People Who Are Better Than You

Peggy Li, Columnist

I distinctly remember the first time I took a chemistry class. It was during my junior year of high school and it was required. I sat in the very back row because I wasn’t really looking forward to it and subsequently did very badly in the class. For some reason, the logic behind the different types of moles did not come easily to me. Even planning out simple unit conversions was painful to my tender brain. I was consistently one of the worst students in the class. Meanwhile, my close friend, a contender for valedictorian, had consistently scored highest on every test. Out of sick curiosity I once tried to study with her before a test. She finished studying after 3 dedicated hours–I gave up after 40 painful minutes. She ended up getting a 96 and I think I might’ve gotten a raw 64, 78 after a generous curve. In other words, she was better than me at chem.

I’m pretty confident that over the course of their lives most people feel inferior at some time or another. Growing up, you realize there is such a thing as natural talent and intelligence and that while we should treat all people equally well, the higher powers did not distribute all gifts equally. It’s a painful experience but, especially in academics, people will be better than you. It can shatter the unspoken conviction that you are a special snowflake who can do anything if only you put in time and effort. Because honestly, that was never true. People you know and people you don’t will continue to be better than you at just about everything.

To make matters worse, you will likely encounter, and get to know on a personal level, someone who you realize is literally better than you at almost every conceivable thing that matters. Sure you may have more followers on Instagram, but they are still more intelligent. It’s happened to me before, and honestly, it’s painful. What can you do in the face of such superiority? At first it was crippling. What’s the point of doing anything if some other person can do it more quickly, more easily, with unfailingly better results every time? I fell into misery. I tried to make myself feel better by persuading myself that I do well in the other things that also matter.

And yet, convincing yourself that you’re sometimes superior than others in an effort to make yourself feel better is a dangerous trap. Even in the process of that self-pity and comfort you implicitly accept their superiority as fact when in truth, you might not know the full story. Additionally, the satisfaction you get from compensating for your inferiority is ultimately quite shallow. Do you really want to be the person that gets off on any small, perceived superiority? In reality, you’re nursing a wound of doubt and the underlying insecurity just festers. You really should be asking yourself why any of it matters.

Because if its only about someone else being smarter than you, there’s literally nothing you could do about that unless you want to force yourself to work ten times harder to make up the difference. People often forget that being “better at math” or being “better at analytical work” is not that different than “being better at gardening.” Society places more emphasis on the former because they are deemed useful, but I’m sure 400 years ago gardening was a lot more essential to survival. Let me also point out that being “better at math,” no matter how much emphasis we place on it is not the same as simply being “better.” Sure it might be nice to get into great schools, get offered great jobs, and make a huge impact on the world with your mathematical prowess but it doesn’t make someone a Mother Teresa (A person who I consider actually ‘better’ than me).

Massive intelligence doesn’t actually do much except make school come a bit easier. Someone who is more intelligent than you, richer than you, better looking than you still suffers just as much. I have a friend with an IQ of 154 but he is no more happy or secure in his life than I am. He doesn’t get along with his parents any better than I do, his love life’s not any better than mine is, and he doesn’t have a grasp on the meaning of life any more than anyone of our age. And isn’t that more important than someone’s SAT score? It’s time to stop caring when someone is better than us at something–it’s really not that different than someone being taller, and it does not make them any happier, which is what really matters. Even if I’m as fast as Usain Bolt or as brilliant as Albert Einstein, that’s not going to make me more content with life, and if I’m not happy and content, then none of those things were helpful at all in the end, were they?