If you’re not a child of the 80s, chances are you have no idea who Stretch Armstrong is. (That’s a real pity, as it means you missed some seriously cheesy – and therefore wonderful – television commercials that I remember fondly. Quirky taglines, over-the-top acting and a very enthusiastic announcer – what more could you want?!)
In a nutshell, the entire appeal of the Stretch Armstrong doll (sorry, gentlemen – “action figure”) was that he was made of gel and therefore had incredible stretch so that his body could be pulled and shaped in a myriad of ways. He could go from his in-the-package height of about 15 inches to as tall as four or five feet if you pulled him that far and could be tied into a series of intricate knots if you were so inclined.
(What can I say? It was a simpler time and we were amused by simpler things.)
I bring up Stretch Armstrong today because lately I’ve encountered a lot of students who seem to be out to give him a run for his over-extended money. No, I’m not working with yogis who can twist and pull themselves into crazy positions physically (though that would be cool – contact me, yogis!), but instead I’ve begun to encounter students who seem to stretch themselves beyond feasible limits when it comes to their extracurricular activities. And while seizing great opportunities that come your way is never a bad thing, there comes a point where you’re doing too much, aiming for a standard that’s too high, and your life is no longer stretched but instead is over-extended to the point of breaking.
How do you know if this is you?
If you ride every day except during the winter months when you play basketball, participate in your school’s Model UN, are an after school tutor for a few kids in chemistry, and take part in an annual mission trip with your church, you’re most definitely stretched, but you’re not necessarily overdoing it. There’s a season for each activity, enough hours in the day, and you would probably be bored if you didn’t keep a fast-paced schedule.
If, however, you’re pursuing a career in the Big Eq (including competitions at all of the major indoor shows in the fall and a heavy Florida schedule over the winter that requires carefully-scheduled commutes from your home up north) and you’re captain of the school soccer team and your course schedule is crammed with AP classes and you’re in charge of the school’s winter food drive for the local homeless shelter and you’re chair of the prom committee, you might be approaching the breaking point.
But Randi – I want to get into a highly selective college, ride on a top varsity team, and seize every amazing opportunity that comes my way! How else will I make that happen if I don’t go for the gold?
First and foremost, take a page from one of my earlier blog posts and be still for a moment. Ask yourself this one very important question and answer honestly: Am I having fun doing all of these things? And: Do I think I’m giving 100% effort in all areas that are truly important to me?
If the answer to one or both questions is yes – yes, you’re having fun and yes, you believe that you’re giving 100% and don’t want to change anything about your busy schedule – then by all means, continue to stretch and save your slow down for college when you’ll want to focus on specific academic areas and a few favorite extracurricular activities.
But if you constantly feel stressed and wish you could slow down, it may be time to re-evaluate your commitments. Every year I work with a handful of students who have dedicated themselves so fully to their riding careers that when they sit down and examine what they want their college years to look like, they can’t even stomach the thought of horses being a part of it. They’re burned out – and their stress level rises even more when they realize what they’ll give up if they quit riding because deep down, they still really love horses and the sport. It’s a Catch-22 that has caught up many a young rider, so every year I talk with these students and their parents about what their options are as they move forward. In many cases, the solution is to take a brief break from riding or reduce the number of horse shows they attend. In other cases, it means restructuring the college search to focus primarily on schools with a social aspect to their equestrian clubs and less emphasis on competition so that the student can continue to participate but at a lower-stress level.
(Shameless plug time, readers – No matter what sport or extracurricular passion your student pursues, if you’re going to engage an educational consultant or recruiting firm who specializes in that area to assist with the college process, make sure that the consultant or firm holds membership to the IECA and/or HECA. We members of these two professional organizations are experts in all aspects of the college search and are qualified to work with your student regardless of how their interests may shift or change during the course of junior and senior years. Beware consultants who focus solely on the recruitment element(s) of a particular sport and lack traditional college guidance experience so that you can work consistently with one person throughout the entire college process and know that their primary interest is in securing the correct college placement for students, regardless of extracurricular interests. End of plug.)
Of course, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to how much you should extend and commit yourself to your riding or your other favorite activities; what works for you probably won’t work for someone else and what works for them may seem like too much (or too little) for you. The most important thing is that you enjoy what you’re doing and that you feel stretched but not close to snapping.
(After all, unlike Stretch Armstrong, you don’t come with your own handy dandy repair kit.)