As a kid, I was fiercely competitive—always driven by a ceaseless desire for triumph which made me crave winning any and all athletic competitions. I viewed every game as a test of my character; something which would serve to either validate my sense of worth, or, lest failure be my prize, drive me into a hopeless spiral of despair. This mindset applied to more than just sports—I felt the same way about academics. When I was in the sixth grade, I was assigned to write a research paper on a country of my choosing. I distinctly remember agonizing over every detail of this project, trying to make it into something which would, in my mind, be enough to prove to myself that I had worth. I lost sleep over the paper. I spent hours researching instead of doing normal 11-year-old things, yet I had no confidence in myself that I would turn in a well-done product. I cried, for I knew I would fail.
The outcome of all of this? An A+ on the paper, which generated a vague feeling of achievement (which quickly dissipated), and a sinking feeling that there would be another paper. In fact, there would be many more papers, applications, races, and assignments. I viewed life as an endless parade of challenges to my sense of worth, and I knew of only one way to respond to these stressors: fear.
I was type A.
Was this a healthy way to be? Constantly thinking that I had to prove my worth through my work and achievements? I never felt truly happy with my successes, as my happiness depended wholly on the approval of others (which, I would later learn, is usually not worth much at all). When I depended on others for the validation of my Self, I was stuck in a seemingly-inescapable whirlpool of self-doubt and anxiety. It sucked me down, down, down into its frothy center, and sometimes, when the strength of the forces surrounding me were too great, I couldn’t breathe.
Fortunately, things are a little different now. I am learning to separate my happiness from my achievements, which removes the power from external actors to significantly influence my state of mind with their judgement. Getting into the specifics of how I have begun to change myself would be another blog post entirely, so I’ll keep this brief. In short, I was an achievement-hungry, status-oriented mess for most of my remembered life, and I’ve only recently tried to change this, with some success. At the moment, I consider myself to be more laid back than I used to be, and not as dependent on a set course of action. I try to take things as they come, and most things won’t have a huge impact on me, positively or negatively.
So how does this all relate to my internship this summer?
DC seems to be full of fast-paced, status-oriented “type A” people who are constantly competing to get more and more prestigious jobs, constantly anxious about the next step, the next problem, the next test of their worth. I am not one of them. Not anymore. I cannot let myself get sucked back down into the whirlpool. Not again.
Instead, I choose to approach the work at my internship in a way that works for me: I have a job to do, to support a cause I believe in, and I do it well because I want the cause to succeed, not because I need to impress anyone or receive praise in order to feel good about myself. Some would say my refusal to “play the game” means I will never succeed in a traditional job. They might just be right, but I couldn’t care less.
I hold the reins now, and I don’t intend to give them up again.