We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
You’re in the warm up ring of your first horse show of the year and you feel ready. You and your horse have prepared all winter, your trainer says you’re good to go, you have your new show coat on, and you’re feeling confident. You will rock this class!
….and then you see her.
She could be a longtime rival you’ve known forever or maybe she’s a new face on the circuit, but either way, you spot her cantering along on the other side of the warm up and suddenly her mere presence has managed to suck all of the air out of your lungs. Look at that form! Look at her horse! How can anyone look that perfect in 90 degree weather in this dusty arena?!
And just like that, your hopes of victory are dashed. Just like that, all of your hard-won confidence is zapped and you assume the best you can hope and pray for is a second place ribbon.
But what really changed between the moment when you felt that you were on track to victory and your conclusion that you would lose?
It’s a universal truth of horse showing (and life) that we constantly compare ourselves to those around us. It’s not always a bad thing – comparisons can help us gauge our own progress in certain areas and can inspire us to work harder or do better. We can pick out qualities or characteristics in others that we wish to possess within ourselves and can then use comparison to that other person as a barometer to assess our progress. How far have we come? How far do we still have to go to accomplish our goal?
But comparisons become dangerous when we begin to make huge, leaping assumptions about others – especially because those comparisons are usually hugely unfair and put us at a terrible disadvantage. We begin to undermine ourselves and our abilities, to change our positive attitudes into negative ones, and pull ourselves down to the point that we turn our pending loss into a self-fulfilling prophecy. (The famous snowball effect works for both the powers of good and the forces of evil, you see.)
I must be working my way up to a point here – right?
If you’re a college junior or even an on-the-ball sophomore, you’re probably beginning to think about potential colleges right about now. You’re putting together a list of schools and thinking about how your grades and test scores will match up with the averages of students they’ve accepted in the past. This is a good comparison and a fair one that can help you determine whether a school should be on your list of “sure things” or if maybe it’s a good target that will inspire you to work just a little harder on the application if you want to stand out from your peers.
The doubts will appear later, though. They’ll sneak up when you aren’t looking – perhaps after your first meeting with your guidance counselor next fall or right around the time you and your best friend (the one you think is a verifiable genius) start to compare notes and realize that you’re looking at a couple of the same schools. (Perhaps you also covet spots on the same riding teams!) The self-sabotage will kick in at that point – “I’ll never get in if she’s looking at that school!” “They only took how many students into that program last year?!”
My sage and worldly advice to you to get through this particular challenge? Just stop it.
That’s right. Stop with the negative thoughts and stop with the comparisons to those around you. The only comparison that you can fairly make when it comes to selecting the colleges you will apply to are to examine the you of right now and a projected view of the you of the future. What and how do you want to be? How do you want to get from Point A (now) to Point B (then)?
Worrying about everyone else who is on the same path as you and shares your goal is the surest way I know to guarantee your own defeat. (Remember the horse show example? You show me a rider who hasn’t choked in that exact situation at least once in their competitive career and I’ll show you a real live unicorn.)
Colleges want unique students who are smart, driven, and have something to bring to the table – and most of them need anywhere from 400 to many thousand freshman who fit that profile to fill their freshman classes each fall. Why shouldn’t you be among their number?
That’s funny; I can’t think of a reason either.
(Need help navigating those comparisons? Contact me.)