Throughout my college career I had gotten my physical health largely under control, joined the executive board and presidency of prestigious organizations, and started my own business. Across multiple spectrums (H.E.A.L.T.H.), I was making great strides to better myself slightly every day, and it was noticeable. I was not the same person my parents had dropped off at my dorm building on August 23, 2013. I had grown. As a goal-oriented person, I set many goals for myself on many different timeframes. Overhead press 135 pounds by this year, read Walden by this month, go to 2 social events this week. Even though I did not accomplish all of the goals I set out, progress, not perfection, was the intended reward.
In college I struggled academically. Greatly. For the first time in my life I had to try. Coming from a high school where memorization, not application, was graded, simply paying attention in class guaranteed an A grade. College presented a similar but different challenge. Although we were still largely graded on our ability to mindlessly memorize and regurgitate, studying was crucial to success. As someone who did not even know how to study, this presented a problem.
2.146 - That was my GPA my first semester at college. Coming from a student who almost graduated with a 4.0 in high school, it was less than ideal. Something needed to change. I needed to change. I decided that if this $250,000 and 4 year investment was going to pay off, I needed to graduate with a job, and to graduate with a job I had to beat my peers. I had to beat the median.
I had to beat my peers. I had to beat the median.
Besides the idea of 50-minute lectures, office hours, and a bursar, the concept of class medians was also unique to me. No longer would we be graded only on a fixed scale representative of our absolute understanding, but also a moving scale representative of our relative understanding. In high school the relativity would be to my peers, those who lived in the same neighborhood as I, came from similar backgrounds, and generally were afforded the same opportunities. At Cornell my peer group changed to encompass people who had lived in different neighborhoods, came from drastically different backgrounds, and were generally afforded much greater opportunities. Most importantly, not only would beating the median guarantee that I would be academically eligible to apply for most jobs, but it would prove my worth.
I had heard it all during my time at Cornell. Affirmative action, quota-kid, and the N-word. Eventually I grew tired of feeling like an outsider. I came to the personal philosophy that if I could academically beat my peers, then I could socially beat the stereotypes.
Accounting was always a horrible subject for me. I quickly grew uninterested in the subject, it seemed unimportant to me to memorize debits and credits, particularly as an entrepreneur who would much rather hire an accountant to take care of it (shoutout to my fellow entrepreneurs!). As long as I understood that accounting was important to the operations of a business, the study of specifics such as balance sheets, income statements, and consolidated reports seemed like a moot point to me. As Albert Einstein, Time Magazine's Person of the 20th Century, said, “Never memorize something that you can look up in a book”.
We were assigned a financial statements project and although I was a not fond of accounting, I tried my hardest. When we got back the results in lecture, I had received a 90, my first A grade on any project since going to college! I was ecstatic! This was the validation that I needed. That I belonged. I was as capable of my peers.
After lecture I approached the professor and gleamingly inquired on the median grade. She asked me what I got and if I was satisfied. Of course I was and she could surely sense it, so when she said that the median grade was a 93, she could also sense my disapproval.
“You really shouldn’t compare yourself to the median. It’s arbitrary and changes all the time. Compare yourself to yourself.”
I left the auditorium that day feeling defeated, that I would never amount to my classmates, and that it was probably a mistake that I got into Cornell.
After hours of introspection, I eventually got past the emotional aspect of failing to bear my peers and tried to be logical. I realized that my personal philosophy was one of the greatest mistakes I had made throughout my college career. I had willingly given away my power and placed my success, my happiness, my sense of accomplishment, in the hands of other people. Hands that rarely take a break to feed mouths other than their own.
Even though I aspired to be one of the top job candidates in my class, my motives and motivations were misguided. I wasn’t doing it for me; I was doing it for them. And as long as I continued to do things for the gratification of others rather than the personal satisfaction of progress, I would continue to run circles around the death trap known as Comparative Disadvantage.
As you improve in each aspect of H.E.A.L.T.H., the group you consider your peers and thus your comparative group, continues to improve as well. You will be hard pressed to find an untrained individual who could bench 225 lbs, which makes it a feat of accomplishment across the general population. But enter weight training circles, and a 225 bench is a common warm-up for powerlifters. If you continue to comparatively base your success on the status of your peers, you lead down a cycle of inadequacy and negativity. You don’t wish the best for yourself, but the worst for those around you.
I was so stuck comparing myself to my peers that I couldn’t appreciate the fact that my GPA had went from a 2.146 in my first semester to a 3.231 in my second semester. I was striving for perfection and ignoring my progression.
I was striving for perfection and ignoring my progression.
There will always be people better than you. Smarter than you. More athletic than you. More sociable than you. But that isn’t cause for feelings of inadequacy. It should be a cause for joy, for it means that you still have much to acquire and improve. Moving past the emotional and into the logical, knowing others are doing better should be cause for aspiration, a verification that you can continue to get better and that is the true goal – self-betterment.
Going into my 3rd year in college, I have yet to beat the median on ANY exam, project, or major assignment, but that is O.K. I am doing better than I used to. And that is all that matters. To get better. Day by day. Comparing myself to myself.