This letter writer is a successful student but her parents make her feel like a loser.
Don’t measure yourself by what other people think, says our elder. Decide your own goals.
Hi, I’m 20 years old and I feel like everyone is expecting so much out of me. Like, I need to know everything and I need to do/be everything. The expectations aren’t that high but… it’s high for me, I guess. I got straight As for my final grades this semester in my second year at university. I successfully started and kept up an exercise routine this week. I’m taking my health a bit more seriously in terms of nutrition. I’m researching all these self-improvement things to heal some pain in my heart and just get better so that I can move on to stuff like getting a part-time job, etc. No one sees these things and I don’t expect them to.
But… exams just ended and I’m on a break now so I went to an event with my parents today. They met someone who they recognized and started talking somewhat lowly about me. They made me sound like a loser who does nothing every day and constantly compared me to my (more established and successful) 26-year-old brother. What they said was true: I don’t have many friends, not social, no partner, no job, and I stay at home a lot. I’m quiet and I don’t have much going for me (at least at surface level). I already knew that they thought of me this way, but it still hurts. They don’t see my struggles. They don’t see how hard it is to muster up the energy just to go and brush my teeth some days. They don’t see that I’m actually trying to change. I feel like I’m trying so hard but it’s not enough. It’s not something to brag about. In fact, the only reason I was there was so they could show off that I’m “pretty”. Just a doll to show off but there isn’t anything else worth mentioning about it. My friends (yeah, I actually do have some) think the same way too. When I see them the first thing they ask is if I got a job yet. They also think that I stay home and do nothing every day. I guess my question is how do I cope with this? How do I continue on knowing how little everyone thinks of me? The logical side of me is saying that I just need to continue on and that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone and my successes in life don’t need to be measured by other people. I know this, but it hurts so bad. It hurts that I feel like I’m already doing so much but they want so much more out of me. It just feels like I don’t have any support right now.
Thanks for writing to EWC. Let me begin by bringing up a point you, yourself, mentioned: self-worth should not be measured by what other people think of you. Impressing everyone is an unrealistic and unattainable goal, and trying to live your life to other peoples’ standards will set you up for repeated disappointment. What is important is having values and goals that are important to you, and you will gain self-esteem and self-worth by achieving those goals, and living by those values. Does that make sense?
You began your letter by mentioning some awesome achievements. Finishing the semester with straight As is not something most students are able to accomplish. I am always impressed with young people who are proactive in working toward self-improvement, as you have been doing, so you have initiative. You apparently are attractive, which is more of a quality rather than an accomplishment, but it’s a positive, nonetheless. You are simply not focusing on, and giving yourself enough credit for, the many things that give you value. I’m sure if you thought about it, you would find you have many other positive qualities.
Another thing I would like to mention is your comparison of yourself to your older brother. At 26 he would naturally be more “established” because he is not still going to college, as you are. He is at a different stage in life than you. He is also a different person. His goals and achievements are going to be different from yours. My older sister is a wonderful, generous, outgoing person and I always felt inferior to her because I did not have those qualities. I am more introverted, less social, and, as a young person, more self-centered. I always felt my parents thought less of me than my sister. Many years later I was able to look back at all I had accomplished and feel satisfied with myself. I wasn’t perfect, but I was “good enough for me”, and that’s all that mattered.
If your friends think you stay home and do nothing all day, so what? Let them think whatever they want, because, here again, what others think does not make you who you are. Remember that. However, maybe when you are off school for summer you could find a job, because I think that will be a real confidence booster for you. It’s something to consider.
Lastly, you mentioned what your parents said to their acquaintances at the outing. You said you would like to have more support from them, so I suggest speaking to them and telling them what you have mentioned in your letter. Tell them it hurts to hear them express their disappointment in you. Tell them you are trying to change and improve and you would really appreciate having their support and encouragement. They can’t know how you feel if you don’t tell them, right?
At 20, you are still young. One day you will get past this period of self-doubt. Trust me, it will come. Until then, begin and end each day by taking stock of all the things in your life for which you are grateful, and be thankful for the gifts and talents you were given, because you have many.
Please feel free to write again if you need more advice. I wish you all the best! Take care.
Article #: 440085