So you’re fresh out of high school, dripping with the many laurels of graduation. I’m guessing you’re a bit of an “overachiever.” That word is in quotation marks because, to you, achievements can never be in surplus. You probably maintained an excellent GPA; maybe you were even the valedictorian. Your resume is heavy with titles and awards pinned beneath each of your numerous activities and volunteer opportunities. You could say your life is more or less together. I bet you even floss regularly.
Then college rolls around and you realize that your new school is just lousy with overachievers trying to out-achieve one another and suddenly your “classmates” become “competitors” and you’ve been swept into a high stakes ranking system within which the highest scorer of arbitrary achievement points “wins.”
It’s easy to feel behind or even wholly inferior in a college environment, but it’s important not to get bogged down by perceived inadequacies. Here are some steps you can take to get out of this rut and back into a constructive state of mind.
Truth #1: There will always be someone better.
Always. You could have a 36 on the ACT, a 2400 on the SAT, a 5 on all your AP exams, and yet there’s someone out there who has done all that with half the effort and they filled in all of those stupid little bubbles perfectly on their first try. You might argue, “But what if I am that someone who did it better?” Great! Good for you! You’re the best for now, but someone will inevitably come along and do everything you did at a younger age and with an IB diploma to boot. That’s the nature of superiority. It’s relative and fleeting.
Truth #2: Improvement takes effort.
If you want to get better at something, you’re going to have to work at it. A lot. Don’t expect to get into the NBA if you’re not practicing basketball. Too often, we let the talents of others discourage us from fostering the talents of our own. Remember that, as you improve, you’re going to face criticism, both external and internal. Learn to weed out damaging comments and take in that which is constructive.
Truth #3: There will always be someone who already has an advantage over you.
Maybe they went to a better school, or had a personal tutor, or had better connections and now they’ll always have an edge over you. Get over it. Their success is not mutually exclusive with yours. Let them do their thing and you do yours. There’s nothing you can do about your past, but your future is still wholly yours to shape. Keep your sights set on what’s to come, not on what you didn’t have.
Truth #4: Hierarchy breeds competition.
If you want a space free of competitive feelings (or at least a space in which they aren’t so dominant), you might want to try non-hierarchical organizations. Many activist or community-building groups on your campus probably operate using something similar to an open executive board, meaning anyone can weigh in on the decisions of the organization, usually free of traditional office positions. Without looming elections, auditions, or showcases, you can just enjoy being a part of the team.
Truth #5: Life is golf.
And not just because there’s a lot of walking involved and sometimes you’ll be very bored. You are playing against yourself. Sure, you can compare scores. Some people are even paid to compare their scores, but you don’t have to. In fact, you’ll probably have more fun if you don’t. Measure your progress relative to where you began, not where others are now.
A little competition can be great motivation to improve yourself, but it’s important not to get too caught up with comparisons. Believe it or not, two people can be good at the same thing. Their talents don’t cancel each other out. Keep this in mind and be proud of your own accomplishments regardless of the achievements of those around you.