I was raised by two Chinese American immigrants who came to America in search of a better place to start a family. Part of the appeal was the American Dream: that the reward for pursuing your passions was a full and boundless life. In America, it was (and still is) a place where children were taught from an early age to follow their dreams- here, practicality does not mean you must sacrifice your career for one that solely betters your socioeconomic clout.
This meant that as a child, my sister and I were fortunate enough to have parents that prioritized the discovery of self-motivation over the unacceptable; it was more important to my parents to raise children with a strong grasp of character, ambition, and ethics.
This also meant a lot of frustrating dinner parties. No extended family in the States resulted in holidays spent with family friends, most of whom had kids of their own- intelligent, overachieving, parent-controlled, Ivy League kids at that. It brought a great deal of disappointment to realize that although my grades were exemplary by American public school standard, they would never be enough to rival those kids in the eyes of the traditional Asian parents that often frequented those parties.
It was very easy to fall into the habit of dreading these holiday gatherings, each of which left me utterly ashamed with my own standing in comparison to the other kids. My parents, try as they might, failed to sometimes mask the frustration on their faces as they boasted about my sister and I’s other accomplishments- our involvement in clubs, community service, and work experience; extracurriculars that resonated as more than just resume fillers. As proud as my sweet mom and dad were, I knew that had we not been raised in Frisco, our expectations would have risen tenfold.
Now, I see the same sense of self-pressure and anxiety arisen in my younger sister, a freshman in high school and just starting to realize the weight that her GPA, three measly digits, holds in her future.
Let me tell you this: it took me years to come to the conclusion that there’s only one truly healthy reason for comparison- in the words of my mother:
“Compare yourself to you an hour ago, a month ago, years ago- but never to those around you.”
It is okay to scrutinize your strengths and weaknesses, acknowledge areas you’ve improved in and those you could improve on, unearth your own Achilles’ heel(s) before someone else does. For comparison of your current, past, and future selves is, in essence, self-reflection in its purest form. Your biggest flaws only grow, inversely to your own success, in the presence of self-sanctioned ignorance.
Contrarily, to distort comparison into a tool of self-deprecation only vows to inhibit and even reverse your own progress. It does nothing but diminish your ability to move on. To compare yourself to another is to look backwards instead of forward into the future- it is an anchor holding you back from accepting the areas you lack in and, more importantly, aiming to work past them. There will always be someone brighter, smarter, prettier, funnier, more capable than you. The most impenetrable of glass ceilings is that in which we strive towards perfection- there is no such thing. It is completely okay to be envious of this- angry even, but it is what you make of this inevitable jealousy that truly commands growth. To conscientiously allow yourself to be hindered like that, to let someone else essentially dictate your future as if you’re a child hiding behind a mother’s leg, is the most cowardly of offenses you could commit against your own self.
Sprinters in a track race are taught to never look over their shoulder at the competitors behind them- turning to look back only slows your own pace down. They’re told to lean forward into the ground; just as a dancer envisions her energy thrust before her, towards the audience.
Do yourself a favor. Train your eyes forever forward. Legs at the ready. Mind centered.
And when that starting pistol sounds: don’t look back.