Adults often complain about today’s kids’ entitlement and the “everyone’s a winner” mentality floating around in parenting. At the same time, they pin the blame for this on the younger generation, as if the youth were in control of the situation. In my own experience, being “awarded” a trophy for coming in last place in Pinewood Derby made me feel patronized, and did not deliver any of the intended satisfaction. Perhaps today’s parents’ smothering their children with compliments is a (sub?)conscious response to their own strict childhoods. No matter the cause, today’s kids are fundamentally different than their parents were at their age.
I managed to internalize the compliments I received as a child, whether I intended to or not. The result, however, of these years of praise did not visibly manifest until I was a freshman in high school. Partially influenced by my older friends, I began looking at colleges. As a fourteen-year-old kid, I measured my worth numerically, simultaneously subconsciously rejecting any notions that I was inferior to anyone else in my grade. After all, I always was “that smart kid” or “that one guy who gets it”. This ego did not match up with my academics, however, as I earned my first ‘B’ on a report card at the very beginning of high school. Yes, I blew the top off Pre-AP Biology, but so did ten other students in my class period alone. I should’ve come to recognize that, as a matter of fact, I am not as special as I was told.
Teamed up with CollegeProwler.com, I made a list of schools I wanted to attend based off of three criteria: a) the acceptance rate — I firmly believed that the only way I could receive the best education would be to attend the most exclusive; b) whether it was private (yes, I know I sounded snobby, but I genuinely thought the only way I, such a special kid, would succeed); and c) their ranking from the US News and World Report University Ranking. The flaws in my thought process, in hindsight, were extremely obvious. First off, I bit, hook, line and sinker, into the notion that I would receive an objectively better education from somewhere that turns away 81% of applicants or more than anywhere that accepted a larger percentage. I was special; I was smart, and I only deserved the best. Also, private college would be a bit of a stretch financially, as my parents somehow thought I was joking when I said the annual cost of attendance at Pomona College (my then-dream school) topped 60 grand. At the same time, however, I first began to doubt myself. Perhaps I could make it into a place with a 21% acceptance rate, but 15%? That’s crazy. That’s, like, six whole percentage points! In other words, I was hopelessly and utterly lost, surrounded by a plethora of misinformation and scams.
I’ll never forget the day I learned my class rank. There I sat, in my Spanish III Pre-AP class, surrounded by other “smart kids”, who read off their numbers, proudly, to everyone else in the room. “Seven.” “Nineteen.” “Ten.” “Twenty-one.” “Four.” “Eleven.” The frequency of the sound must not have registered, because I sat at home that night trying to figure out what I had just heard. I had always seen these as people as my academic equals, but really they were so much better than me!
Immediately, the phrase popped into my head: “superiority complex”. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, it is defined as “an exaggerated striving for superiority in which the individual hides their feelings of inferiority.” (Yes, I used Wikipedia. Get over it.) Though it was a stretch to describe my situation as a “complex”, the idea still fit: I never genuinely bought into the compliments I received, and as a result, I constantly felt the need to earn the title I was somewhat freely given many years earlier.
The rest of my sophomore year, I fought my addiction to CollegeProwler, and tried to refocus on the present. In a way, I became humble, because I let go of that desire to “prove” my worth and recognized the same struggle I had gone through in a few others. Today, I firmly believe there is an advertising industry catered specifically to private-schooled “smart” kids, profiting from their naivety by selling them “pre-college enrichment programs” and SAT tutorials. Honestly, I find it easily comparable to the beauty industry, as both set unrealistic standards that can only be attained by purchasing certain products. In the case of the college advertising industry, attending summer programs and participating in standardized testing workshops are marketed as gateways to prosperity (whatever that means).A brief sidenote: the SAT and ACT have totally failed in achieving their goals, as they serve as a way for the rich (who buy tutoring for their children) to gain an incredibly obvious advantage over the less affluent in applying to universities.
I lost a year and a half of my life by getting sucked into their scheme, but, in the end, I came out a better person. Up until I actually visited a college (and my college stress fell to a record low), I lived under the assumption that I was better than my peers. Now, I strive not to beat others, but rather to beat myself, as I am the determiner of my future.
I would never have admitted how selfish I was, but now I can. Yes, it’s human nature, but my overconfidence hurt my relationships with others. Now, I hope, I have conquered the compliments, and only factor myself into my self-image. But, as many therapeutic processes go, I will never really know for sure.