The energy we have to spend on others is limited— use it wisely.
If your high school experience is anything like mine was, you spend a good amount of time thinking about others. One of your top concerns is what others think of you. You’re constantly pitting yourself in comparison to others. Sometimes, all that seems to count is each ranking, score, grade, review, position, status, “like,” and accolade that add up to a consuming mess of competitiveness. That’s how you’re supposed to prove yourself, after all, in order to snag one of those increasingly unattainable acceptances to a prestigious school and to shut the haters down.
The ambition is admirable, but does that attitude drive you to act with personal character or wellness integrity? Looking back at my high school experience, all that concern about what others thought and did was concern for others, poorly spent.
In college, I found the same temptation to whittle away my time for others in the preoccupations of self-consciousness and competitiveness. As a pre-med student, I saw cutthroat competitiveness around every corner, and many moments of friends’ attentions were devoted to measuring themselves up against others vying for places within the coveted medical school classes.
But time spent this way is unnecessary and wasteful, for every minute spent thinking of others as your competitors is time not spent thinking of your friends, your inspirations, your supporters, and your comrades. I chose to spend college focused as best I could on relationships with the people who could strengthen me, helping me to grow and be my best, rather than the people who would tear me down. That doesn’t mean I didn’t care about the grades and the scores; on the contrary, I was free to do the best that I could do—without concern for what others thought or how others did— and I was just as successful and much happier for it.
There are more ways to distinguish yourself than by constantly tallying scores to keep ahead of others. Develop great relationships with people who can motivate and mentor you. Find worldliness by learning from friends whose backgrounds are different than your own. Practice interdisciplinary thinking by teaming up with peers with talents you don’t have. Make friends who keep you well by appreciating you for who you are. Be a good friend, a good listener, and a good cheerleader to everyone you can. Learn empathy by talking with those less fortunate than you and helping where and when you can. That last one is especially important; looking back, the friends I’m most proud to call my friends found their ways off our campus pretty quickly. They delved into the community of Charlottesville, where they found people in need and then swiftly devoted themselves to bring about change where change was needed. I wish I had known from the beginning not to focus on those who tried to bring me down, and rather that lifting others up and surrounding yourself with those who lift you up is far more important.