Be ambitious but authentic

Kekeli Agbozo
9 min read

Panting you woke up in a pool of sweat, airpods under the bed, phone brightness on 100% with a college acceptance video playing. You just had a dreadful nightmare. What did you dream about? Rejection from Ivy Leagues. You know you haven’t even started applying for any yet right?

Monday morning your friends say “Woah you look different today ?” You reply “Really? I don't think so”. Little do they know you threw out all your shorts and lip-gloss and decided to tie your hair in two ponytails, Why? because Mrs Rodgers would love that. That's what Josephine did last year and she is the head girl. Your steady descent into sycophancy (essentially becoming a flatterer)

You’re the best saxophone player, you've won countless gold medals in swimming, basketball and hockey. You’re a member of 3 clubs and president of 4 more. Don't forget you have an Economics Olympiad at 2 pm tomorrow! Your friends tell you to slow down but you brush them off thinking. “They don't know what's at stake here, they'll never know?” All they can do is pray for you as they watch your steady descent into utter insanity.

“Joyce, don't forget to buy your sister a cake on your way home”. The text from your mum pops up at the top of your screen. You’re 4 minutes away from your front gate and you just remembered it's your sister's birthday.

Stop. Slow down. Take a breath. Then a deep one. Then allow a yawn. A more substantial yawn. Now lie down. Ease your tensed muscles. Close your eyes. Sleep.

(Star Sleep & Wellness)

You're not alone. This is the plight of many students, especially ambitious, intelligent IB students like you. Across the world expectation, pressure and aspirations form a deadly cocktail of constant chasing. Doing as many extracurriculars as you can get your hands on just to tick them off the box, boxes that in your mind stack up and form a ladder to undergraduate bliss.

According to the CDC, among high school students, 72.7% reported insufficient sleep, with about 20% reporting sleeping fewer than 6 hours a night. Though this study was done in the United States, you are not oblivious to the fact. During the school year the question of “How to get 6 hours of sleep in a night" sounds like a mission for one of Agatha Christie’s detectives. 8 hours?! They are not solving that, not in one book at least.

Steven Zauderer of Cross River Therapy points out these astonishing statistics: 45% of students in high school admit to being stressed almost every day in school. 61% of teenagers between ages 13 and 17 feel stress over producing satisfactory grades.

Effects of inauthenticity

Trying to win other people's approval and stretching yourself beyond what you can handle leads to stress.

The issue of stress is of great prevalence. Not only your mental health but your physical health can be affected too. Before you can embark on the journey of conquering your stress you need to know how to identify it. When stressed, you might feel irritable, angry, impatient, or wound up. Increased Nerves and anxiety are part of the package. Your thoughts begin to race and are hard to switch off. You might feel depressed, lose your sense of humour, experience a sense of dread, or feel worried and tense. My sense of humour is a coping mechanism as far as I’m concerned if I lose that I’ve lost everything.

(The Fields Pretoria)

What are the Major Causes of Student Stress (The Fields Pretoria)

Stress can also manifest physically due to the hormones our bodies produce in response to stressful situations. “Physical signs of stress include difficulty breathing, panic attacks, blurred eyesight or sore eyes, sleep problems, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, chest pains, and high blood pressure. Yeah, I apologise but there's more: Indigestion, heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, dizziness, sudden weight changes, rashes, itchy skin, sweating, and changes to your menstrual cycle are also common.” (Mind)

Finding yourself and curing stress

Your “Sad” playlist on Spotify can only do so much. Managing and reducing stress involves a combination of lifestyle changes, mindfulness practices, and sometimes professional help.

Establishing a regular sleep routine is crucial, don't be like those in the statistics.

Healthy eating, including a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, helps the body manage stress. Social support from friends, family, or support groups provides a sense of belonging and an outlet for worries. I know you find it hard to acknowledge but professional help from counsellors or therapists offers tailored strategies and tools for stress management.

Balanced days vs Balanced meals (Nutraingredients

Maintaining sanity and mental health while in high school doesn't have to be fiction and burnout and stress non-fiction. There is a need to create a balance. You wouldn’t feel like you're in school if you're sleeping all day every day, you would accomplish nothing if deadlines didn't exist.

Effective time management, task prioritisation, and engaging in enjoyable hobbies can prevent overwhelm and reduce stress. Stop taking up so many tasks and extracurricular activities you know you can't handle. Don't be a people pleaser, relax and do what you enjoy.

You should wake up in the morning in a frenzy to go do your favourite sport. Exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural stress relievers, and can significantly improve mood. Exercise or play a sport simply to have some fun and not for your college applications. Be intentional in prioritising your well-being.

An artistic endeavour whether it be playing an instrument, singing, dancing, painting, photography etc and give your all into that. Construct or build a string of quality events participated in and accomplishments in those particular areas.

Do your advocacy work, participate in the olympiads’ and the Model UN’s but space all these out so your goals are attainable, space it out so you don't experience burnout, space it out so you have time to celebrate your achievements.


Finally, learning to say no and setting boundaries is essential. Taking on too much can lead to burnout and stress as we have explored, so it's important to recognize your limits and permit yourself to decline additional responsibilities. Implementing these strategies can create a comprehensive approach to managing and curing stress. Finding your true interests and having a real holistic IB experience. Remember, being ambitious is important, but so is being authentic. By finding your true interests and maintaining a balance, you'll not only achieve your goals but also enjoy the journey. Take care of yourself, and your dream college will recognize the true, unique you.



American Physical Therapy Association. “CDC: Most Middle and High School Students Don’t Get Enough Sleep.” American Physical Therapy Association, 29 Jan. 2018,

Berman, Jillian, and Marketwatch. “Black New Yorkers with a College Degree Earn $21,900 Less a Year than Their White Counterparts.” New York Post, 5 Aug. 2020,

Bloom, Brianna. “Sleep Positions: Pros & Cons of Each Position.” Sleep Dallas Blog, 1 Feb. 2021,

Mind. “Signs and Symptoms of Stress.” Mind, Mar. 2022, “Balanced Days vs Balanced Meals: The New Way to Diet?”,

The Fields Pretoria. “What Are the Major Causes of Student Stress.” The Fields Pretoria, 12 Apr. 2021,

Zauderer, Steven. “47 Student Stress Statistics (High School/College).”, 11 Jan. 2023, Stress Statistics-.