Graphic by Maddy VanOrman
Graphic by Maddy VanOrman

Ernest Hemingway is famous for being an egocentric curmudgeon; however, contemptuous demeanor aside, the man provided the world with more than a few memorable witticisms. As I approach the culmination of my undergraduate degree, one specific quote from the proverbial “Papa” Hemingway strongly resonates with me: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Measuring your personal successes against the accomplishments of others will only lead to negative feelings of doubt and inferiority, but it’s something we are all guilty of. I know I am a serial offender when it comes to comparing myself to other people. When I first read this legendary novelist’s quote it struck me and it continues to strike me today, because what he said is true: The only person I need to outdo is my former self.

The world we live in bestows a high value on superiority and victory; everything is about doing more, being more and accomplishing more. While it is not wrong to value accomplishment and strive for success, there is more to consider when working toward individual validation and self-awareness. Being ‘better’ than someone else will not provide you with ultimate happiness.

As I think back to my freshman year, I see an eager, albeit terrified, 18-year-old who has no idea what to expect from life. The 18-year-old version of myself possesses minimal self-confidence and never dares to express her opinions for fear of being judged. She often does things not because she wants to, but because others want her to. In short, she is obsessed with pleasing everyone.

I would love to say that I have changed completely, that this soon-to-be college graduate has transformed from a scared little girl into a confident and daring young woman who knows exactly what she wants and where she is headed but if I said that, I would be lying.

I am not 100 percent confident in myself; I don’t think I ever will be. The world is not less scary because I am graduating from college and truthfully, I am still uncertain of what I really want from life. However, I am now brave enough to express my opinions and I have more self-worth than ever before. I may not have the next five years planned out, but I know where I am headed in January. Most importantly, I’ve started doing things that I want to do instead of being so concerned with people-pleasing.

Most of us who enter university directly after graduating high school naively believe that on the joyous occasion when we finally receive our degrees, the clouds will open and we will be showered with prospective job offers and an infinite understanding of the universe. I obviously don’t need to tell you that this inane belief is not just slightly lofty, it’s absolutely impossible.

Through my own successes and failures, along with the wise counsel of multiple brilliant and encouraging mentors, I have not achieved perfection; there are still volumes of knowledge I have yet to discover and hundreds of life lessons to experience. I am not superior to anyone around me; however, I am significantly superior to my former self and for that, I’ll pat myself on the back.

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