Posted: Friday, May 18, 2012 6:09:10 AM
"I deactivated my facebook today."
I cocked an eyebrow at my friend, walking alongside me in the crowded hallway. He kept his gaze forward, feigning indifference.
"Thought you were a social butterfly, eh?" I snickered.
The usual banter between us was poisoned by an odd, unsettling feeling that something might actually be wrong. A certain shift. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, catching him heaving an uncharacteristic sigh.
"I just can't take it anymore, you know? All the bragging. 'Oh, look at me, I got accepted to Yale! Life validated! I am a significant contribution to society! Because I was accepted to this freakin' prestigious university, I am above you all!' Or not even college admissions. Departmental awards. National honor society. National merit. Sophomores and juniors posting their SAT scores, even. 'I only got a 2350...Better luck next time?' I'm just so tired of it all. It really...It really starts to get to me after a while."
Agitation hardened his jaw, glistened in his eyes. As I quietly offered him words of comfort, I couldn't help but think, Will this be me next year? Or worse, have I already become like this?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
As an Asian, I've practically been compared to others since I was out of the womb. In elementary school: "So-and-so's daughter is at a higher level in Kumon than you! Why don't you work harder?"
After I took up the violin: "We're changing your teacher! Playing music means nothing if you're not going to win any competitions, and clearly this teacher doesn't care about awards!"
In middle school: "You didn't make the Principal's honor roll? Everyone else did but you! Great! Now everyone is going to ask me why they didn't see your name on the newspaper, among all the names of daughters and sons of my friends! Awesome!"
In high school: "So-and-so's daughter got a 2400 on her SAT! So-and-so's daughter got into Princeton/Columbia/Harvard/Stanford! What are you doing?!"
I think I've made my point, and I think that many of you can relate in some way or another. Since elementary school, we have been taught to compete against others, and base our self-worth on how we measure up to others. Think about it: We enter contests to win them, we get graded based on how we perform in comparison to others, we must compete against applicants to get into college. The same concept applies to post-grads looking for a competitive edge in the job market.
To put it crudely, in order to succeed, we must fight and win. Beat others.
But what if we shifted our ways of thinking? What if true fulfillment could be experienced by the third-grader who got a D on his art project, or the high schooler who didn't get first place in a music competition?
The key is to set internal goals. What does this mean?
Take, for example, the summer I decided to enter a violin concerto competition. It was, of course, a long shot for me. There were kids who attended performing arts schools, kids who were homeschooled so they could devote more time to practicing.
I didn't expect to win, and so I worked toward a bigger goal for myself: to truly grow as a musician. And then something changed.
I poured my heart into that Barber concerto. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced; I felt each note strike deep within me, and I explored the cadences and nuances with the keen attention to detail of a painter. I affixed raw emotions to and experienced raw emotions from each phrase, and the quality of my music showed a definite shift toward a higher level. I was truly becoming an artist.
After I performed, I felt genuine happiness. Fulfillment. It was nothing compared to the temporary satisfaction I got after winning a local music competition or getting a good score on a playing exam.
I ended up getting third place, and the fact barely registered in my mind, delirious with excitement. The future spread out in front of me, full of endless possibility. There is no definite end goal. But every step forward brings inner happiness and a sense of success.
Whenever you feel inferior to the accomplishments of others, consider this: You are not merely so-and-so's daughter or son, not just the friend or sibling of The One That Succeeded. Success doesn't automatically descend upon you after you've won enough gold medals and first-place awards to prove yourself to the world. You are you, so make your own goals. Life isn't about beating everyone else; it's about beating the former you. It's about growth.
Challenge yourself today.