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how to live your own life
growing out of comparison :
I used to be utterly afraid of failing to measure up to other people, mostly peers of my age, a year plus-minus. The categories I could compare myself to range largely from appearance, social media following, achievements in academics, extracurriculars, and now professional and financial. I would go to no end to evaluate my credentials with friends, acquaintances, and any possible weak ties whom I had brief encounters with.
The period when I fixated on how I was faring to others quickly became the most frustrating time of my life. This is not because I wasn’t good enough but more so because I spent excessive time thinking about how everyone but myself are doing. Participating in this self-inflicting game, I lost concentration and enjoyment from living my own life.
When I stepped foot into business school in 2018, I was overwhelmed, to say the least. Here were the students that joined a Venture Capital in their first year of college, the year when I first heard about the concept. Others quickly rose to be Presidents and VPs of various groups in their second year. All happened too fast that they may as well exist in a different reality as I did.
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At 19, I was looking up to my high achieving peers who thrived in every traditional way that success can be defined. They were on the dean’s list every semester, all the while being part of a selective and time-consuming consulting program, on the board of at least two business organizations, nominated for students of the year and as a cherry on top, secured coveted summer internships. I thought I was failing miserably when I couldn’t compete effectively in any single category with them.
It took me many years, in fact not until recently when I am out of college that I begin to detach my personal values from those shiny titles and milestones that every young over-achiever aspires to.
The longer I am out of school, the happier I become. I read somewhere on Instagram that life is a reverse model of school in that in school, you are taught the knowledge first and are tested on them, usually verbatim or in a slightly modified form later. In life, you are tested on any and everything, regardless of how much you are taught beforehand. You can then decide to draw those lessons on your own or repeat the scenario until you figure them out.
Boy, do I draw many lessons. When I begin to focus on my own life, finding the endeavors that I genuinely enjoy and want to improve at, I start living for myself. I set concrete yet flexible goals and plans for the future, both professionally and personally. I prioritize the pursuits that mean the most instead of signing up for ten involvements and failing to show up for eight. I draw boundaries with my relationships, making room for people that make me feel loved and the interactions that promote mutual growth. I take care of myself earnestly for the first time. It’s when I truly put an effort in making my life the best it can be that I can finally let go of comparison.
As a working adult whose interests know no bounds, I start building a wide range of friendships too. Living outside of a college’s confines allows for a flexible and unlimited pool of friends.
I have friends who are of my parents’ age, with careers longer than my years on this Earth. Going into my fifth year living in the US, I finally make genuine American friends and share thoughtful conversations with them for the first time. I have friends whose prime interest is buying a house and eventually settling down. I have friends whose prime interest is taking care of their dog and travelling without a solid plan to save.
I have friends who are strangers on the Internet - fellow writers, tweeters, travelers, runners. I have friends from places I have never even travelled to: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Mexico, Panama, etc.
Befriending diverse groups of people helps me realize that there is no one-size-fits-all for building my own life. If anything, my time in this world is long enough to go through all the trials and errors that I can imagine. I am in my early 20s, meaning that I have years and decades to experiment with my career and personal life. I will throw things at the wall and see what sticks. I will work in various roles and for various leaders until I find the intersection that is ikigai. I will move around and meet new people. I will teach and give while being taught and receiving help from others.
To me, life is not measured by the short-term wins but by consistent and enduring fulfillment, whatever we choose to do with it.
I don’t aspire to become the cool high school or college friends I used to be jealous of anymore. I have my own life that I cherish very much. I am finally leaning into the pursuits and connections that make me a better daughter, sister, friend, and writer among many other titles I don in a multi-faceted life.
Each person’s values and priorities are different. Our background, resources, and support system are non-identical. What you can focus on and control are your efforts, the rest we can let go.
The two resources that inspired this writing are:
Podcast: Rainn Wilson and Reza Aslan on the Rich Roll podcast
Essay: internal confidence from the startingfromnix Substack
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