid. They know that just trying isn’t the point. Winning is the point. Otherwise, why bother keeping score?

Here’s what we should have taught our kids:

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°Everybody’s good at something. But everybody isn’t good at everything.

 °If you want to win you have to work really hard. Raw talent will only get you so far.

 °There is a joy in participating, or in being part of a team, whether or not you win.

 °I’m proud of you for trying.

 °Losing is disappointing, sometimes devastating, but it is part of life—and you will survive it.

 °We love you whether you win or not, but we are not going to pretend that your half-assed effort is as good as the kid who practiced for hours every day and therefore had the skill to make that winning goal. When you work like crazy for something, we will be right behind you cheering you on.

When parents make failure impossible, they also suck the joy out of winning.

We feel completely different when we work long hours to accomplish something, from the way we feel when something is handed to us on a silver platter.

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Those kids at Stanford, Yale, USC, UT Austin, and the other schools involved in the college admissions scandal may not know the extent to which their parents went to get them admitted, but you can be sure they know they didn’t earn their admission on their own.

More than that, they know that their parents don’t believe in them.

Those kids know that their parents think that left to their own devices, they are not going to be able to make it in life. They will not be successful, or be happy. They cannot do it on their own without cheating.

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Many years ago, before one had to have an IQ rivaling Einstein’s to get into an Ivy League school, I was admitted to Stanford (but not to the actual Ivy I applied to, Brown University). In high school I was academically at the top, and I had a good CV of extra-curriculars as well. But when I got to Stanford, I was absolutely awestruck by the talent around me. “How did I get in?” I thought. The prospect of attending classes with these geniuses was daunting.

I tried to remember that if I’d been admitted, somebody must have believed I had a right to be there. I tried to hold that thought in my head when I was terrified that I would be the one bringing down the curve in my physics class.

Sometimes the only thing that gets us through something difficult is a very small voice in our head reminding us that someone we care about believes we can do it. Even when we don’t have faith in ourselves, those people—parents, grandparents, favorite teachers, coaches— believe in our ability to figure things out.

What message do we give our kids when we fight their battles for them? What voice do they have in their head when they need it the most?

Here’s what I want my young adult clients to hear when they tune in to the voice in their head:

 “It may not be easy, but I can do it!”

 “I may not be the best, but I will feel good about having tried.”

 “If I don’t succeed, I will survive. I can experience disappointment and frustration without falling apart.”

 “Eventually I will find some things that I am good at, and that will feed my soul.”

 Many of my clients don’t have this voice. When they don’t succeed they are devastated; when they do succeed it feels hollow—and they just don’t know why.

If you feel this way too, you may be a victim of “everyone gets a ribbon” syndrome.

Many of the parents who have been charged in the college admissions scandal have been shown to be breathtakingly devoid of morals. They pay to have their kid’s records falsified, and they pay from their company funds, and then take a tax deduction. It’s a brilliant display of moral turpitude.

In spite of these egregious examples of entitlement, let’s all acknowledge that we have a problem that goes beyond the 50 people who were charged with crimes last week; we have a problem with the way we have been teaching our children about failure and success.

If you’d like to hear about how therapy can help you find the voice that tells you “You can do it!” just give me a call at 323-999-1537, or shoot me an email at, and we will set up your FREE in-office or phone consultation.

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