College students should not compare their life paths

College students should not compare their life paths

Everywhere I look, it seems like another one of my peers has scored a high-profile internship or been presented with another prestigious award. My Facebook feed is constantly showing me my friends’ achievements, and while I couldn’t be prouder of them, I can’t help but listen to that nagging voice in the back of my head asking: "What exactly am I doing with my life?"

Lately, it seems that people are expected to have their careers and practically their entire lives figured out as soon as they graduate, which means that you’d better be making big moves now or you’re sure to be left behind. In the face of all your peers’ accomplishments, anything you achieve can feel small, even if you’re taking steps in the right direction.

As college students, our whole lives up to this point have been rigidly structured. We all plodded through grade school and were graded on reaching certain developmental checkpoints at certain times. Even now, in college, we’re expected to complete a specific number of credits within a certain timeframe in order to graduate. Sure, there’s much more leeway now as we take more responsibility for ourselves and learn to make our own way in the world, but we still feel bound to a schedule.

It can be tough to shake this way of thinking once we enter “the real world.” You need to have a job with a great salary lined up as soon as you graduate, or you’re a failure. And then you’d better move up that corporate ladder within a couple years, or you’re a burnout and a failure. Need to move back home for a year or two while looking for a job in your field? Never mind the thousands of dollars you’re saving on rent, you’re a mooch and a failure. Everyone else is doing things differently and getting paid more for it, so everyone else must be right.

It can feel impossible to keep from comparing yourself to all your peers who seem to be doing great, but there are two important things to keep in mind. First, people rarely make their failures public. Sure, you feel like a slob when you see your friend’s #gymflow post on Instagram when you’ve been lying in bed watching Parks and Recreation for four hours, but your friend neglected to mention that this is his first time going to the gym in two months. There is a real danger in treating people’s social media personas as realistic depictions of their actual selves rather than shiny, over-edited projections of the best parts of their lives.

The other thing to keep in mind is that different timelines work for different people. One person might score an entry-level job right out of college and have to stick with it for three years before getting a promotion, while someone else might work a minimum-wage job for three years before finding something in their field and rising swiftly through the ranks, and still someone else might land a perfect job with a great salary, only to realize in a few years that their job isn’t perfect for them after all and they have to start from scratch. Our lives are shaped from the individual experiences and hardships we face and it would be a waste of time to try to force a specific path for the sake of uniformity.

People waste horrifying amounts of time and money by stressing unnecessarily over things that seem far more crucial than they are. In the end, the only way to avoid that paralyzing self-doubt is to put your own best foot forward and reject the societal pressure to move along the same timeline as everyone else. Moving separately from the pack is terrifying and often looked down upon, but frequently proves itself to be the best way to move.

Lota Erinne is a sophomore majoring in finance and English. Her column runs biweekly.

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