Let’s be honest: we’ve all compared ourselves to our friends. From a young age, it almost seems as though we’re conditioned by society to see our peers as competition on the path towards success. Such is certainly the case in college when it comes to academics and finding internships. Yet those feelings of jealousy don’t end once you graduate.
As you find yourself comparing your post-college situation to that of your friends (like where you’ll be working and living) and seeing congratulatory posts acknowledging job offers or grad school acceptances on social media, you might be sinking deeper and deeper into your seat, asking, “Why couldn’t I get that job?” “How come they can move away but I’m stuck living with my parents in my hometown?” and, most importantly, “Why does adulting feel so difficult when other people make it look so easy?”
While these feelings are normal to a degree, they shouldn’t clog your brain and affect your feelings about your own post-college plans. Here are a few reasons why comparing yourself does more harm than good and is a waste of your precious time:
1. Everyone is in your shoes
The majority of college grads feel some degree of jealousy or need to compare their plans to those of their peers. Just when you think you’re in good shape post-graduation, you suddenly hear about a friend who already has your dream job, and then those feelings of worry and doubt start to creep back in.
Remember that everyone feels nervousness towards entering the real world. Even your friend who will be moving to New York City to work for a major fashion magazine who seems to have it all might feel anxiety towards things like making new friends in a foreign place and how they’ll be able to afford rent.
Alaina Leary, a Social Content Curator at Connelly Partners, understands this idea completely. After experiencing some jealousy when she noticed her friends in the same industry getting jobs right out of school, she felt the tables turn when she landed her first job, but soon realized how little someone can understand the full story.
She says, “What [my friends] didn’t realize is that because I lived in Rhode Island at the time, I was commuting over two hours each way to work in Boston traffic while I was waiting for my lease on my Boston apartment to start. I came home from work exhausted from the travel every day, and I never had time to do necessary things like pick out furniture for my new apartment, or plan my graduation party, or research cars…Sometimes you don’t know the details of someone’s story, and we are ALL on different paths.”
We all experience that feeling of jealousy; even your "perfect" friend might be envious of where you'll be living or if you have an easier commute to work.
2. You’ve accomplished more than you realize
Amidst all of the stress that comes with leaving the comfortable walls of college and entering the real world, it’s easy to forget that you just graduated from college! This is a huge accomplishment in itself, and should not be taken for granted. Comparing yourself to others will cause you to lose sight of one of your biggest accomplishments in life.
Give yourself some time after graduation to soak that in and feel pride for your school—you earned that degree, and no one is taking that away from you. If you’ve graduated without clear next steps, use your time wisely to network with alumni from your school.
Whether you’re looking to enter a field related to your major or not, you’ve undoubtedly gained key skills in writing, critical thinking, research and public speaking, which all employers are looking for and should make you feel more optimistic about your future.
3. Social media doesn’t tell the whole story
We all know this concept, but how much do we really understand and absorb it?
Your friends and classmates (and likely yourself included) only share information that will put them in the best light possible. Humble-bragging on social media has become so commonplace that it’s normal to see friends announcing their job offers, acceptances to graduate school, and/or plans to move to a new city in the weeks and months leading up to graduation.
After college, there is sometimes a pressure to keep up that positive image to appear as though you’ve successfully navigated that transition from college to the real world. The next time you look at your Facebook news feed, keep in mind that there is a lot of hard work, sacrifice and even failure that you often don’t see behind those praiseworthy posts of major life events. What you see is usually not the full story, so it’s best to avoid dwelling on the posts you do see and take them with a grain of salt.
4. Everyone is on their own journey
With pressures from society, the media and the people around you looming over your head, it might seem as though there’s a right and a wrong way to begin your career and start “adulting.”
So what if you decide to live at home your first couple of years after college to save money for bigger and better things, or if you choose to take a retail or service industry gig for a few months to buy time to look for that full-time job that you’re really excited about? No post-college journey is better than another, as long as you continually keep your goals in mind and are doing everything in your power to set yourself up for happiness.
Note the purposeful placement of the word “happiness,” as opposed to “success.” Much of people’s fixation on their friends’ plans and feelings of jealousy stem from an archaic definition of the word “success”: That money and status should be the ultimate goal. It’s a lot easier to focus on your own journey over others’ when you think of success as happiness, or passion for one’s endeavors.
Kayla Lewkowicz, a 20-something working at a Cambridge startup, knows the importance of staying on your own path despite being envious of others at times. She says, “In college, it feels like you’re all on the same path. But after, the whole world is at your feet. Though it’s easy to turn green with envy at friends backpacking around the globe or leading outdoor trips, it’s OK to be you, and do your thing. We all have to remember that one.”
5. Your first job is not your last
You shouldn’t feel like a failure coming out of college if your entry-level job is dull, or has little to nothing to do with your major. It might feel as though your friends are getting closer to their career goals much more quickly than you are while you stare at your computer screen at work, but your first job won’t last forever. If anything, your first job should be seen as an opportunity to gain important skills, boost your resume and grow your network. Then, you can start to look for positions that truly pique your interest.
In the same vein, you also shouldn’t compare your situation to that of friends in different industries. For example, your engineering major friend may now have an awe-worthy, high-paying job in her industry, while you’re in a low-paying entry-level job in an industry where you have to pay your dues, so to speak, in order to move up.
Kristen Kraemer, a Content & Communication Coordinator at Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey, knows this feeling well. She says, “No two people are the same, so it’s important to focus on yourself and your accomplishments because they are your own. You are one who worked hard to reach your goals and just because someone’s goals aren’t the same as yours, doesn’t diminish your achievements!”
Here are a few tips to avoid those feelings of jealousy towards your friends after college and put more emphasis on the most important person in your life—yourself:
- Change your outlook. Rather than looking at your friends’ post-college plans with a critical eye and wondering why you're not in the same place, realize that a percentage of your fate is out of your control. Sometimes, your ability to land a dream job comes down to pure luck and circumstance. Maybe your friends have an “in” at the companies where they were hired, or spoke to a recruiter in person at a job fair at their school. When you take a step back and think about the different factors that go into a hiring decision, it will help you feel more positive about your own situation.
- Be proactive about achieving your goals. Whether you’re satisfied with your first job out of college or not, take the necessary steps early on to advance your career and put the focus on your goals. Attend networking events at your company and in your city to meet like-minded people who can mentor you. Take classes to learn something new related to your field that will help you improve in your job. Start a side hustle to boost your creativity and explore your varying interests. These suggestions will help take your attention away from your friends’ achievements and allow you to put energy into boosting your own skills.
- Have fun. Enjoy your 20s and don’t worry so much about what your peers think! While it might seem like the decisions you make right after college will have a large impact on the rest of your career and life, it’s important to not put too much pressure on yourself. Enjoy a night out with friends and avoid having too much of the conversation centered around careers. Do activities periodically to de-stress, from taking yoga classes to unwinding with your favorite book and a cup of tea.
Comparing oneself to friends is extremely easy these days given social media, societal pressures to “succeed” and tendencies to feel doubt and anxiety when your plans don’t fit in with what you pictured. However, if you remain focused on your goals and cancel out the noise, you will find that much of your uncertainties are self-induced and consuming of needless energy. You will always have friends after college who have more money, enviable life experiences and seemingly better jobs, but you should recognize your own journey as the most exciting of all.