Confusion Corner: Competitive overachieving

I enjoy my morning walks under the trees of old campus. I absorb the positive air and the peacefulness of passing only few students on their way to classes which they are already 15 minutes early for. I mentally sift through my agenda for that day, commend myself on doing four out of my five assigned readings and occasionally stop to take a picture of an artsy-looking tree to upload to Instagram (followed by #blessed, #William and Mary).

My morning takes a turn, though, when I mistakenly make eye contact with “that” friend. The friend you wonder and worry about, the one who holds a leadership role in five clubs. The friend who never misses her weekly community service obligation, nor her part-time job, but still, allegedly, maintains a 4.0 GPA. As she approaches me, smiling and waving, I channel Ms. Aibileen from “The Help.” I mentally prepare myself by putting her famous words on a loop in my head: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Yes, Ms. Aibilieen, I am. If anything can keep my day as splendid as it began, this can.

I gulp in that last amount of fresh, positive air as I come to a stop and she greets me with a perky “How are you?” followed by a generic rant of how busy her day is, listing her many commitments and how she is running on two hours of sleep. As she keeps talking, I can’t help but reflect on myself. Compared to her, I am doing considerably less with my life. I consider joining another club, because wow, I need to step up my stress game. Then it hits me: the feeling of inadequacy.

Well gosh, maybe I am not involved enough at the College of William and Mary — do I even go here?

Well gosh, maybe I am not involved enough at the College of William and Mary — do I even go here? And yes, I also have a ton of homework and I am seriously involved with one group on campus. I mean, serious involvement includes a long-time commitment of a year or more, and always having a place in that organization’s life, right? Did I mention that I have a lot of homework? This friend is not the first person to grace me (and presumably you), with overachievement anxiety.

Think back to freshman year when you were finally getting to know your hallmates. They began to list the clubs and activities they were in in high school — facts now as irrelevant as Mike Myers since his last Austin Powers film. And then you finally met the most pretentious of them all: the guy who had not yet discovered LinkedIn. Once you looked him up on Facebook and found 15 AP classes listed on his “about” page.

As your career at the College progresses, you may meet the thoughtful friend. This one never goes a class without answering the most difficult questions in a considered and articulate way on the spot, while you struggle to collect your thoughts over five minutes.

You’ll also meet brilliant professors who give you the chance every class to ask them to define a word from their ridiculously large vocabulary, and instead you see it as a trick to reveal the fact that you aren’t the descendant of a dictionary.

The College is stressful and competitive; with a stressful atmosphere and  competitive people comes the feeling of inadequacy. One thing to consider when interacting with students who appear to be overachievers, and have it all together, is that they could be lying. People can make themselves appear however they want — that does not mean they truly are that way.

The feeling of inadequacy essentially is a feeling of insecurity. You can only overcome it by accepting who you are and working harder to become a better you. This is what the College does. It makes you better by working you harder than you have ever worked before, giving you larger goals to work toward and hardcore people to work against, including yourself.

Jillian Bates is a Confusion Corner columnist who is devoted to the competitive sport of overachieving.


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