While on my way to a meeting for the youth leadership group I work with, I heard the beginning’s of Fresh Air, and what sounded like an interesting interview that I wasn’t going to catch. Terry Gross was interviewing Margaret Talbot, of The New Yorker about her article in this week’s edition: Brain Gain: The Underground World of Neuroenhancing Drugs.
I thought to myself, “Wow, great! I can’t wait to read that article!” Ideas of making copies and distributing it to the teens that I work with, telling them that they can’t be everything to everyone, it’s unhealthy, etc., danced through my head.
And then I actually read the article.
I wouldn’t say Ms. Talbot is promoting the use of neuroenhancers, per se. Rather, the presentation was not what I expected it to be. It seems, short term, the use of these drugs – “smart pills,” as people like to call them – is not inherently harmful. Sure, you may not be able to sleep well, and they may make you feel jittery, but it sounds like the side effects mirror that of one who drinks too much coffee. However, the upside is that you also get a concentration boost.
Of course, doing this sort of thing is about as healthy as doping – not physically, that is, but mentally unhealthy. Doing things to your body (or your mind) to push it past its limits will only raise expectations for you, and everyone else around you. In this CrackBerry culture, the last thing we need is more touting of the so-called Protestant Work Ethic.
Liz Funk details this syndrome (which, despite what this article denotes, tends to plague young women far more) in her new book, Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls. Indeed, women do feel the need to be everything to everybody at all times. When Second Wave Feminism hit with the mantra that women could do anything they wanted, they forgot to tell them that they couldn’t do everything.
Whether you identify as a Supergirl or as an above-average slacker that doesn’t want to give up his (or her) partying ways (but still wants decent grades), the use of neuroenhancers suggests that perhaps these goals can be achieved, and with little negative side effects! How much easier it will be, to pop a pill rather than acquire a taste for black coffee! I admit, as an overachiever myself, I found myself curious to see how well these pills work. However, at the same time, this is the girl who vocally boycotted the AP program because I thought it was wasteful, expensive, and encouraged young people to bend over backwards to get the perfect grade on a test, rather than actually learn and enrich themselves in college.
In other words, if you’re trying to cram in every last little thing, and having to take drugs in order to do so, how successful will you be at those tasks? Are you learning, growing, enjoying these things at that point? Has the lifestyle you’ve chosen come with a steeper price than just feeling a tad bit jittery now and again?
I say yes. People should strive to give 110 percent in the things that mean the most to them, but doing so means perhaps not doing everything they possibly can, but rather choosing what makes them the happiest and most fulfilled. And, more imporantly, the more people who strive for this “competitive edge”, the more these unrealistic expectations are forced onto the rest of society, many of whom realize the true value of quality of life.