Jake Barron Explains the Pressures That Students and Athletes Sometimes Face

Pressure Pops Balloons

By Jake Barron

My favorite part of birthday parties used to be at the end, when we’d all yank the balloons down and suck the helium dry. For 30 seconds our voices were the funniest things in the world. Maybe we were just experiencing our first highs in our 8 year old bodies and everything was hysterical, but besides the point, it was always the best part of the party. As I grow older, into whatever it is I am now, I question why we loved sucking the helium out of balloons so much. Was it the silly high-pitched resonance we yearned to hear— 

Or was it that power? Being able to steal from that balloon the very thing that made it what it was. The very thing that made it fly. 

I’m Jake Barron, a junior in high school. Student athlete, student leader, social butterfly, academic weapon, and 1000 other name tags people tag on me. I remember I wrote a poem about that once— nametags. It was an okay poem and all, but it wasn’t the words or the rhymes or the technicalities that defined it. It was the helium. The very thing that made it fly. I loved that poem. It was my balloon, filled with a thousand breaths, each breath arising from the deepest parts of my heart, and stretching the rubber: my pencil, so thin I thought it’d snap. It didn’t. 

But I think my friends and my mom had a birthday party without me, because they started sucking helium. A video of my spoken word poetry circulated (no not in a bullying way, it was positive) and found its way to my mom’s phone. Her voice got higher, along with her already elevated ego. Her angel child, yet again, creating another “masterpiece.” 

“Jake got a 100 on this” was the talk at my next family dinner. Awards started to get submitted. Random parents would praise my work. The helium of my poem was sucked dry into the egotistical lungs of my mother, filling her with the power of knowing she could take credit for my successes. She always has. She raised me after all. She took me and crafted me and made sure every mark I ever got was an A. My ears would bleed with the nagging of “how’s your grades” and “I checked Aspen and…” until my drive, my helium, all the blood I had left was emptied and, what originally was my own love and passion, was sucked dry. 

Pressure pops balloons. 

Every day, another kid, another athlete, another student pops. Constant pressure from parents, teachers and coaches (yes, the big three!) can suck the life out of someone. It’s a constant theme in the world for mentors and higher-ups to steal from their pupils. Not physically rob, but figuratively rather. The helium that allows the A student to fly high above the rest or for the elite athlete to soar through the clouds, it’s stolen and sent into the lungs of another. People live to have the power to take from people. Millions of kids are having their character and depth stolen. What was originally them, is taken credit for by a not-so-8 year old at the birthday party of life— and at this party, we know for sure that the kids don’t suck helium for the funny noises. 

What’s really sad to think about is that you don’t even have to be elite to feel pressure come to you. I would say I’m an athlete. I’m a high-level competitor in D2 hockey, so sure, I’m athletic, but I’m no “weapon.” The love of hockey, however, has been something growing within me since I was 5. Every stride I shredded into the ice came with a gasping breath of cold, and each of those exhales was another breath being pumped into my balloon that was hockey. Now, as I sit on bus rides to games, text messages of “you better win” flood in. Kids, talking trash online, expect us to pick up and defend their choices. Pressure is placed on us to win, and the love for actually playing is stolen. The selfish lungs of social media and egos of other East Greenwich athletes steal the helium out of hockey for us, and win or lose, no matter the numbers, the helium is gone. 

I’ll say it again, pressure pops balloons. 

I fly high. I have a strong GPA, I’m athletic, I’m social and have many networks, both with friends and professionally. I’m a balloon in this life, and with every cloud I pass I make sure to pump another breath of helium, because I never know when it might get stolen. Yes, I did just write a whole essay about pressure popping you, but that was a little “soft” of me. No, I don’t resent my parents. I’m not broken inside and resorting to drugs or anything like that. But I recognize what can happen— I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen my valedictorian cousin ditch it all for drugs. I know what pressure entails on people, and it’s an issue facing society now more than ever. 

To avoid it? Thicken your rubber. Don’t let anyone bite your outside and use your helium, the very thing that makes you fly. Keep it for yourself. People’s parents, teachers, and coaches (there’s the 3 again) cause that burden, and it falls on the balloons themselves, the people with that helium, to hold it inside them. We’re weak. People are weak. It’s time to change that. I know what pressure falls on me, but never am I going to let the pressure pop me.  

So yes, pressure pops balloons, but many forget that without pressure, there’s no diamonds. 

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