Just keep swimming: coping with others’ success

I began measuring my accomplishments and successes against those around me and associating my intelligence, my creativity, and even my appearance with my ability to immediately perfect every skill. Photo Illustration: Cassandra Martinez/Beacon Staff

Growing up, everyone told me I was a “gifted” child. My GPA and standardized test scores deemed me capable of changing the world. I could write novels, run for office, or find the cure for cancer if I wanted to. For years, I heard teachers, parents, and advisors tell me that I could accomplish anything.

When I reached college, I don’t know if I still pictured myself as that “gifted” kid. Starting at Emerson this past fall, I felt woefully average. I saw this school as a place for exploration and refining my writing in a supportive and inspirational environment—and I found that here in Boston. However, I did not anticipate the level of competition I encounter, and the way challenges would change how I defined my self-worth. It’s taken me some time, but I’ve realized that as students, we must stop comparing ourselves to one another and basing our self-esteem on our peers’ success.

I showed up at this school proudly wearing ‘high school newspaper Editor-in-Chief’ and ‘president of every club’ badges before realizing that everyone around me was just as decorated. I was surrounded by creators, valedictorians, actors, producers, and writers—people who are already published or produced and seemingly had everything worked out. How could I ever hope to compare?

I lived my whole life thinking I was alone at the top, then realized that while I thought I was standing on a mountain, it was nothing more than an anthill. I began measuring my accomplishments and successes against those around me and associating my intelligence, my creativity, and even my appearance with my ability to immediately perfect every skill. Consequently, I felt more inadequate each day.

Learning environments need healthy competition and intellectual stimulation, but I wasn’t prepared for a mad scramble for who can build the biggest resume and land that coveted internship. I guess in my mind a school marketed as a hub for creative minds would somehow work differently than other colleges, more about collaboration and community building than racing one another until graduation.

I am overwhelmed by the talent surrounding me. I try emulating my positive friends, who are consistently inspired and delighted by the fact that everyone around them is so successful. Yet, I can’t help but see people who are more qualified for my dream job. Still, I’m making progress by changing my outlook. When I see a friend post about getting published or landing a big role, I congratulate them and lift them up. Chances are they’ve been in the same mindset I am right now. No one is immune to feeling inadequate or hopeless.

I am still figuring out where I belong at this school and in this city, but wallowing in self-pity will get me nowhere. I want to give others what my friends gave me—a voice of reason saying that academic performance or accolades do not determine self-worth. After all, I’m only 19. I can’t expect wild successes when I’m not even old enough to drink.

As long as we define our self-worth by how we measure up against others, we won’t find the feeling of accomplishment we desperately seek. When you see someone else succeeding and feel like you aren’t doing enough, take a moment and remember that they were you. Successful people fail over and over again before they make it to the Forbes 30 Under 30. While it will take some mental retraining, we must try to recognize that climbing the ladder is a part of life, and no one starts at the top.  

Undoing 19 years of hearing I could achieve anything seems incredibly difficult. I must remember that though my poetry remains unpublished and I’m not yet a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist or writer for the Globe, this says nothing about my value as a person. I can’t feel intimidated by my seemingly unattainable goals, or the fear that everyone else has already beat me there—all I can do is remember that I am young, I am still growing, and my imagined “competitors” can provide my greatest inspiration.  

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