“Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self.” – Iyanla Vanzant
It is the first day and the professor wants everyone to provide the class with a brief introduction. Why are you pursuing this particular degree? What do you hope to get out of the class? Are you working and where? These are standard questions that many college students have answered at least once in their college career. The introduction becomes more personal in graduate school with students willingly obliging to discuss their many accomplishments.
I love this part of class because I am proud of what I have accomplished. I do not publicly identify myself as a first-generation college student and kick myself thinking of all the missed scholarship opportunities. My mom did not receive a four-year degree; however, she excelled in trades such as information technology before a degree was required. It is a cliché, but I have come a long way. So as any student in my position, I proudly boast my accomplishments during class introductions. Used as an icebreaker to make students feel comfortable, the downside of this practice is that students may start to compare their lives with the person seated next to them.
The feeling of not being good enough exist. Sitting in a room full of people with jobs in their field, their own businesses and many travel stories is intimidating, especially for students that are moving at a slower pace. Class introductions can cause anxiety, isolation, envy, worry and loss of self-confidence.
Jeffery J. Selingo’s article “Will You Sprint, Stroll or Stumble Into a Career?” addressed the different types of students that are in college, identifying them as sprinters, wanders and stragglers (late-bloomers). The sprinters are students that settle on their college major early, find a job right after college and move up quickly in their field. They master techniques such as investing in companies and their own businesses, fearlessly taking risks in their 20s. The wanders are students with degrees who cannot secure a job in their field immediately after college. The wanders usually go back to school to obtain a higher degree with the hopes that it will assist in their job hunt. Risks are scary for the wanders so they tend to avoid internships or investments. Selingo classified the last type of students as the stragglers (late-bloomers), or students who are not yet sure as to what career to pursue. They attempt college but do not stay, instead choosing blue-color jobs or the military.
According to Selingo there is no true one way to get a job. The traditional idea of college to career is antiquated. Selingo stated that college students tend to “go off to college, resist pressures to choose a job-connected major, [and] then drift after graduation, often short of money and any real plan.”
The Friendzone, a podcast, discussed and offered three perspectives on college and career choices on one episode. One co-host went to college, did not enjoy the lecture setting and later left after his program was cut. Another host did not want to go to college, but stayed because of her mother wanted for her to obtain a degree. The last co-host appreciated college much differently than the other two co-hosts. No matter the path that they pursued, each of them were seated in a room recording their awesome podcast.
Selingo’s article and The Friendzone addressed the fact that there is no sure way to get into a dream career. Even if someone works to follow a similar path as their peers, the end result would vary. Trying to live up to society’s college to career standards can cause a person to feeling unaccomplished, even when they should feel accomplished. Obtaining a degree, developing a trade, starting a business and joining the military are accomplishments. However, when you compare yourself to others, you will only see lackluster successes.
Sonya Derian’s article “Stop Comparing Yourself to Others: An Alternative to Competing with People” discussed an alternative way to make comparisons with other people. Derian state that when we compare our talents we tend to place them against someone that is in a better situation. This in essence, makes us feel like we are never doing enough. Derian suggested that if we must compare our achievements to someone do so with your past and present self. I believe that you grow into the person you are destined to be every day. Comparing your past and present self will keep you focus on your personal improvements, brining you closer to the person you desire to be.
When I challenge myself to do this, my attitude about my career path changed. I am actively pursuing a career in public relations. My skills have improved tremendously since receiving my bachelors. After graduating college, I could not tear myself way from my college news articles and senior thesis. At the time I felt that it was some of my best work. I took the time to laminate each article and packed them safely away in a box. One day, I took a stroll down memory lane and read my most cherished work. I cringed. It was quite evident how my writing had improved when I compared my past and present self; I felt reassured in my abilities.
Looking inward is emotionally and mentally rewarding. The problem with looking outward is that you welcome the opportunity to become envious. Kristi Hedges’ article “The Real Reason You’re Jealous of Your Friend’s Success” discussed envy and the natural instinct to “elevate our position in the competition for resources.” Envy and self-comparisons are linked and can lead to a submissive, ambitious, or destructive responses. When a student is responding submissively during introduction icebreaker, they will view their accomplishments lowly. The student using the ambition response will identify ways to actively compete with their peers. A person using the destruction response will find ways to socially destroy their peer’s accomplishments.
Envy and self-comparisons takes time away from personal goals. Everyone cannot follow the same path to success. Journeys are personal and filled with trial and errors. When someone talks about their achievements, they rarely talk about their failures. Everyone fails before they succeed.
So, when you feel the need to compare yourself to others keep in mind that:
- Everyone’s path is not similar because we are not robots.
- In every introduction or conversation about one’s achievements be mindful that failures exist somewhere in their story.
- The only thing that you need to compare is your past and present self.
It does not matter if you are a sprinter, wanderer, or late bloomer. What matters is that you work hard to enjoy life and make your desires and goals work for you and not anyone else.