Nice to see you again

Life hasn’t unveiled itself that much to 20-somethings like us, but has already given us enough anniversaries to celebrate, such as, in July of this year, the seventh anniversary of my high school graduation.

Some of my classmates had the idea for a dinner. Location was settled and invitations were sent out two weeks in advance. What a great time it would be to catch up with the buddies you spent your teenage years with. However, when the week arrived, my anxiety increased exponentially.
First, what to wear? People say: ‘No matter the size and contents of a girl’s wardrobe, there’s always one piece missing.’ Every girl knows that fear, and the other girls attending this dinner worked in an industry where an appreciation of fashion and trends is acknowledged. While, stuck with my student status for too long, my wardrobe was crammed full of T-shirts and jeans.

But more than what to wear, I was most anxious about what to say. It wasn’t a normal dinner. Seven years before, we were all the survivors of a cut-throat competition to enter a top-class high school. It was a dinner with elites. And the table would look something like this: future lawyer, future surgeon, future lawyer, future banker, future manager, future professor… And then there was me. Although ‘writer’ sounds attractive, ‘university newspaper’ sort of wanes this title’s glamour, and ‘freelance’ really isn’t much of an improvement. Sneaking away from guys’ career contest, I was afraid I wouldn’t get any comfort in girls’ zone, either. Who says we can’t have everything at the same time? Some girls are just that good at balancing career and private life and excel in both. Wedding announcements were continuously posted on social networks. Seated next to them, would I be dazzled by their Tiffany diamond rings? What if they all started to talk about their Mediterranean honeymoons, plans to buy houses and have babies? It was bad enough to see other girls achieving life’s milestones one after another, but it was even worse to realize I was still wandering through random hook ups. It just made me look so pathetic.

I was nearly nauseous at the thought of having to go to that dinner. But the strange thing is normally I’m the last person in a room to be short on self-confidence. But recently I read about something called ‘social comparison theory’, which solved the mystery of my social phobia. According to this theory, we don’t compare ourselves to the average person, but to our own social network. It means that we care more about how we’re doing against the people we started off with and how they will judge us. Realizing I simply bothered myself with measuring up to my peers, I now think my anxiety at that time was reasonable, although definitely unnecessary. And what happened next actually proved my point.
No career contest. No beauty pageant. Everyone – future lawyer, future surgeon, future banker, future professor… – was waxing a bit nostalgic about the time when life could be ‘wasted’.

Lei Li is from Shanghai, China. She can be contacted at: leilivanshanghai@gmail.com

Een Belgisch bedrijf zoekt naar bacteriën die CO2 uit de lucht aan calcium kunnen verbinden tot kalksteen. Het beoogt een alternatief te ontwikkelen voor de energie-intensieve CO2-afvang en –opslag in de bodem. Het project telt vier academische partners waaronder de afdeling milieubiotechnologie van prof.dr.ir. Mark van Loosdrecht bij Technische Natuurwetenschappen. 


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