Guest Post by Dr. Carol Langlois: The Duck Syndrome

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Recently, I learned about the duck syndrome from a friend of mine at Stanford University. The duck syndrome is apparently running rampant at many colleges, within the home as well as in corporate America.  What is the duck syndrome? Well, think of the duck gliding along the water. S/he looks very serene, calm and pleasant. Then, look under the water and s/he is paddling frantically. That is the duck syndrome. Too many of us on the outside are appearing calm, cool and collected while on the inside we are completely stressed out.  As women, we want to see ourselves being able to have it all.  To be the great athlete, mom, partner and business women, but what price do we pay?  Proving we can do it all has transformed into an ugly state of unattainable expectations and extremes, which are unhealthy for females at any age. This is a recipe for disaster that really goes against what feminism truly stands for.


I believe high school is where this syndrome starts to formulate for women. Many of the girls that suffer from the duck syndrome in college were probably “big fish in small pond” at their high school. Most teens want to be popular, and to be popular means that you can do it all– grades, sports, and friends. When they get to college, which could have 12 to 20,000 students, being big fish is not so easy anymore so the stakes get higher.  During college, the classes (typically) are more difficult with more homework, papers and tests so there’s more competition and pressure for top grades.  All this can lead to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy life forming habits. However, no one seems to know how to get off the hamster wheel.  If we are continually admired or praised for taking too much on then naturally the duck syndrome will follow us into our corporate lives and motherhood.


For many of us, I think we see Sheryl Sandberg as a woman who “has it all”– brains, beauty, family and career. In her interview with the New Yorker from July 2011, she talks about the challenges that women face today within corporate America and specifically with having the right opportunities to rise to the top.  Women have to do more and be more at the office to be seen as equals.  Why is that the case?  When discussing the home, she states, “make sure your partner is a real partner” since women do two-thirds of the housework and three-fourths of the child care. She said, “the No. 1 impediment to women succeeding in the workforce is now in the home. . . . Most people “assume” that women are responsible for the household and child care and that fundamental assumption holds women back.”  With too much pressure to handle it all, many women leave the workforce after having children. There seems to be no balance, just an all or none mentality that many of us have prescribed to since high school. Sadly, we perpetuate the duck syndrome as adults and teach our children the same by example. We need to break the cycle by teaching/mentoring the next generation of teen girls that setting limits for themselves never means failure, but in fact it means a healthy and happy life with realistic and attainable goals. Paddling frantically and spreading ourselves too thin is literally for the birds.

Dr Carol is a former University Associate Provost and Dean, trained therapist, researcher, and soon to be author. She is working on her first book called Girrl Up! which is a compilation of interviews with teen girls on the topic of self-esteem.

Presently, she hosts a blog ( to offer practical advise and guidance on self-esteem issues for parents and teens. She also tweets articles, tips and resources under the name SelfEsteemDean

3 Comments… add one
Isidra January 20, 2012, 3:35 pm

Hello, thanks you for article really good!

Kirsten Uttam March 1, 2012, 4:14 pm

Great article and I love the duck analogy!

This challenge is huge because we are constantly bombarded with media stories of those who are “successful” instead of taking the time to reflect on what success means to us personally. What gives? There are tons of trade offs in life and daily! It helps to set our own bar to hurdle and raise our kids to set their own goals too (instead of their parents) and celebrating them. It also helps to turn off the media messages – magazines, TV, etc to the degree that they bring you down instead of up. It’s great to be inspired by others so it’s a balance.

It’s also solved by ending the comparing ourselves to others sickness – easier said than done! If Cheryl can do it, what’s wrong with me!? Alas, luck plays a huge part in most awesome situations and so when you end up in that lucky seat it’s great to share your wisdom, gratitude and success with others as a gift back!

carol langlois March 12, 2012, 1:35 pm

Thanks ladies– Im glad you enjoyed it!

Dr Carol

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