During my last year of high school, I had a change of mind regarding the major that I wanted to pursue in college. Although I had wanted to study English Literature, I chose Economics instead. Part of the reason was what my friends had told me: “Others want to study Economics in college, but they can’t because they only have average scores. You have high scores, so why don’t you apply for Economics?” They told me that the top rated majors for Social Science students are Economics, Accounting, International Relations, or Communications, so I should choose one of them instead of “settling” with English.
Long story short, I was not accepted. In the end, I majored in English Literature. At first, the rejection made me feel terrible about myself, but then my parents reminded me that studying English was something that I had wanted from a long time ago.
“Having high scores does not mean you have to choose the same majors that other people with highs scores choose in college. What if you’re not happy just because you want to prove others that you’re smart?” They pretty much told me. Since then I understand that I should stop doing something just because other people do it.
The culture of making life a competition is ingrained in Indonesian culture, just listen to the questions people tend to ask us:
“When will you graduate?”
“Have you get a boyfriend?”
“You’re of age now, when are you planning to get married?”
“Where do you work?”
“When will you have a child?”
Older generations may reason that those questions are simply a way to open up conversations, but what they are not aware of is that this type of questions will only heighten the dissatisfaction of the persons being asked, if it is something they do not have or have not achieved yet.
It is as if there is a contest going on and a certain script that we have to follow as a participant: excel at school, study medical/business in college, have a romantic partner, graduate at 21, get a job, get married before 25, have children, and so on. To make it more complicated, there seem to be new “standards” for a good, satisfying life now. You must travel a lot, watch a Coldplay concert at least once in your life, do endorsements in social media, get the LPDP scholarship abroad, have a lavish wedding, be an entrepreneur – the list goes on.
My newfound determination not to treat life as a competition is probably the main reason I don’t use Instagram and Path anymore. Whenever I opened those two social media, I always felt like there was a kind of race going on. Look at the places I went to! The things I made! The outfit I wore! Here are my cool friends, we hung out at this place yesterday, it was lit! Oh I did not go there with my friends, but look at what my family and I did this weekend! Isn’t it amazing? My boyfriend is the one who took these OOTD pictures of me. His photography skill is top notch, right?
At first my reaction was simple. Wow, that’s great. How fun! Must be nice to go there. Oh, this is such a lovely outfit! Where did s/he buy them? I wonder how much does this skincare set costs? After some time, though, I realized that something had changed.
Whenever I see pictures of my friends having a vacation, I’d feel bitter. I want to go to this place too. Wow, I want to have a great skin like that. There were also others that were kind of toxic, such as why can’t I be like her/him? I want to have that as well. Why don’t my friends and I ever do the same thing? Why isn’t my partner as romantic as hers?
I kept comparing my life to theirs and questioning why I was not like them. Ah, I should be like this. I should have done this. I should have it by now. It got to the point that I detested being on social media because I could not stomach seeing updates from my friends. Then one day, I decided I had had enough. All the comparing and questioning were getting unhealthy for my mental state.
Of course sometimes it’s okay to take other people’s achievement as an example of how I should strive to be, especially if it’s for the betterment of my life, but most of the time, I have to remind myself that, no, I’m not competing with anyone. Other people’s choices in life are not the same choices that I have to make for my own. Other people’s choices in life probably won’t make me happy the way they make them happy.
This friend already landed an internship by the end of our fourth semester in college, it’s okay if I only started after my sixth semester. A cousin already started paying for his own house at 22, it’s okay if I will have not done the same thing by the time I’m 22. When I found out that my close friend already got a full-time job while I was still looking for one, I told myself, “It’s okay.” I am not in a competition of who’s more successful, who’s smarter, who’s luckier... I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone.
Life is not a competition. We all have our own timeline; we all decide on our own parts in life.
Tirta Pangestu Putri is a lover of glazed donuts, cheap jokes, and issues about gender and equality. When she’s not translating nor proofreading, she could be found watching makeup tutorials or reading romance books.