My parents always told me how special I was. As an only child, I always received all the attention, encouragement and awesome birthday parties that I could ever hope for. Throughout my life, I always heard my mom’s voice in the back of my mind telling me about my amazing talents and personality. She never hesitated to compliment me on every achievement, whether it was having a 4.0 or being elected senior class president. Most of the time I believed her. I got to college and then realized that she had actually, intentionally or not, lied about the uniqueness of my accomplishments.
I went to a small high school with a graduating class of about 130 students. My high school years consisted of lots of friends, two varsity sports, countless extracurricular activities and minimal study hours. Everything that interested me came naturally to me and I excelled without putting forth too much effort. I dedicated myself to my studies and my extracurricular activities, so everyone around me continually deemed me special. I cruised through my four years with ease and I confidently believed that my ability to succeed would guide me through college as well.
I qualified for automatic admission to an excellent university, UT Austin, and received numerous scholarships. I grew accustomed to the constant praise for all of my hard work and dedication, and anyone with eyes could see my eagerness to see what college had in store for me.
Realizing that I wasn’t as special as I thought began at freshman orientation. I had never seen so many people my age together at one time. A professor leading an orientation seminar asked every high school valedictorian or salutatorian to raise their hand. As I looked around to see nearly every person’s hand go up, surprise crept in. It was the first time I realized that everyone else possessed as much intelligence and determination as I did.
Being on campus my first semester furthered my feelings of insignificance. There were thousands of students who were exactly like me. Everyone I met seemed to have the same story as I did–they graduated at the top of their class, played multiple sports and held some sort of leadership role in almost every campus club. It shocked me to learn that everything that came so easy to me in high school came just as easy to everyone else.
Then the rejection really started to hit me. Looking around at a lecture hall filled with 300 people who had just as much ability as I did brought about true fear. Accustomed to being one of the smartest students in the room, I cringed when I realized that wasn’t always a guarantee here. The confidence that carried me through my four years of high school disappeared. I realized my insignificance and saw how much harder I needed to work if I truly wanted to stand out.
As my first year came to an end, my fear of normalcy almost prevented me from continuing with school. In the past, my confidence in my ability to succeed in college and get a great job as soon as I graduated never faltered. Seeing everyone in my classes pursuing the same major with the same goals that I had made me think that I didn’t stand a chance in the real world.
Everyone knows that the journalism field is competitive, but I never really grasped my insignificance until I saw how many other future journalists there were at just my college. Every person I saw could be another person who would apply for the same jobs and internships I would apply for. Newsroom jobs were becoming more challenging to obtain, and it didn’t help that hundreds of students could potentially apply for the same position. I wanted desperately to work in a newsroom, and I quickly learned that doing that would not be as easy as I thought.
Other students could have a better resume or better interview skills and the thought of that made me even more nervous. So much intimidating competition frightened me and I knew that cruising through college would not cut it.
After accepting the fact that I needed to make an effort in college, I did my best to change my perspective. I knew that going through life on cruise control wouldn’t work anymore. Seeing that everything in college could be turned into a competition made me want to win even more. I dedicated myself to my studies and joined organizations that interested me. I knew that I still had the ability to stand out from the crowd–I just needed to work harder than before. I still get intimidated when the professor tells us that 100 other people in our class also made an A on the exam, but now I know I can focus on just doing my best and letting everything fall into place.