I aced KCSE but am still unhappy

I am broke and disillusioned after joining medical school

In Summary

• Memories of my academic success have faded into financial and emotional mess

• I have realised the root of depression in society is comparing ourselves to others

A blindfolded young man holds his head as he writes
A blindfolded young man holds his head as he writes

When I emerged eighth best in KCSE in 2020, I thought my life would completely turn around. That was enough evidence of my intelligence, and in my experience the intelligent always ace it in life. My whole family had been enthralled; it was glorious to have someone so brilliant in the family.

Swamped up in my own achievement, I forgot that it was only an affirmation of my victory at that specific checkpoint in my life, and well, I would still have thousands of such checkpoints in future. I could not see it at that point; I am tempted to think many people wouldn't. Needless to say, I am now envious of all those people who never made it to the top ten nationally at that time.

When almost three years after what was considered a colossal achievement and my life is still fraught with financial constraints and what I would call emotional dyscrasia — I beg the forgiveness of the medical fraternity for using the term, but I am typing this at 2am instead of reading haematology and I cannot think of any other appropriate word, not that there isn't — I can't help but wonder ( Eh! I wonder ) why life has been so unfair to me. Most of my once closest friends and fellow comrades seem to have made great strides in diverse fields, in a holistic sense that is, while I still struggle to keep a oat, especially financially if I am to be sincere about it.

Yet I have failed to realise that whenever I set my life in contrast with other people's, I am always reminded of my inadequacies no matter how beautiful my life is. Recently, however, it has become clear how endless comparison is responsible for our constant depression, disquieting feeling of underachievement, and resentfulness. By becoming overly invested in other people's lives we have stopped working on our own altogether, and have been blinded from seeing the flowers that decorate our own landscapes. We end up forgetting how far we have come, how God has been faithful, and how thousands of people were never fortunate as we are. Because we want to be perfect, to be seen as perfect we have only managed to become insecure and strangely fragile to all forms of censure or criticism. We have ended up attaching our value on other people's perception of us.

No matter what we achieve, there will always be someone  better than us. We all have our races and could as well as stick to our own lanes

Apparently, we seem to have forgotten that even our most dearest of friends are fickle and undependable at times, and so are we ourselves. That doesn't mean that we should stop loving or hoping. To fail and be failed again and again and still live with the assurance that all will work out for our good takes the highest form of courage. To believe that we are actually made for success and are in fact worthy of good things takes more confidence than the resentment we nurse towards those who have done better than us. No matter what we achieve, there will always be someone else that will be better than us, in one aspect or another. We all have our races and could as well as stick to our own lanes. We should focus on improving ourselves instead of wasting energy comparing ourselves to others.

Personally, I think the people who live the most disappointing and unfulfilling lives are those who want to be considered flawless and seen as perfect by their mates. We have grown ashamed of our scars when in fact confidence comes from embracing our flaws and faults, and owning them. When we expect other people to affirm us and support us at every instant, we painfully set ourselves up for disappointment. We are our own best buddies and our own worst enemies. We are the only ones who are to blame for our mess, to point fingers is proof of how we have failed to love and trust ourselves. We have derogatorily labeled most people jerks but it's disturbing how we still crave their approval.

We should never look down on ourselves simply because other people looked down on us. We will never earn the approval of the 7 billion people on earth and we could do ourselves a favour and well, dispense with it. In fact criticism is meant to advance us. We are the ones who take it as an affront when really it is an important feedback that is meant to inform how we are to proceed. Marcus Aurelius put it candidly when he said, “Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.”

As we entertain glorious and high thoughts about ourselves, we would do well to remind ourselves that people do not think of us that way. Neither should we attach our self value to other people's opinions but instead focus on our work. We have work to do, and if we never take criticism positively, we may never know what it is that we need to improve on — criticism is important for recalibration, but it should be taken within the precincts of self-awareness.

I believe the choice is ours.

Henry Madaga is a third-year student of Medical School at the University of Nairobi

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