My father always told me when I was growing up, “The only person you can compare yourself to is yesterday’s you”. That never made a whole lot of sense to a six-year old me, who only wanted to play like Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees’ shortstop. However as I grew up I began to understand that the only life I should try and live is my own.
Through my time in high school I was surrounded by competition. Going to an all-male high school the conversation was focused solely round three topics, Grades, girls, and sports. No matter what the context of the conversation was, it always turned into a one-upping session. If you got a 90 on a test, undoubtedly the person to your left received a 93, and the person to your right a 95. If you scored 15 points in basketball, the guys you sat at lunch with would have you convinced Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski was on his knees, begging for them to become a Blue Devil.
It all became tiring. I found myself beaten down, not wanting to ever share my accomplishments with people around me because it was always going to be overshadowed by someone. I felt as though every single day I needed to validate my existence through a list of accomplishments I had to my name (although at times the truth was stretched just to keep up with my peers).
That was when my father’s words really began to ring true. Slowly but surely, I began to realize that I needed to set bars myself, rather than trying to jump over the soaring pillars my peers had surrounded me with. Instead of being sucked into an image of who I was told I should be; I began to paint on my own canvas a portrait of the man I wanted to become.
When I had that epiphany I truly began to enjoy myself and feel fulfilled in life. I realized that I was improving at my own rate, and that I was growing at a speed that allowed me to learn as I grew. Coming into Elon, I heard the Admissions Office stories of students doing incredible things: owning their own businesses, jet-setting across the globe, covering the Olympics and so on. I could feel myself already, before even having stepped foot onto campus, feeling threatened, like I need to earn my place on campus.
When I made the realization that I needed to take advantage of opportunities to better myself, not to measure up to others. The Elon tradition of over-involvement gets to a lot of first-year students. It is overwhelming walking into the Organization Fair feeling that one must join every club, organization, and sport that is offered. However, if one improves and builds on who they were yesterday, then they are making an impact.
We are often baited into thinking that “success” is defined by an expansive trophy case or the pieces of paper that hang on one’s wall in their home office. And while undoubtedly those are truly amazing feats, the goal, the award, is not what makes you successful. The learning and the growth one does as a person while achieving those goals, that is the truest form of success one can find in life.