One of the hardest parts about the transition to uni from high school was finding out that I wasn’t as special as I always thought I was. From kindy all the way through to Year 12 I was the ‘smart’ kid. I took home glowing reports to my parents, I had gold starts on all my homework, always topped the class in assignments and was reading way above the recommended level. I spent my childhood being told I was the best, so it was a shock to realise that I wasn’t all that special when I got to uni. My marks weren’t bad but I wasn’t topping the class either- I wasn’t the overachiever anymore.
I know I’m not the only one who experienced this and anyone who has gone through it will know the hardest bit isn’t realising that you’re not the number one anymore. What’s hard is when you start to slip behind, everyone still expects you to be the best and with that comes the fear of disappointing people.
For some people this happens in high school, for others, like me, it happens in uni. For others, it happens when you enter the ‘real world’ and everyone is doing their own thing and living their own lives. It happens to the kids who have spent their whole childhood being told they are above the rest, only to find out that the reality is, they’re the same as everyone else. Good at some things, but not always as good as others.
There’s not a lot you can do when this happens. It’s frustrating and it hurts to realise that the things that made up so much of you actually aren’t that amazing. It will feel like you’re letting people down and above all else, like you’re somehow failing yourself or destroying your own potential.
Eventually though, you’ll realise the rat race isn’t worth trying to keep up with. While it’s nice to feel like you’re somehow in front, the truth is that academic success isn’t the most important thing in your life (even if it somehow feels like it is). Just because you’re not getting 100% on every exam or because you drop out of uni, doesn’t mean you’re worth any less than the person that was given a million primary school awards and could ace an essay.
When you compare yourself to everyone around you, the brutal reality is that there are people who can and will overtake you. You start to forget about all the good things about yourself and your life and can only see all the points of difference between you and everyone else. You focus on what other people have, and forget about everything that makes your own life bloody amazing. When they say comparison is the theif of joy, it’s true.
But that shouldn’t matter. What matters is that you focus on what you enjoy and pour your energy into that. Learn to measure your success on your happiness, wellbeing and how much you’re enjoying life, rather than marks and rankings.
It’s okay not to be an overachiever anymore. What’s not okay is deciding to give up on everything just because you’re not coming first.