The game of life is one we all know well: the universe deals us our hand, and the choices we make determine the outcome of the game. Over the span of a lifetime, we will all follow rules, take risks and develop strategies in order to reach our endgame. However, we’re only human. And sometimes, we get so caught up in the competition that we forget to enjoy the game.
As we enter a new stage in our life, college is a time when it seems like we have to learn the rules all over again. Halfway through my third year at UCSB, I can say with certainty that, although I have a better understanding of the rules, the game itself is no less challenging because of it. As we are presented with more opportunities — opportunities to make new connections, join different organizations, pursue new leadership roles or take on a job or internship — the pressure builds. How do I do it all? How do I do it all with a full course load? How do I do it all while maintaining some form of a social life — and does sitting across from my friends in silence in the library count?
Coming in as a freshman, wide-eyed and ready for new experiences, I decided to go through sorority recruitment because it seemed like the perfect way to meet new people and make a large school feel a little bit smaller. Although I’d never been too insecure about my physical appearance (post-middle school days, because let’s face it, that was a rough time), as I continued to compare myself to the other girls around me, I realized that all these beautiful girls knew the rules to the game I was very much unfamiliar with. Unfortunately for me, there was no instruction manual to be seen. Over the course of that week, I eventually came to the conclusion that I possessed the physical allure and social graces of a potato.
More than halfway done with college and the threat of entering the “Real World” on the horizon, I’m realizing how, although the board may continuously change, the nature of the game always seems to stay the same. Comparing preference night outfits and bids are a thing of the past — irrelevant and juvenile, even. Now the stakes suddenly seem more real when I instead find myself comparing summer plans and LinkedIn profiles. Another friend has just landed the internship of his dreams, but I still have no idea what I’m doing this summer. What am I lacking? Am I falling behind? No one wants to be a sore loser and, at your core, you know that’s not who you are because you still feel genuinely happy for him. But being happy for your friend’s success isn’t enough to stop the sinking feeling in your stomach.
We may not be able to control the external pressures of society but we can ease the burden by choosing not to add to the weight ourselves.
In times of stress and uncertainty, I’ve found that for most people, it’s almost impossible not to compare yourself to those around you. Maybe we start out looking for guidance or reassurance that other people feel just as lost as we do. Other times, we use our peers as markers to measure our achievements, or lack thereof. Although habits like these are hard to break, the longer we allow ourselves to stay in this mentality of constant comparison, the more we’ll hurt ourselves in the end. After all, when you’re competing against the world, you’re rarely going to come out on top.
We may not be able to control the external pressures of society — pressures to excel at academics and extracurriculars, pressures from family members and friends — but we can ease the burden by choosing not to add to the weight ourselves. Much of the stress, anxiety and despair we feel comes from trying in vain to meet unrealistic expectations created by our perceptions of others. Despite convincing outward appearances, no one has their whole life figured out. Although it can be easy to be consumed by the desire to keep up with our peers and “do it all,” doing so will only lead to an inevitable spiral of negativity and self-doubt. Instead, take a step back and choose a different path for yourself. Your success doesn’t have to be measured by someone else’s. Although humans may be competitive by nature, remember: the game of life doesn’t have to be a competition.
Calista Liu wants you to take a deep breath — you’re doing great!