Finding your potential

Jessica Buxbaum is a recent college graduate of Humboldt State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Political Science. She now works as a Web Editorial Intern for Tikkun Magazine in Berkeley, California.

I have always been that kind of person who desperately needed to succeed. I found more fault within myself than fault within others. At the beginning of college, I would constantly compare my own achievements and skills with that of fellow classmates and friends. Seeing how acquaintances from high school were managing college life drove me to the brink of insanity. “Oh, he’s at that prestigious school.” “She got that great internship.” “He made it to the Dean’s List…again.” These kinds of thoughts would consistently race through my head as I watched others seemingly do better than me in college. Yet I didn’t exactly wade in despair from it. Instead I took the comparisons I was making and used it as self-motivation to work harder and improve upon my college experience.

I went to every class and diligently took notes. I spent weekends at science labs and doing homework to learn more and get the better grade. I spent less time with friends, less time relaxing. I developed a tobacco habit from the stress and ground my teeth at night because of anxiety. I had to find some way to be the best. But even when I got that A, got that awesome opportunity, it never felt like enough — someone else always had an accomplishment that upped mine.

Not until my senior year did I realize that my erratic behavior was jeopardizing my college experience. College is not about being the best, but discovering who you are and your own potential.

When I came back from studying abroad the summer before I started my senior year, I had a news sense of vigor and changed perspective — not just of the world, but also of myself. I began to reexamine my life as I finished up college. I had drifted away from friends, didn’t laugh or appreciate life enough, and spent so much time tirelessly working that I didn’t leave room to actually enjoy my time in college. Life felt a little empty with just good grades that never seemed good enough.

So I did not go to the best university in California. I didn’t intern at a national newspaper or win fancy awards. And I don’t have amazing job offers post-graduation. But I was able to write meaningful articles for my school’s newspaper and magazine, received teacher’s recommendations, and while I didn’t get the most prestigious internships, I did intern at organizations that helped me improve immensely in my field of journalism and taught me so much about media.

Always comparing myself to others diminished the value of what I was doing and weakened my self-esteem. I was doing some pretty great things and had a lot to be proud of that family and friends noticed, but I was too focused on others to see.

My advice for you as you start college is to not tailor your own efforts and goals to someone else’s. There is always going to be someone who is above you and someone who is below you, and you just can’t judge your own worth and achievements by what your classmates and friends from high school are doing. You have to find your own path and push yourself to your highest potential, not by trying to “beat” others, but by going at your own pace.

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