Comparison Culture and How to Thrive in It

It can be said that there is a stereotypical image of students at any school. Telling someone you go to Howard University will, whether fair or not, conjure up an image in their head about what they think it means to be a “Howard Student”. They might be thinking of the outgoing sorority girl, or a student activist, or a straight-A student on the pre-law track. It’s great to attend a university with a record of producing excellent Black leaders and professionals, but sometimes the pressure can really get to you. Often times we think of Black excellence in a very narrow, capitalistic way but we can all be excellent because we define for ourselves what excellence means.


 Before I arrived at Howard, I was plagued with the worry that I would have to change a lot about who I am to live up to this idealistic image of “The Howard Woman”. Though my fears were quelled as I moved in and met some of my peers and I realized that there is no one way to be a Howard student, woman or otherwise, there are still a lot of valid concerns about image. I still have a lot of anxieties about where I stand in comparison to my classmates. Some healthy competition can be a motivator to work toward achieving more, but when the thought of “not good enough” becomes a weight, it can be debilitating.

The competitive, high-achieving nature of the school can be a lot to deal with for some students. Given a lot of Howard students’ penchants for social media, it can be quite easy to be constantly exposed to the accomplishments of your peers. Whatever insecurities you have may be amplified by simply opening that Twitter or Instagram app. You see your peers looking amazing, working impressive internships, traveling the world, and securing the bag.


“While those aspects of Howard take up a lot of space on Twitter and on the school’s homepage, there are other ways to be...,” suggests a sophomore student.


First, it is important to remind yourself that there is more to the college experience, more to life, than simply filling your resume and adding to your Instagram page.


You’re a human, not a walking CV. Sometimes you’ll fail classes. Maybe you barely managed to drag yourself out of bed. You may not get that internship or leadership position. This is okay. Ask yourself: Am I happy? Am I taking the best care of myself? Remind yourself that you get to decide who you want to be at Howard and how you want to define success for yourself. Put yourself, your well-being, and your mental health first.


Everything isn’t for everybody. It’s okay if you spend your time hanging out with friends and relaxing on the yard or just plain chilling by yourself. You don’t always have to be “grinding”. You can be Black excellence without the suits, the passports, and the brunches.


It’s not always easy to tell yourself that you’re good enough and it’s even harder to get to a place where you truly believe that you’re good enough. But freeing yourself from the trap of comparison can do wonders for your self-esteem. Your journey is your journey and you shouldn’t feel bad for taking college, and life, at your own pace.