Within 10 minutes of talking to another University student about their summer, I’ll very often start feeling very shitty about myself. Whether they interned at Tesla or spent a month touring Europe, I compare myself to this other student based solely on their retelling of how they spent their time between semesters.
And it’s not as if I’m not in on this game either; my summer before this semester was also certifiably awesome and disgustingly suited for #TBTs on Insta. I spent a month in India through a Center for Global and Intercultural Study program, worked as a summer intern at an architecture firm in Detroit and visited my family in Germany for my half-brother’s wedding. Yet, even with my own wonderful experiences, I am seemingly unable to genuinely express my happiness for others’ summer successes. Instead, when I hear of others doing well, I panic and ask myself what I’m doing wrong. This bizarrely competitive nature is not the only negative mindset I’ve recently observed in myself with regard to my peers. If I find myself talking to someone who spent their summer just taking classes or chilling, I become aware of a distinct smugness with myself that I don’t recognize. But what has led to these stupidly competitive and assholian thoughts?
One theory I have is the fact that I’ve finally started opening myself up to the world of “professionalism.” The words “networking” and “connections” still make me feel dirty, but I’ve essentially given into them and sold my soul. By building a well-stocked LinkedIn profile, and even participating in the Engineering Career Fair, I’ve opened myself up to the competitive and comparative world of Real Jobs. And now that I’m looking at myself and trying to discern my value to potential employers, I think I’m beginning to do the same with my peers. Am I subconsciously basing my value of others on their qualifications? The idea of that absolutely disgusts me, but what if it’s true? The transition from student to young professional is a crucial component of a university education, but I didn’t expect that my mindset about how I spend my time would impact me in the way it has.
In the process of this change, one aspect I have always admired most about myself is now seeming to come at a price: I’ve always valued novelty and uniqueness in myself and others. In other words, I love the feeling of surprising others when I mention the seemingly unrelated, yet important activities that I’m involved with. Take, for example, my involvement in the Indian dance community. It won’t necessarily help me get a computer science job, but it has so much intangible value that isn’t visible on a resume. And this is, unfortunately, starting to bother me. Should I even continue to expand and explore? Or should I focus on and hone in on one activity or field, and become the (leader and) best at that one thing?
I seem to be constantly reevaluating my priorities as a young adult at the University. And while self-reflection is crucial and necessary, comparing myself to others is not. I called my mom at one point about this during the semester and expressed my concern about how far behind I am in comparison to other computer science majors. After patiently listening to my spiel, she calmly explained to me that there is no such thing as being behind. Everyone follows their own path in life, with different goals, values and expectations. It is literally impossible to be “behind” someone when each path is its own. While I can intellectually grasp that concept, I am still working on its execution. A little motivational competition is healthy, and it’s hard not to compare others’ success with your own, but as long as you’re forging your own academic/professional/WHATEVER path and giving it your all, you have nothing to worry about.
Liam Wiesenberg can be reached at email@example.com.