I can still vividly recall the burst of excitement that I felt when March SAT scores were released last month.
Upon finding out my score, I tripped down the dark stairs through blurry tears (my parents are very conservative when it comes to light energy) to the brilliantly illuminated kitchen, where an aroma of freshly baked bread had wrapped itself around my mom.
"Mom!" I screeched like a siren, jumping up and down frantically, "Mom, I didn't fail my SAT!"
I told her my score. It wasn't anything worth bragging about on a Chinese parenting level, but I was proud of it, mostly because I was impressed that I didn't manage to score 500 points lower than I did on my first time taking it.
"Oh," she said as she continued mixing a new batch of bread batter, "Oh. Okay."
Then in the same breath: "Your friend *Kenny got a perfect score."
And then another blow. "James also took the SAT this month," she hummed cheerfully as she reached for the flour. "Do you want to know what he got?"
"No," I said all smiley, while my tears of happiness turned into tears of anguish as I pierced myself clutching onto the remaining shards of my shattered self-esteem. "No, not really."
Freaking Kenny. Why couldn't he just miss one? JUST ONE. My self-esteem wailed as it struggled to hold onto its withering life.
SEE ALSO: To The Kid From My SAT Class Who Kicked My Dumb A*S, You're My Hero
I spent about three hours on PrepScholar that night trying to find out just how good my SAT score really was. "Retake it if you didn't get a 1570," the words on my phone screen chirped.
I remember not too many months ago when a friend of mine (we'll call her Arya for now) was ranting to me about doing worse her second time taking the SAT than she did the first time she took the test. Understanding why she felt upset, I tried my best to comfort her, but after hearing what her second score actually was, I tried my best to not slam her on the head with a chair.
"YOU CALL A 1500 A BAD SCORE!?" I had raged as steam churned from my nostrils. "I'D KILL YOU FOR THAT SCORE."
And figuratively, I meant it. As a person who struggled to reach a 1300 on numerous practice tests, all I ever wanted was to score above a 1500.
And now, I finally did.
So why do I still feel so unsatisfied with myself?
"We just want you to take it easy," my dad would always say, "That's why we never try to compare you to other people. It puts too much pressure on you." But within two minutes, he'd find away to bring up a conversation about another guy named Kenny, the son of one of his soccer buddies who was the valedictorian of his school and had just gotten into Harvard.
There's nothing wrong with comparing ourselves to others, but what tends to happen is that we end up comparing our flaws to other people's strengths.
Back when I was applying for my school's National Honor Society, one of the sections on the form was for filling out the "awards" that you've won during your time as a high school student, and when I noticed how blank that section on my form was compared to the forms of some of my friends who had won numerous piano competitions or competed on a national level for clubs like HOSA or FBLA, I panicked.
But what I failed to notice at the time was how beautiful and voluminous some of the other sections of my form were, such as my community service section that had been overflowing with activities logged for 10, 20 and even 150 hours.
I was so blinded by the strengths of others that I couldn't even see my own.
Why is it that only the achievements of others stand out to us?
When we look at someone who had accomplished something incredible, we say to ourselves "Wow, if only I could be as amazing and successful as that person!" But when we, too, achieve that incredible something, we don't find it to be so amazing anymore.
My freshman self looked up to the section leaders in marching band as a position that I could only dream of fulfilling, but when I was awarded the position myself last season, my pride lasted about three days before it fizzled and faded away.
It's not that I didn't love every moment of serving the position, it's just that it didn't feel like such a great and mighty achievement anymore. I didn't suddenly see myself as a glowing marching goddess that all the freshies bowed down to like my predecessors before me; I was still just the same sunburned loser who tripped over her own two feet.
When Arya was telling me about her 1500, I put that score on a shiny gold pedestal and worshiped it with my body and soul. But when I managed to score above a 1500 myself, why did that score suddenly appear as only a golden calf?
And what's on that pedestal now? A 1570? A 1600? Do those scores only glitter too?
It's natural for people to be constantly looking for more and better, and that goes for not only material goods but achievements too.
And I'm not saying that it's bad to be ambitious, but it's when we start devaluing our own achievements to drive that ambition is when we start to feel particularly low in self-efficacy. Start recognizing your strengths and paying more attention to your own successes. Don't belittle a goal you've scored just because there are other goal posts scattered around you.
Chances are, we all have Kennys in our lives, and those Kennys will have their own Kennys who will also have their own Kennys. But someone out there sees you as their Kenny too. Maybe not for every little aspect of you, but they'll notice those goals that you score and respect you.
And maybe that someone is a person who's actually a Kenny to you, a Kenny whose achievements seem so much better than your own. But their achievements aren't necessarily better or worse. They're just different.
So even if it doesn't seem like much to you, take pride in what you've accomplished. Don't let yourself get caught up in what others are doing and devalue your achievements like that.
I'm sure you've done some really great things.
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of these individuals.