In 2011 I won a very competitive academic scholarship. The company who sponsored me also sponsored another girl, whom I shall call Ashley.
Ashley was, in summary, absolutely perfect: waist-long black hair, gorgeous smile, the uncanny ability to make conversation about anything with anyone. She walked up to the president of the university and just like that they were best friends. I could hear them laughing from across the room, where I stood by the food table eating finger food so I would not have to socialize.
It was obvious that she was clever and funny, with good values and a good head on her shoulders.
I was jealous. Irrationally, maddeningly jealous.
I saw Ashley during events and conferences over the next four years. Every time we met she had yet another story to tell: the time she went to Nicaragua to volunteer at a rural clinic. How she was appointed to be the president for the volunteer organization and had managed to break some kind of record or another. How she had been accepted to every graduate school she applied for and won all sorts of scholarships and grants. She was non-stop. She was successful.
Me? I had changed majors three times by then, was working retail and had no idea what to do with my life.
The thing is, even if we don’t talk anymore, the shadow of Ashley will always haunt me – we started from the very same spot and were given the same chance, but she rose higher and higher while I chose something else: I chose to enjoy my life, to dedicate myself to personal growth rather than advancing my career.
I studied abroad. I worked that retail job so I could save up and take the kinds of classes I wanted to take. I made lasting friends and had all sorts of adventures with them. I skydived. I made mistakes, some dumb, others with more serious repercussions, but I was there and I enjoyed myself and made every single moment count. I tried things, over and over again, just for the thrill of it.
To everyone else it might have looked like I was aimlessly wandering around. To me, I was trying to see what worked and what didn’t.
Sure, I buckled down and got stuff done when I needed to, and I did it well, but I never measured my worth by my grades or by how many things from the successful-career-woman bucket list I had checked off.
And it took me years, and battling with my own feelings of self-doubt to realize: that’s perfectly fine. It is perfectly fine to pursue a career with your entire being if that’s what you want. And it’s also more than perfectly okay to want to live a life in which you go a little bit slower. It’s okay if your ambitions are not quite as high as everyone else’s. I cannot measure myself to Ashley because we are two completely different people, with two completely different set of values – it’d be like comparing a fish to a poodle.
My mom told me, “You know, we all have a metaphorical Ashley somewhere, haunting us and making us feel worthless.” And maybe, just maybe, Ashley has her own metaphorical Ashley. Maybe she’s human after all, and she understands the sacrifices she’s made to live the kind of life she’s leading, just like I understand what I am giving up to live mine. Maybe she has insecurities just like me, and just like me she is trying to make it in a world that doesn’t really come with an instruction manual.
Maybe we all have a metaphorical Ashley, somewhere. Maybe battling with it is part of growing up. Maybe that metaphorical Ashley can teach you something about yourself.
Maybe we all eventually get to the point where we are strong enough and confident enough that we can just release the hold this ghost has on us. And we can finally live free.
Last I heard of her she had moved out of town for grad school and was still kicking butt and taking names. I cannot say I am as successful, but I don’t worry about it too much, either.
I’m slowly getting closer to the day I can be free of my metaphorical Ashley.