Introduction: The goal of this essay was to touch on the universal feeling of not being good enough when we compare ourselves to people more successful than ourselves. I am most proud of my scene of memory and the way it flows with my larger idea. I think this scene of memory provides solid evidence for my theme. For future essays, I would like to allow for more time during the revision phase, so I can better pinpoint the details of the essay and make sure that everything connects more smoothly and flawlessly.
Everyone has people whom they look up to. People whose lives they wish they lived, people whose dreams came true, people who seem to be comfortable with themselves and well-liked. But sometimes by looking up to someone, we find ourselves comparing ourselves to them and putting ourselves down. Growing up, I never felt the desire to be anything that I’m not. As time has passed, the expectations that existed for me became increasingly apparent. The notion that I should be more successful than I am, more beautiful, and more talented is deeply embedded in my mind as I continued to see other people as those things.
In a Ted Talk by Thandie Newton, she speaks about identity and her sense of self in relation to others, stating, “The self likes to fit, to see itself replicated, to belong. That confirms its existence and its importance … Without it, we literally can’t interface with others. We can’t hatch plans and climb that stairway of popularity, of success” (July 2011). The idea that people yearn to see themselves replicated shows that this is an instinctual need that we have to find common ground with others while being successful. This is significant because although this feeling is human nature, we continue to put ourselves down and feel inferior when we fail to belong. I often wish I could climb this stairway of success faster when I see those close to me near the top step.
My brother is two years older than me, and I’ve begun to live in the shadow cast by his superiority. Having an older sibling hasn’t always caused me so much anguish. I’ve always looked up to him, but I didn’t expect that childish admiration to haunt me into adolescence. The day he received his ACT score was a happy day for our family. He came home and announced to my parents his near-perfect score, that would later see his acceptance to almost every college he applied to. Quietly, he said, “I got a thirty-five.” The message was delivered with modesty, but my parents escalated the situation. He isn’t one to gloat. Eyes wide, smiles began to spread across my parent’s faces as they embraced my brother, congratulating him. Reluctantly, he joined in the celebration, even showing a smile himself; a rarity for him to let us see his own pride. I stood in the corner, knowing that my congratulations would mean little to him, but I risked being reprimanded if I didn’t express my support. “Congrats, Victor,” I said. The words came out dryly, almost killing the joyous moment. “Thanks,” he replied; this safe response acting as a shield between him and me. At that moment, his success meant something much different to me than it did to him or my parents. To them, it was a moment of sheer pride and elation for him and for their progress in parenting. For me, however, this moment brought about a sinking fear in my head, telling me that I would never live up to my brother. That I would never make my parents nearly as proud as he had, try as I might.
This feeling of inadequacy is ubiquitous and it brings about the questions, will we ever overcome it? Will we ever be satisfied with who we are? In the same Ted Talk, Newton speaks about the formation of identity. She states, “At some point in early babyhood, the idea of self starts to form. Our little portion of oneness is given a name, is told all kinds of things about itself, and these details, opinions, and ideas become facts, which go towards building ourselves, our identity…But the self is a projection based on other people’s projections. Is it who we really are?” This idea that self is simply a projection is important to note because it not only shows that the expectations that others have for us make us strive to be a certain way. It also relates to the need we feel to compare ourselves to people who are more successful in meeting these expectations.
This instinct to want what others have and to be what others are is universal, and it functions as a sort of cycle. Using my brother’s success and my feelings of inferiority as motivation has allowed me to recognize my own different forms of adequacy and success. In order to maintain peace of mind, we must unlearn the inclination to compare ourselves. By focusing not on what others require of us, and instead striving for what we see as important, we can create our own stairways of success.