Stressed out? Trying to juggle school, extracurricular activities, a part-time job and a social life? Wondering how you can find time to be class president, a varsity lacrosse player, and still score 1,400 on your SATs?
Welcome to the land of teen-age overload. For high-achieving teens who are not content with the concept of free time, high school can be a real pressure cooker.
Sure, they make it all look easy, running from the school theater to the baseball field, but how do they really feel? How do high achievers manage the pressures they face on a daily basis without feeling overloaded?
Melissa Cavagnaro, 17, a senior at Williamsville North High School, is a self-proclaimed schedule-maker.
"When I'm really busy, I make schedules hourly," she admits with a laugh. "I have an agenda planner that I carry everywhere. I think, OK, I have 15 minutes to do an errand, a one-hour club meeting and 10 minutes to pick up my friend.
"People look at me all the tome and tell me to slow down, but I like to be kept busy. I go nuts when I get bored."
Melissa's list of extracurricular activities is breathtaking. An honor student, she was inducted in her junior year into the National Honor Society. She has been on the Student Council all four years of high school and has been a Scholar Athlete in gymnastics and lacrosse.
In DECA, the business club for students, she placed first last year in New York State in Apparel and Accessories and competed in Nationals. Melissa has also been a peer educator at the middle school level, a member of Steering Committee and a volunteer for Amherst Youth Engaged in Service and Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped. Next year, she will attend Alfred University on an academic scholarship.
Organization and self-motivation keep Melissa from feeling overwhelmed. "I guess you could describe me as self-motivated," she says. "I've always had goals, and I never wanted to feel any regrets about things I wished I had done. I've been very busy, but I've enjoyed every minute.
"I'm an organized person. I set my priorities, and I know how much time I have to do things. But I also know my limits. My family has always emphasized to me that school comes first. Everything else comes second."
Last year, Melissa had a part-time job that was interfering with school. She quit and was able to find a different job with better hours and more flexibility.
'Going a little crazy'
Sometimes even the best organizational skills can't beat stress. "Sometimes I do find myself going a little crazy with too much to handle," admits Melissa. "This fall, during homecoming, I had to do the Senior Dance, gymnastics and get ready for the crowning of King and Queen. Well, when they called my name for King and Queen, I wasn't there! I was still in the bathroom getting changed.
"Now I can laugh about it, but at the time I felt totally stressed out."
Teens who are high achievers must learn the art of time management in order to prevent overload. They must also learn to set priorities without regret, and to delegate responsibility when they hold positions of leadership.
Amy Packard, 18, also a senior at Williamsville North, has become pragmatic about the choices she has had to make in the past two years.
"I would be happy if a typical day was 36 hours," she says with a smile. "I don't have free time, and that's the way I like it. I need to be constantly going. If I didn't, it just wouldn't be me! I guess I work best when under pressure.
"This year I'm the sports editor far the yearbook, and deadlines don't bother me. I've also been a peer educator -- I go to the middle school and organize informational sessions about high school. Over the summer I was an intern for Channel 4, and I got used to working with lots of deadlines. I worked from 3:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., and loved every minute of it!
"Last year, it came down to keeping my job at the mall or keeping my dance classes (tap, jazz and ballet). I realized that I couldn't do both, and I had to make a difficult choice. I loved dance, but I also liked earning my own spending money and feeling independent. I decided to give up dance for a while, and even though I miss it, I don't regret my decision. Life is full of choices."
How does Amy handle stress? "I like to listen to music, and believe it or not, I like to color! Both relax me. I also talk to my mom. She's good at getting me to calm down."
A miracle baby
Though Amy has been active in many high school activities -- she has served as sophomore class historian, junior class secretary and senior class fund-raising vice president -- she has made academics her first priority, and will graduate 23rd in her class of 320 students. She believes her hard work has paid off, after receiving two awards from the Williamsville North faculty that honor strong academic skills and leadership qualities.
"I've taken advantage of everything high school has to offer," she says. "It's the way I've been brought up to believe that if you want to do something you can.
"In a way, my life has been a challenge from the beginning," she explains. "I'm what you might call a miracle baby. I was deprived of oxygen at birth and was not expected to develop normally, but I beat the odds. Knowing that helped shape the person I am. I value life in a different way."
Some teens who are high achievers channel their energies into one main activity that makes great demands on their time. Sixteen-year-old Matt Haefner, a sophomore at Amherst High School, is the varsity soccer goalie. He is also the goalie for last year's winner of the New York State Championship soccer team.
"Being bored isn't me. I like to be kept busy," says Matt, an honors student. "It actually helps me organize my time because I know exactly how much time I have to do something.
"Being a goalie, I'm used to being under pressure. It just doesn't bother me. I'm part of a team, and if I let in a goal, my team is there for me. I just try to do better next time."
Last year, with soccer taking up more of his time, Matt had to choose between baseball and soccer. "I was really stressed out," he remembers. "There were sometimes conflicting games, and I couldn't do both sports to the best of my ability, so I had to choose. It made more sense to focus on soccer, since I play it all year round and hope to get a soccer scholarship to college. Now I'm working with a special goalie coach, and it's helping my technique. For me, soccer is a way of life.
"Even though I miss baseball, I think I made the right decision," Matt says.
Matt keeps organized, and when stress does set in, he plays to his strengths. "I try to take things on a day-to-day basis. My mom is always there to make sure I'm organized. I try to use my study halls to get some homework done, especially on Mondays and Wednesdays when I have practice.
"When I feel especially pressured, I usually play my drums and beat out my aggressions. I also see my friends. They help me to relax and put things in perspective."
Melissa, Amy and Matt agree that today's teens face more pressure to excel and stand out in a crowd. As Melissa puts it: "Everything is competitive. It's harder to get into good colleges, and teachers place greater demands on you. Those students who can't excel are invisible. They get lost in the shuffle.
"I never wanted to be one of those invisible students. I wanted to stand out."
Amy agrees. "I like being a leader. I feel I am here for some reason, to make a difference. I will put everything into life that I can!"
TIPS TO AVOID OVERLOAD:
Have realistic expectations of yourself and your friends.
Learn to delegate duties and share responsibilities.
Find a balance in your life. Leave time for things you enjoy.
Have a plan. Be organized. Don't procrastinate.
Enjoy your accomplishments and try to realize how productive you've been.
If you're feeling pressured or stressed out, talk to a parent, teacher or trusted friend to give you a new perspective on things.