Everyone knows it takes a lot of hard work—a little luck—to get ahead. To go places. To get anywhere. You have to have drive, stamina, and endless stores of determination to push past the masses and distinguish yourself from the competition.
This kind of advice is reiterated over and over, and everyone—regardless of age—knows its meaning. We’ve heard it a hundred times. Achieving great things and finding the drive to do so is challenging at any age, but it seems that the question of accomplishments has an especially interesting and singular effect on the younger generation. As a young person, living in an increasingly smaller world with ever-younger prodigies and innovators, it’s particularly difficult to look around and take in the achievements and accomplishments everyone else has done. When there are teenagers working towards curing cancer and entrepreneurs in grade school, it’s especially hard to view oneself and think, “What have I done so far? How am I contributing to a better world?”
This past summer, I found myself feeling an exacerbated version of the bitter sting of this exact problem. My friends are bright, clever individuals; over the summer, they were perpetually busy. They travelled to exciting foreign countries and landed prestigious laboratory internships and scholarships while I stayed at home, uncertain of how I should spend my suddenly vast amounts of free time. I subsisted on sporadic phone calls about their recent activities, which only served to further emphasize how little I’d managed to get done. My anti-productivity and motivation would diminish after every update, and this would in turn cause me to feel down about myself and lead to more time wasted searching the internet for ways to counter non-productivity—and this was, in itself, not productive. And so the cycle continued for the better part of the two months of summer.
It wasn’t until school kicked back into high gear that I really shocked myself out of the monotonous slump of doing absolutely nothing but wallowing in my own self-pity. Once the internships and vacations came to an end and the mockingly sunny days of summer drew to a close, the unwelcome reality of my so-called dilemma dawned on me: it was my fault, and nobody else’s, that I’d been unable to accomplish anything. On some level I’d already known this, but what I hadn’t fully accepted was that my friends had gotten what they wanted largely because they had /worked/ for it; they’d seized opportunities that had presented themselves to them and taken initiative to place themselves in positions that would afford them the best chances of success. Even this wasn’t what was truly difficult to acknowledge; the real hurdle was recognizing that I hadn’t taken any initiative at all. All the admirable traits my friends—and all other successful, highly effective people—had exhibited were ones that I’d completely failed to embody and put into action. Instead of using the successes and achievements of others to add to my own drive, I’d allowed them to drag me down and prevent me from /doing/. Ultimately, that had been my hamartia.
Once I’d realized this, I made radical changes to my attitude and schedule to keep myself moving and working to improve my own skills; I explored new opportunities, put myself into unfamiliar situations, and did everything I could to put into practice all those things I’d seen the most successful people around me doing in order to achieve their goals. Maybe it’s just the naïve child in me speaking, but it was surprisingly easier and had a far greater payoff than I’d initially anticipated. The experiences I gained from just putting myself out there were by far some of the best I’ve ever had, and I could have missed them all if I’d remained in the state I’d been in during the past summer.
The most awe-inspiring people have all learned this lesson. In fact, most people in general have figured this out—but only the best have integrated the principle of converting someone else’s drive into your own hustle into their daily lives and into everything they do. It’s difficult as a young person to really apply this crucial lesson, especially when it’s so easy to become discouraged by the teens and young adults who are accomplishing such great things at such young ages. It’s easy to become lost in a vortex of worry over how you might never measure up to what’s already being done. And although I’m writing from my own perspective—that of an adolescent—this concept applies to anyone, at any point in life. The fact of the matter is that this fear of never accomplishing enough compared to the competition never truly goes away, and people continually strive to do more and better throughout their lives. The only way to get out of the destructive spiral of non-productivity this fear creates is to stay ahead of it—turn the amazement from seeing others’ achievements into fuel for your own fire, keep working to further yourself, and take the initiative to see your goals through to the end, no matter how difficult it seems. The only real limit is yourself—and your attitude.