How I Learned to Only Compete with Myself

I have academic FOMO.

According to the holy grail of internet slang – Urban Dictionary – FOMO is the “fear of missing out” on something fun and having regret because you didn’t go. Most people experience FOMO when they scroll through their Instagram feed on a Friday night or get Snapchats of their friends at Pub when they didn’t get invited (but let’s be real, if your friends are at Pub you’re not missing out on anything).

I never had social FOMO. If I spent a weekend night at my apartment watching zombie movies and eating ramen, I considered that successful downtime. When my friends posted their vacation pictures abroad, I was happy they were living their best lives. I thought I was immune to feeling left behind until my friend received a scholarship I decided not to apply for. Under the picture of her certificate, I watched the comments section explode with congratulations. She was going to study over the summer at a prestigious college across the nation…and I wasn’t.

That icky feeling of being left behind only grew as I got further into my major. I was proud of my friends for getting published in national newspapers and getting internships at some of my favorite magazines, but there was this nagging feeling I couldn't put my finger on in the back of my mind.

Things finally made sense when I took an important writing class for my major. I had never worked harder in a class before. I knew I was judged solely off one thing – my writing abilities – which is how I’ve measured my level of success all my life. I went to every class period. Volunteered for every extra credit opportunity. Stayed up until the early morning perfecting my articles and going over hours of recorded interviews. At the end of the semester, I earned a B minus.

I was devastated. While my grade wasn't the lowest in the class, I had certainly assumed I’d receive one of the highest. I had barely scraped a passing mark while my friends lit up our group chat congratulating each other on their A’s. I wondered why I wasn't as good as everyone else. Could I even make a living off writing if I couldn't ace a simple introductory course? Was it worth applying for scholarships later in the year if I didn't have the highest grades?

Why didn't I have the highest grades?

Then it hit me: I was competing with everyone around me, not realizing I was perfectly on track.

I think a lot of people can relate to having a compulsion to compete with others. We think if we aren't dominating every aspect of our lives, chances are we’re falling behind. My writing was fine. I still got my work published. My professors were recommending me for internships. And I was panicking for no reason.

The best thing you can do is learn to just compete with yourself.

Instead of comparing my internship to my friends', I focused on how my job was preparing me for life outside of graduation. I set my own academic goals like what I wanted to earn on tests and getting into classes that required difficult pre-requisites.

It didn't happen overnight, but after learning to shut out my perception of competition with others, I started to feel a sense of pride when I did accomplish one of my own goals. If my friend got a better grade than me, I was excited for them even if I didn't score as high because all I wanted to do was beat my previous grade. I celebrated the little things instead of constantly wondering if I measured up.

When you just compete with yourself, you aren't shying away from competition. You’re still setting the bar high. The only difference is you’re trying to be the best version of yourself, not feeling less than worthy because of others’ accomplishments.

There is empowerment in reveling in your own successes while still celebrating your friends. Try setting that as your first goal.

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