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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Maintaining confidence in college


Boundaries are necessary in the face of social comparison

One of my favorite John Mulaney jokes comes from his comedy special “The Comeback Kid.” In a blue three-piece suit, he addresses the audience in his nonchalant demeanor, “What is college? Stop going until we figure it out. Because I went to college, I have no idea what it was. I went to college, I was 18 years old, I looked like I was 11.”

So as I was looking in the mirror getting ready for my 12:30 seminar and thinking of John Mulaney as one does, I realized oh…I’m really in college.

I spent my first semester here enjoying feeling like I was in one of those cliché movie montages: grabbing a coffee, running to my morning English class and holing up in the library with books stacked to my knees.

But during the past seven weeks of my second semester, the realization that those montages are just for movies has hit me harder than I expected.

I knew I wasn’t going to be Elle Woods running around Harvard with a teacup dog in my purse and studying law. But I have always been relatively good at school, and I have valued my education immensely.

Most importantly, I always felt as though I knew what exactly I was doing. I had a plan to go to college, major in political science and eventually go to law school. I was confident that this goal was attainable, and if anyone was going to do it, it was going to be me.

So in the fall, the transition from high school to college wasn’t too bad. I was doing well in my classes, joining clubs, making friends and meticulously filling all of the holes in my get-to-law-school master plan.

I still believe I am able to achieve these goals, however, my confidence in my ability to get there has recently taken quite a blow.

I noticed issues with my confidence when I realized I don’t participate much in my classes the way I did last semester, and I am having trouble even talking to my professors about needing help.

I let nervous ticks take hold. I keep my hair over my face, cuff my sleeves around my hands and twiddle my thumbs just a bit more than I used to.

I’m an opinionated person (can’t you tell?), and I had no problem being forward and confident back in high school.

But now, everytime I go to edit my resume, for example, I panic. “Am I good enough?” “How do my credentials compare with the people around me?” “Am I doing everything right?” “But how do I know that everything will turn out okay?”

I am stuck in a cycle of constant comparison with others which increasingly dwindles my levels of confidence.   

The American Psychological Association deems this as the Social Comparison Theory, or “the proposition that people evaluate their abilities and attitudes in relation to those of others in a process that plays a significant role in self-image and subjective well-being.”

Although sometimes comparison can promote inspiration and encourage positive change (known as the assimilation effect), there is also the principle that upward comparisons create feelings of inferiority and thus promote a negative self-perception in what is known as the contrast effect.

Dealing with this type of negative comparison is tough, and it feels as though you’re constantly being weighed down with the burden of self-doubt.

But I recently received some amazing advice from one of the wisest people I have ever come to meet: my mother.

She reiterated the importance of boundaries. Your life is your life, it’s nobody else’s, so you make decisions that work best for you.


It can be tempting to want to please everyone, but sometimes that just isn’t possible and you have to take care of yourself first. If you try and please everyone all the time, you get too wrapped up in the life of someone else, and thus end up getting sucked back into this cycle of inferiority caused by the contrast effect.

Finding a healthy level of separation between your life and someone else’s life is the key takeaway. We are all in college to build upon ourselves and learn where we fit best in the world based on who we are.

Only you can know that about yourself. Nobody else can define your successes or failures, so set some boundaries.

This is probably one of the most difficult concepts I have realized that comes with being at college. It’s difficult to do, and your confidence might take a few hits along the way.

But, again, we are here to learn. We are all adults, and we define our own successes and failures with each “adult decision” we make.

So next time you feel like you are stuck comparing everything you do to what those around you are doing, take a step back to lay out your own boundaries and be confident what you define as success.

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