A week or so ago, I sat down to begin brainstorming for my college essay. I had no introduction, didn’t know what I wanted to say, and couldn’t think of any life-altering revelations during my high school career. I spent three years pining after perfect grades and a shimmering reputation. It left me with quite little to work with; football games missed due to piles of homework, friendships suffered under competitive spirits, and passion for my work simmered beneath the stress of not reaching my full potential. After a rough day at school or a bad test grade, I’d be hard on myself and feel hopeless for future assignments; it was more than a little bit of shame, it was like I had been drained of any self-worth. My mother would unlock the car door as I approached it, notice the look on my face and begin that awful lecture we all know so well. She’d say, “You’re more than good enough, you’re talented, your only competition is yourself.” All of these affirmations went in my left ear and out the right. I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to understand that my mother was 110% correct.
People that I had spent years comparing myself to were girls with perfect homes, grades, and bodies. They had ideal friends, ideal career paths, and motivation that I never achieved because all of my energy was devoted to convincing myself that I was lesser than they were. I would always come back to the idea that they’d be more successful than I could even dream of being and even undermined my own achievements because I didn’t feel deserving. As someone who is much stronger in classes like English and History, I still managed to justify comparing myself to my peers that were stronger in Math and Science. Despite knowing that these latter classes were a bit harder for me and always have been, I constantly longed to trade one skill for the other. This obviously got me nowhere.
It wasn’t until I confronted these feelings that I even understood them. During all of this self-loathing, I never considered the fact that every person’s brain is wired differently, that we each have different strengths and weaknesses working in different environments and fighting different battles. A student who doesn’t hold a job or participate in a sport may have more time to study than a student who does, just as someone who lives with a learning disability may struggle more than a student who does not. Some students don’t have the ability to go home to a quiet house with supportive parents and therefore may have trouble getting their homework done on time. If none of these situations apply to you, that doesn’t change the fact that comparing yourself to someone else simply isn’t plausible; you cannot compare apples to oranges. It doesn’t work. The only person you can compare yourself to is your past self, because only you know your situation. It’s important to continue growing emotionally, especially following experiences or change. Any other type of comparison only drags you down when you should be lifting yourself up.
If the world was populated by one type of person with one set of skills, there would be no diversity in thoughts and ideas. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? These thoughts and ideas are exactly what give the evolution of the human mind a place to expand. Each peculiar talent and admirable trait has a place somewhere in the world, the sort of space that nobody could fill quite as well as you could. The next step is finding it.