It’s a scene you probably have heard of before. The professor strides in on the first day, blank chalkboard stretched out behind them, and gives some sort of menacing speech to the effect of, “Look to your right, then look to your left. These are your competitors for the next [insert amount of years].”
I’ve seen this kind of mentality surface in a few of my own classes, in movies (Legally Blonde, anyone?) and even from my own family members. There’s this narrative that we are here in college to best one another, battling it out for internships and involvements and jobs in order to come out on top. It promotes a feeling of scarcity, as if there aren’t enough routes for each of us to attain our full potential. It’s divisive, it’s counterproductive, and frankly, it’s wrong.
In my time at Ohio State, I’ve been fortunate enough to find a network of passionate, ambitious friends with incredible visions for themselves. They’re going to be doctors, directors of nonprofits, teachers, physical therapists and executives. They have worked nonstop through entire nights at the library, taught themselves to code, and founded their own organizations. The most important thing about them, though, is that they’ve never for a minute been my competitors with the ability to take something from me.
I believe that the people around me, and probably around you, too, have the power to help us grow into the people we are trying to become. Watching them accept jobs, attend big interviews and take those first disorienting steps out into the world only affirm this to me even more. We have struggled together but we will succeed together as well.
I’m not here to pretend that comparison isn’t something we all deal with – it’s definitely a human reflex to measure yourself up when the people around you shine so brightly. But what I’d challenge every graduating senior, and really anyone, to do is to take a step closer. Learn to ask questions and identify the best parts of those people who seem to be on a roll. What can you emulate? What do they have to teach you if you would only take the time to ask?
For the days when I might lose sight of myself or what’s next for me, there’s a little post-it note in the corner of my bathroom mirror: “your potential self is infinite.” I believe the future belongs to those who choose to see opportunity instead of competition all around them. I hope you can see it that way, too.