I’m an idiot in the sense that I’m 20 years old, but I’ve always been smart. I was smart in kindergarten, I was smart in elementary school, and I was smart when I started attending my prestigious high school. But I never got the work ethic down. For years I’ve been beating myself up about all the potential I’ve wasted. If I had just applied myself, I know I could have gone to an Ivy or Duke or BC like so many of my classmates did, but I was lazy. I never worked as hard as I should have. And as a result, I ended up at a small school that no one’s heard of. As happy as I am for the people that I’ve graduated with, and as much as they deserve it, I’m constantly overwhelmed with jealousy of how many opportunities they are presented and how inevitable their success seems.
Obviously, attending an elite university is a great accomplishment, and one that I would never try to downplay. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve been led to believe that people try to use other names to build their own. They go to Princeton not only because they will receive an amazing education, but because they know how people will react to the phrase “I go to Princeton” or “I went to Princeton.” Of course, selective schools aren’t all about bragging rights, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we pretended that they didn’t play a significant role in higher education and life after it. Of course there are students making decisions based on maximizing opportunity, but the (arguably earned) superiority complex is an important aspect of a lot of the choices people make, and this goes beyond college. We collectively function under a belief that the names of our schools, internships, clothes and cars are what give our lives meaning, what make us who we are, and define us. We are attracted to prestige and luxury because we feel that they build our legacies for us; we feel that if we went to Yale and drive a BMW, we have nothing left to prove.
There is more than one path to success. As much as I commend anyone diligent enough in their educational efforts to find themselves at a highly revered school, or fortunate enough to be able to shop exclusively at Burberry and Brooks Brothers, there is a great deal to be said about someone that is able to accomplish great things without standing on the legacies that other people built. There is a great deal to be said about someone that creates a legacy of their own.
Don’t think that because you’re at a state school and wearing clothes from thrift stores and TJ Maxx that you aren’t capable, or that excellence is out of reach.