Jazmin Harling-Gray is a junior at Georgetown University majoring in English. She’s a military brat (and part time gypsy) most recently hailing from the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii. When she’s not sipping coconut juice under palm trees she’s reading Steinbeck as well as leading a small group in the on-campus ministry, Chi Alpha. She’s very passionate about pluralism and religious diversity. Most days you can find Jazmin daydreaming in the library or combating writers block as she attempts to finish her first novel. She naps frequently.
Freshman year was hard.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, nor will I be the last, but it’s the truth. Freshman year was hard. Before I started schooling at Georgetown University I couldn’t wait to move out of my house and start my new life in a place where I would finally feel like I belonged. I lost hours anticipating what it would be like to have control over my own destiny, to go to lectures held by famous authors, to spend my weekends out making memories with friends and afternoons at coffee shops studying the subjects I loved. I thought I had it all planned out, but the one thing I hadn’t anticipated was the competitive atmosphere of the campus I would attend.
Although Georgetown has its admirable merits, by the end of my freshman year I had quickly caught on to the constant air of competition lingering in all of the classrooms. Attending a prestigious school as such means that you’re not the valedictorian of your small town public school anymore. Instead, you’re in a classroom filled with valedictorians (who probably went to private school), and everyone wants to be the top student in the class. These realities caused me to put unneeded pressure on myself, to not only succeed academically, but to simultaneously hold my own among peers I considered “smarter than me.” I found it almost impossible to keep myself from comparing my accomplishments, failures, and experiences with those of the people surrounding me.
Unfortunately, I spent almost two years trying to acclimate to an atmosphere I felt I didn’t belong in. I wasted valuable time in fear of being different from my peers, constantly worrying that I wasn’t good enough or intelligent enough or wealthy enough. It wasn’t until the summer before my junior that I learned a vital lesson in life—one that would have saved me many nights ridden with the feeling of inadequacy:
Never fear being an apple in a sea of oranges.
It sounds silly, I know, but what I mean by this is, you should never fear being different. Embrace the qualities that make you an outlier in a group. These are your strengths. Secondly, never compare your successes to the successes of others. And never, ever fault yourself for not measuring up to impossible standards.
During my first couple of years at Georgetown I never felt like I was doing enough. My friends were starting non-profit organizations, studying abroad, feeding the homeless on Friday nights—doing just about everything short of saving the world singlehandedly. I thought I needed to do the same things in order to be considered successful. But what I’ve learned with age and time is that no two peoples’ successes can be compared. The goals you set for yourself are important and admirable in their own way. I learned that having a poem I wrote published in my school’s multicultural news magazine was just as amazing as landing a job as a teaching assistant. I didn’t need to strive to have similar experiences as my peers, but instead I need to strive to have meaningful experiences that matter in my own specified field of study.
The base measure of intelligence is not having an essay published in your university’s scholastic journal. Nor is it landing an internship on The Hill during your first summer in DC. I promise you, it isn’t. The only thing you need to do is accomplish what you’ve set out to do, because the key to happiness is doing things that make you proud.
In the same way it’s pointless to compare apples and oranges, it doesn’t make sense to compare you to others. You are a unique, successful person, and that truth will manifest in a way that is specific to you. Always remember that the things you do in your life are just as important as the things others do, whether that’s finding a cure to the common cold or becoming a stay at home mom. The best thing you can do for yourself at university is focus on your dreams and do everything you can to achieve them. Instead of trying to compete with the rest of the oranges, don’t be afraid to be the glorious, ripe apple that you are.
In the words of the hilarious Louis CK, “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”