By Nor Akmal (23S03A, Peer Helper) and Jolene Yee (23S03A)
Cover image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)
Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to https://tinyurl.com/riadvice and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.
How do I stop comparing myself to others, especially when I feel like I come from a different background (not wealthy, not from branded primary school, not sporty)?
– Insecure Ivy
Dear Insecure Ivy,
We know how you feel.
It seems as though everywhere you look, there is someone better than you. Some of our peers’ portfolios are stacked with not only impeccable academic grades, but excellent CCA records and countless VIA hours to boot. Self-doubt starts creeping in and you cannot help but wonder, Have I done enough? Have my efforts thus far been in vain?
While it is easy to get caught up in feelings of inadequacy, constantly comparing ourselves with others can be detrimental to our mental health. Not to mention, it’s extremely unproductive and doesn’t bring us any benefits. We fall down the rabbit hole of self-despair, and we continue to dig ourselves deeper and deeper into that hole. Breaking free of this prison of inferiority is no easy task; but step by step, you can escape this never-ending cycle of comparison.
By the end of this article, we hope that you will be able to look in the mirror and be satisfied with how far you’ve come, regardless of who your peers are and what they’ve achieved.
What’s My Environment Like?
Before we start comparing ourselves to our peers, it is good to contextualise the kind of environment we are in. Surely, we have all been well-acquainted with the culture of scarcity in our education system – almost everything hinges on a bell curve, and there is a limited number of awards, scholarships and accolades that everyone is competing for. We are no strangers to this rat race and it can be particularly exhausting at the tertiary level. It is therefore only natural that we look to others to benchmark our own progress.
Take it from us, but in RI, there really is no shortage of high-achievers. National athletes, Olympiad winners, you name it. Honestly, in any environment where there is an aspect of competition, there will always be someone who does more or does better.
Hence, instead of succumbing to the inevitability of self-perceived feelings of inferiority, try building up your own self-esteem by celebrating your successes, regardless of how little or big they are.
No One is an Open Book
Ever heard of the term “closet mugger”? Yes, it is who you’re thinking of – that seemingly unbothered individual in class who claims to not have studied for a test but ends up performing exceedingly well. Beneath that veneer of disinterest or perhaps even apathy towards schoolwork, who knows? He or she could be secretly studying till 2am at home every day.
So, this then begs another question you should ask yourself: How well do I know my peers? Sure, you might know their preferences, hobbies and maybe even their phobias. But only we know ourselves best ─ as an outsider, you cannot assess someone purely based on their outward appearances, i.e. how they present themselves. Every individual is multidimensional, and is bound to face complex, multifaceted issues that they would rather keep to themselves.
Before you see someone and think that their life is a bed of roses, remember that everyone is fighting their own personal battles ─ even the most talented athletes and smartest scholars. It is always good to ground ourselves with this mindset, as it helps us appreciate what we already have in life.
Friend or Foe?
Invariably, our self-image can be heavily shaped by the kind of people we hang around with. Being constantly exposed to snide, negative remarks from “friends” will erode our self-confidence, and make us feel pathetic. Conversely, being surrounded by individuals who will compliment you (but not to the extent of yes-men) and support you every step of your way would do wonders for your mental health.
Consequently, the Aunts and Uncles here urge you to take a step back and review the people you usually hang around with. Are they adding on to your self-esteem issues, or are they supportive friends who want to see you thrive? If the former is true, consider communicating your concerns with them. Worse comes to worst, if they trivialise how you feel or are reluctant to change, cut these people off from your life as they were never really your friends in the first place. In any case, sometimes what we all need is a bit of an ego boost from our friends.
When you feel validated, the desire to compare yourself to others starts to wane. Yet, it is crucial not to develop a dependency on external sources of validation as we risk having our thoughts and actions be at the mercy of someone else’s judgement and views, which should not be the case as we all have a right to self-autonomy – we should not be letting others dictate how we live and feel.
And this thus brings us to our next point on seeking self-validation.
Sometimes, your friends cannot be fully present to give you the support you wish to receive. But that is okay, because you can clap and cheer for yourself during those times ─ with, for example, a simple “I have tried my best” or “I have worked hard” to validate your effort. After all, self-confidence and self-assurance come from within!
You may ask then, how do I start? Several ways you can get started on your journey to self-validation include acknowledging your strengths, celebrating every small success that comes your way and giving yourself a pat on the back for your effort and progress thus far.
Perhaps you might find it difficult to discern if you have actually made any tangible progress, or that you are concerned progress is happening too slowly to be detected. In such cases, try monitoring yourself daily, say having a ‘personal tracker’ or some sort to observe any small changes in yourself – this concretises your development and helps you appreciate the extent of the progress you have accumulated over time.
Additionally, recognise that you are human and hence are bound to have flaws and make mistakes as well. While you might view them as undesirable blemishes to have, your imperfections are actually not personality defects – they complete you instead.
You might have heard your tutors reiterate this phrase time and again, be it during level-wide assemblies or CCE lessons. Yes, we are talking about the growth mindset here. As much as the term might seem platitudinous, some of us unfortunately do not possess such a mindset. Yet, it is an attitude that is a must-have for all of us, especially in our learning and development.
It entails reframing challenges as opportunities, setbacks as learning experiences, and actively seeking out feedback on our performance and progress. Take for instance picking up a new skill or learning a new instrument. You would encounter a fair share of hiccups here and there but you could think of them as ‘opportunities’ as opposed to ‘obstacles’.
In the same vein, if you had performed poorly in a test, try reframing your thoughts from a ‘this is such an awful grade’ to a ‘I think I have room for improvement’ or ‘I think I can do better next time’. Believe us, such minor thought differences could translate to major differences in actions and behaviour.
Having a growth mindset definitely brings bountiful benefits – it empowers you to believe in yourself and your abilities, builds your self-esteem and mental resilience, and decreases your emotional susceptibility to external factors, such as the circumstances of others.
End over Start
How you finish will always be more important than how you started ─ and how you finish is something completely within your agency. Yes, your peers may come from prestigious primary schools and have access to the best tuition Singapore has to offer, but that should not have any bearing on your own journey striving for progress and excellence. We would not deny that life is unfair, but when push comes to shove, we all have to make do with what we have.
This is a bit of tough love, but instead of focusing on what others have, try to reflect on and be grateful for what you already possess. Try your best to find success from your starting point, no matter how far you think you are behind from others.
Ultimately, the main takeaway is that how you end is not determined by how you start ─ so never give up and take the bull by the horns! All the best!
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset