Written by Praveena Javvadi.
Graphic by Emma Robinson.
For most people, college is the last time that they will be completely surrounded by people their own age. For that reason, university campuses can develop interesting dynamics and politics unique to the college environment. Some of this can be great, like good meme pages and inside jokes across campus. But some of it hurts.
A lot of this hurt has to do with overwhelming pressure to succeed and feel secure in whatever we do. Whether that be our major, our organizations, and more generally, how we chose to spend our time. This pressure builds layers on top of each other to create a fertile ground for comparison.
Comparison is an easily traded currency on campus, and just like real currency, when you’ve got the good stuff, it’s great. When you get the position you wanted or the grade you didn’t think you could get, it’s easy to look around and feel good about yourself. When you’re on top, comparison is easy. In fact, it’s the preferred method of transaction- the best way of living. It’s a self-esteem building shortcut. It’s useful because it lets us benchmark our own accomplishments against others without having to give meaningful value to anything ourselves.
It’s only when our benchmarks set us backward, when suddenly the thing you used to measure your own success is telling you that you’re a failure, that the other side of comparison becomes relevant.
We’ve all compared ourselves to others, with that one friend that always seems to be doing great or the person whose instagram’s stories are always cuter than yours, and it stings. It’s that small sting that festers, and it grows into a virus that feeds off of itself.
Go to this store to make your clothes seem cooler. Get this car so you can seem richer. Society is constantly telling us to be better than the next person, and college is the magnifying glass. Join this organization for a badge or get an important position for the title. It’s easy to fall for it, and it’s a system that exists because it’s sustainable. Society is constantly telling us to be better than the next person, and college is the magnifying glass. When an organization or position has value because of the name or an acceptance rate, comparison is useful. It makes people vy for those opportunities and when the lucky few get them, they feel good about it because they met their set benchmark. They can post about it, they can be the people that made them believe it was important, and then new people vy for those opportunities.
Comparison is an inescapable part of our lives because it is a self sufficient system. That doesn’t mean that some of us are good and some of us are bad, or that some organizations are morally upright and others aren’t. It comes down to the individual. How we interact with comparison shapes its value and importance in our own lives.
Perpetuating comparison as an individual is a choice. But being upset when other people are posting their accomplishments, and then immediately posting our own isn’t sustainable for ourselves and our minds.
As a college student, the point I’m making may seem extremely pretentious. It can look like I’m distancing myself from a system in order to call it out. However, the only way to take myself out of the system is to see it and be aware of it. The organizations I am in and the positions I may have are a part of the currency. I don’t have control over that, but I do have control over how I interact with it. I hope that by using what little voice I have has made whoever is reading this feel a little less lonely and a little more brave. Brave enough to set your benchmarks against yourself and brave enough to be proud of your accomplishments; it has certainly helped me feel that way.
This article was inspired by Rich Saus’ The Truth Behind Why We are Always Comparing Ourselves to Others.