So much of my life has revolved around proving myself: I chose Duke because that proved I worked hard in school for years and years. I traveled all over the country to be recruited to play field hockey in college because that proved I was a good athlete. I ran my first half marathon at age 12, and I couldn’t stop there. I decided to run one in all fifty states to prove I was not just a one-time runner, but a real runner. I’m a writer, but I started a blog to prove people actually care to read my stuff. Consulting firms came to campus, so I applied for tons of them to prove I could do it and get the job.
There’s a fine line between wanting to achieve/loving new experiences/working hard, and feeling like I need to prove myself.
I’ve been trying to put a finger on why this semester has been so wonderful, even though it has been the busiest, most lost and confused portion of my life… ever.
And it’s because I am surrounded by so many people with whom I don’t have to prove myself.
Someone asked me the other day how I know when I have moved from decent friends with someone to close friends with someone.
It’s when I feel like I don’t have to prove myself.
The ability to restrain from proving myself happens when I am able to be vulnerable, honest and present.
I have told so many people point-blank this semester: I have no idea what I am doing with my life, currently or in the future. I feel lonely romantically. I am paralyzed with options and don’t know how to choose a decision for next year. I love you. I am worried about you. I am here for you. I hear you. I am scared. I am confused. I am lost. Who am I?
And all of those sparked beautiful conversations, real moments where I realized my friends get me, and I get them. I don’t have to prove myself to them, and they don’t have to prove themselves to me. I have often wondered why I love people so much, and maybe it’s because it’s one of the few areas of my life where I don’t feel like I have to prove myself. I can just show up and some people will like me, and some won’t, and that’s okay.
Duke has been hard in a lot of ways—I had to grow up fast, went through some tough physical, spiritual, emotional and academic tribulations—but it has also given me an entire community of people where I can show up in a Santa onesie, eat six chocolate chip cookies, laugh about how much Finals suck, and still feel accepted.
This is my last semester of academic courses at Duke, and I am so excited for next semester. It’s not that next semester will be any less busy—in fact, I am slowly agreeing to more and more commitments so it will probably be busier. Instead, I’m excited for next semester because it is closing a chapter of my life where I inevitably move from working hard to proving myself. I push myself to unrealistic expectations academically, and now that chapter is closed. I am sure I will move my “proving myself” mentalities to other areas, but I sincerely hope not.
Why do I feel the need to prove myself?
Well, when I search myself deep down, I realize that in every area of my life, I feel as if I haven’t quiiiiiiiiiiite hit the mark.
I’m that A minus student, the woman who’s pretty fit but not Iron-Woman level. I’m the woman who’s pretty, but not stunning, involved on campus but not iconic, generous but not always available. I’m a help-myself-before-helping-others recent convert who has seen its powers as a survival technique but its limits for selflessness. I’m the one with ambitious ideas and huge dreams and goals, but poor follow-through. I’m a good writer, but not great. I go out, but I don’t Go Out. I’m an Almost But Not Quite.
What’s crazy is that when we search deep inside ourselves, we all feel this way to some degree. We feel that we don’t measure up in certain areas. Some of us are just better than anothers at hiding that lack of confidence and insecurity.
The way I hide it is by overachieving. I’m not the smartest, but I can work to look smart. I’m not the fittest, but I can work out every day. Etc etc etc.
You know what’s sad about this? My ability to overachieve and prove myself is me abusing God-given gifts of commitment, determination, resilience and hard work. When put to the right use, these gifts help me achieve in a way that is life-giving, passionate, impactful, and important.
I saw my desire to Prove Myself popping up in my career aspirations. I couldn’t just get any job, even if it’s perfect for me. I had to get THE job. I couldn’t just go to any graduate school, even if it’s a great fit. I had to go to the BEST graduate school.
But this semester has taught me an invaluable lesson: no matter how much I try to prove myself, I cannot hide who I really am. And if I forget who I am, if I am so engrossed in achieving that I cannot look inside myself and reevaluate, then amazing friends can step in and say, “Hope, come back. Check yourself. That’s not you.” And once those amazing friends are able to do that, I am able to achieve in ways that are positive, passionate and purposeful.
I want to say thank you to the phenomenal people in my life who have guided me back to reality. As I think about next semester, and after college, there is a lot I don’t know. But there is a lot I do know, and that is largely due to the people who remind me who I am.
Thank you to my freshman year academic advisor who is now a friend. I am grateful that I can come over to your house to make Christmas cookies and tell you how I have an entire new life plan, while you laugh at me and tell me you’re looking forward to me editing that plan again the next week.
Thank you to my roommate who lets me stress clean our apartment and talk about how I will never get a job, while she sits there handing me chocolate and telling me I’m crazy. [Thank you, also, for always taking out the trash even though I always say I’m going to do it. And for not judging me when I say I am going to wake up at a certain time and then wake up two hours later. I’ve been sick, okay?!?]
Thank you to my one thriving group text (#popular) for being a wonderful group of friends who let me post the random thoughts on my mind and don’t criticize me (too much) for my hyperactivity. [Blame it on the ADHD—that should be a band name.]
Thank you to all my new friends from my food class at UNC for loving me for me. You all are the true definition of grace—I am a privileged Duke student and yet you all welcome me in as family. You have taught me more than I ever could have imagined and I know we will be in each other’s lives forever.
Thank you to my high school friends who remain as present in my life as you all were four years ago. You knew me before I knew myself, and you love me for who I was then, who I am now, and who I hope to be.
Thank you to all the friends I cultivated through summer programs. You were blessings from God in seasons of life that could have been lonely, but were instead filled with countless laughter and forever friendships.
Thank you to special, unique friendships with some of the most badass people on this campus (looking at you, Dylan), who run companies, who connect people, who love people uniquely and fully, asking for nothing in return. You have taught me what it means to pursue a vision passionately and committedly, while still staying loyal to friendships.
Thank you to my communities on campus—my sorority, my campus ministry, and my pre-orientation program. You are all people and spaces where I don’t have to prove myself. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you for loving me at my core.
Thank you to my professors who only taught me for one class but have remained present in my life since. Thank you, especially, to the ones who speak to me after class for hours on end about current events, future plans, and our personal lives. As I look at my thesis committee, I see a whole list of one-time professors that are now forever mentors.
Thank you to long-distance, older friends. Though we may talk once or twice a year, if that, you have touched my life in ways I could never put into words. Our random FaceTimes and phone calls have provided fresh perspectives on what it means to live in the real world, to struggle and to thrive. Thank you for taking the world by storm.
Thank you to adult mentors, specifically ones from my church. You have helped me grow in my faith, the only aspect of who I am that will ever carry significance after this short life.
Why did you waste your time reading about all the people for which I am thankful? What is my wisdom with which to leave you all? Why does this matter?
In tough seasons of life, we forget we who are. We forget why we’re here. We forget what matters. We forget our goals. We forget our community. But in tough seasons of life, it couldn’t be more crucial to remember all of this.
How can you remember? By practicing gratitude, by taking five minutes to love those around you. Love the people around you who remind you who you are. Celebrate what you do know about yourself, and relax about what you don’t know… yet. Those around you can help you figure yourself out. They can help you stop proving yourself.
Duke is not forever. What will you take from this place? A perfect score on your exams, or a perfect end to a semester filled with gratitude and love? A 4.0 or a community of people who challenge you to be the best version of yourself? A comfortable job or an uncomfortable, risky opportunity that could radically change your life and the lives of those around you?