In an age where information about our peers’ lives is at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to compare our lives to those of others. My social feeds are a constant stream of my friends’ accomplishments, successes and major life events. While I love being able to see what’s happening in my friends’ lives and congratulate them on their success, there’s a part of me that, at some level, measures my life against theirs.
I think this is something that’s particularly common among college students given the drive to complete internships, earn scholarships and have profound, youthful experiences as we move toward graduation. As soon as I hit the second semester of my sophomore year, every academic or career-oriented action I took seemed critical, and my anxiety about preparing for the future only increased as I watched my friends announce internships around the Twin Cities and at well known organizations in the U.S. and abroad.
The relief I felt when I worked out my summer plans and had confirmed an internship wasn’t just from being able to advance and learn. Rather, a significant portion of it was from knowing that in some way, I finally felt like was “on track” with my peers. Which, when you consider it, really makes very little sense. More often that not, the people we compare ourselves to aren’t pursuing the same exact vocation or even the same major. There’s no way to be “on track” when there isn’t a “track” in the first place.
Aside from the fact that comparing your summer plans against your friend’s internship abroad isn’t productive, it’s also incredibly unhealthy. As much as it can seem like there’s a certain path to success that involves heavy academic involvement, a laundry list of extracurriculars and an internship in your field, the fact remains that there isn’t. Everyone’s path to success — and everyone’s definition of success — varies. Furthermore, everyone’s circumstances are different as well. Stacking up your life against a friend’s can produce feelings of inadequacy and lead us to feel as if we aren’t doing enough. In the end, this only exacerbates stress about the future and pressure in the moment.
I’m not arguing that our friends can’t inspire us. Seeing my friends applying to internships outside of the Twin Cities inspired me to do the same, and that ultimately turned out to be fruitful. I’m always happy to help my friends celebrate their success and I want to be made aware of it. However, there is a line between drawing inspiration from others’ drive or success and trying to measure up to our perception of their accomplishments.
Although it’s difficult, make an effort to evaluate yourself according to your own standards. Furthermore, do your best to catch yourself when you begin comparing yourself to others. It’s a habit that’s near impossible to break — I’ve been trying for years. Focus on your personal development and the skills you’ve built rather than material accomplishments. And above all, give yourself some slack. You don’t have to feel as if you need to measure up to every standard that you encounter. Focus on your personal fulfillment, and remember that you’re going to get to where you’re going eventually.