Not So Impressive

It’s easy at Harvard to feel overwhelmed by your peers’ accomplishments. Your friend is a published author, your roommate played at Carnegie Hall, and your classmate is representing the United States in the 2012 Olympics. Your boyfriend knew number theory before you knew numbers. Some people get so overwhelmed, they start to wonder if their admission was a fluke. Everyone else is so amazing, I can’t believe they wanted another Asian from California!

Stop right there. Allow me to dispel some illusions for you. Seemingly impressive people fall into three categories:

1) They’re not actually that impressive, but know how to fake it.
2) They’re actually impressive, and worked really hard to get there.
3) They’re impressive, worked really hard to get there, and are indeed five times better than you at everything.

People in group 1) are political types. They major in social studies, an all-honors concentration. They’re liasons at the IOP and get to escort Tony Blair on the two minute walk from the faculty club to CGIS. They hand out business cards. They organize conferences which swindle thousands of dollars out of unsuspecting Chinese students drawn to the Harvard name. They will be successful congressmen until they get caught consorting with prostitutes. This category also includes anyone who has ever claimed to play piano at Carnegie Hall.

People in group 2) are the work horses. They fill Harvard’s research labs and TF positions. They score 42 on the MCAT and that summer internship at McKinsey. They tend to be sure about things, because if they aren’t sure, they just pick i-banking and call it a day. Many are genuinely curious and genuinely interested. Some are not. The irony of group 2) is that while they’re constantly stressed out about little things, they rarely stress over the big picture. What’s the point? The only real conundrum they’re facing is 2+2 followed by private equity, or 2+2 followed by management consulting. Because, you know, consulting is more intellectual.

Group 3) are the people you hate. They aren’t just smarter than you. They’re also more athletic, more popular, and more charitable. Luckily, not too many of them exist. That any do makes the world seem patently unfair. But before you set off desperately searching out the metric by which you compare favorably (i.e. telling yourself that you have a hotter girlfriend or a lower resting heart rate), see if you can derive some inspiration from them. After all, in a couple years, that could be you.