The Ultimate Race: On Comparison & Law School
I have this terrible habit of reaching for my phone whenever I can’t be stuffed concentrating on a lecture or reading a whole case.
Whenever I’m listening to someone drone on about the principles of law or find out that a case is more than 5 paragraphs, I instinctively turn to Instagram and Facebook to save me from my boredom. To counter this habit, someone recommended a productivity app that plants a digital tree whenever I resist touching my phone for a specified period of time. So far, no trees have been planted.
The best thing about social media is I can watch the lives of people I admire and all the ways they’re making their mark on the world. The worst thing about social media is I can watch the lives of people I admire and all the ways they’re making their mark on the world.
Now that I’m close to the end of my degree, and we’re in a season where people are starting to buck up and gain some sort of legal experience, I can start to feel the familiar grip of anxiety. The pit in my stomach would grow every time I found out yet another person had scored a reputable job, achieved something significant, or secured a notable position. With each ‘good news’ that came my way, so did the thoughts that whispered, ‘you’re getting left behind.’
It’s this annoying buzz word that’s been circulating ever since social media dominated our screens. We’ve all been warned about its dangers, yet we continue to engage in it and measure ourselves against those who we believe are ‘better’ than us. I don’t think I ever fully understood the intricacies or dangers of comparison until law school.
Like weeds, comparison begins its lifespan so small and seemingly harmless that we’re initially dismissive of its existence. It starts off with a tiny twinge when you hear someone else got a better mark than you, and a throbbing ache when someone got the position you were gunning for. Its birthed from a small question, ‘why didn’t I get that opportunity?’ and manifests into ‘why aren’t I good enough?’
Then more questions start to fire off:
Am I going to be successful?
Is there a purpose for me here?
Is everything that I’ve been working towards for the last 5 years going to be worth it?
You become wholeheartedly convinced that you’re inadequate and you’ll never measure up. You resolve to do whatever you can to close the gap between you and this idea of ‘enough,’ only to find it’s a never-ending uphill battle.
Distrust and bitterness grow rampant when we continue to water the seeds of comparison. Left unchecked, these weeds can entangle us in a never-ending cycle of wondering why other people have it better and easier than us. It can choke the life out of the dreams we’ve planted for ourselves and make us question if it’s even worth tending to our garden if someone else’s is just going to look better. It can cause us to feel low-key resentful towards others and forever keep us in competition mode. It can be the driving force that compels us to keep striving to prove we’re worthy- only to leave us burnt out in the end.
Nobody wins when we engage in this battle of comparing ourselves to others. Whether you’ve waged full-blown warfare against someone, or just made snarky digs at them in your mind, nobody is crowned the victor.
My honest belief for all of us experiencing these questions is that there is a purpose for you here. The work you do matters. And the thing you’re working for will pay off for you in the end. Even if someone else gets what you want first, it doesn’t detract from the fact that you will get to claim opportunities of your very own. There’s so much influence and impact running through your veins that everything you touch is going to have purpose.
But I know this is real hard to believe when we’re consumed by the mentality that Law School is this Ultimate Race. You know, the race where there’s only one prize for all of us, and we have to strap on our weapons and battle each other Hunger Games Style until we win. We end up tearing our eyes away from our goals and spend all our energy twisting and turning our necks to see who’s gaining momentum on us and wondering why someone else is faster, better or smarter than us.
I don’t claim to be above this. I get consumed by this mentality too every time I see someone else’s job update on LinkedIn or catch a whisper of someone else’s GPA. All I know is that time gets wasted when we worry about who’s ahead of us. Time gets wasted when we are constantly turning our heads to see who our competition is or analysing all the ways why someone else got the prize.
Last year, someone I looked up to, purely because of the fact she seemed to have her future career planned and figured out, sent me a flurry of messages to vent about the fact that she was doing everything ‘right’ and only getting minimal returns. Other people were coming up from behind and getting the opportunities she’d worked for, and anxiety was whispering that maybe this meant that she wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer.
Turns out, while she had been measuring herself against others, I was also comparing myself to her.
I think this happens more than we realise. The irony is that, while you’re comparing yourself to another person, someone else is probably wondering why they aren’t more like you.
And how heartbreaking would it be if you never discovered your full potential because you were too busy trying to imitate someone else.
So let me leave you with this, dear reader.
There is a seat for you at the table.
There is enough blessings and abundance in this world for both you and someone else to achieve the things you want.
Someone else’s success doesn’t take away the fact that there is so much purpose and impact running through your veins.
No amount of striving will change the fact that you’re already enough.
“Take yourself out of the race,” I told my friend at the end of the call. “You’re in a league of your own.”
Don’t look side to side for your inspiration. Don’t turn around to see who’s coming up behind you/ Just look straight ahead because that’s where you’re going.
By Ash Chow