Competition is an Illusion: My First Year at an Ivy League School

The moral of the story is: Run your own race.

After an incredible last year of high school that surpassed even my own expectations, I was feeling pretty good. With impressive A Level results, the Melbury Cup tennis trophy and an award from the Government of Zimbabwe, I was on top of the world. It felt like nothing could touch me, I was on Cloud Nine, running my own rave, and winning. You can imagine just how much my head inflated after being admitted to one of the most prestigious schools: The University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school and as of 2017, #10 in the world. Another notch added to my winning streak.

In many ways, my first year of school matched my expectations: my workload was heavier, my room was smaller and the food wasn’t exactly Michelin star. In writing this post, I don’t want to embody what every other article tells you about going to a competitive school because no matter where you go you will find kids who are smarter than you, more athletic than you and have more savoir-faire than you. Starting university is a huge transition for anyone, and it took a long time for me to realise that that’s true whether you go to college in the same town you grew up in or if like me, you moved 17,000 km across the globe. You will feel awkward, insecure and unprepared. How on earth do you compete with the kid who has been doing research since he was in diapers, or the kid who started their own successful business at 16? What I’m here to tell you is that you don’t. You compete with previous versions of yourself.

I spent a lot of time in my first year trying to outdo my classmates, teammates and at some point, even my own roommates. If I wasn’t at the top of my own mental leader board then I was letting myself down. This toxic cycle of thinking can easily discourage you as you start to feel as though you’re not as brilliant or capable as you thought you were. This led to a loss of self because it felt like I couldn’t do the things that I enjoyed doing if someone was going to be better than me anyways.

It’s easy to fall into the trap when you spend all your time looking at what other people are doing and weighing it against your own accolades. You panic and start to feel that what you have achieved is insignificant or that you haven’t been working hard enough. You put in hours and hours of hard work trying to follow someone else’s path, chasing something that was never meant for you, pursuing something that you will never attain. Nothing hurts your self-esteem more than putting all your effort into a project and not seeing the results especially when it seems as though other people are more successful than you are. This can apply to studying techniques, sports training or getting a startup off the ground.

We need to remind ourselves that this is not a race. Success doesn’t have a timeline. In comparing yourself to others, you start to believe that everyone is looking at you and judging your actions. You feel as though everyone will be disappointed by the fact that you haven’t managed to produce a spectacular project by age 20 or that you haven’t made Forbes’ 30 under 30 by age 25. The truth is that you don’t need to feel the pressure to be sensational in order to please everyone around you. This pill becomes even harder to swallow when you’ve been a high achiever since preschool.

In the end, it became important to recognise that my own individuality is what makes me unique and is the reason why I shouldn’t strive so hard to compete with someone else. It is your unique brand of characteristics that makes you who you are and makes it impossible for you to compare yourself to someone else. So what if they played lacrosse at a national level and you couldn’t get further than your school team? The fact that they have a superior career shouldn’t invalidate the fact that your school team was the best in the region that year. We should learn to stop being critical of ourselves based on what others are doing and instead start congratulating and appreciating ourselves for our accomplishments, no matter how small. I made it all the way down an expert ski slope without falling! I completed a coding assignment without going to office hours! I didn’t miss my 9 am class today!

As I have discovered, college is extremely forgiving. You have the freedom to join a sports team even if you’ve never played the sport before, and you’re allowed to suck at it, at least you put your pride aside and ventured outside your comfort zone. You’re allowed to change your major every other week, and decide to venture into finance even if you don’t really know how the stock market works, it’s admirable that you are chasing your dreams. You’re allowed to start a business that eventually fails, it’s impressive that you were brave enough to try.

The only person you can truly compete with is yourself. I encourage everyone reading this to go out and be the best versions of themselves today. I believe that true happiness comes from self-fulfilment: you feel overjoyed when you set a new record for your fastest 5k, and that is incomparable to the fleeting tinge of satisfaction you feel when you get a higher grade than the person sitting next to you. You shouldn’t have to ‘be better’ than someone in order to feel accomplished. Run your own race and try to beat yourself each time.

 

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Herby Halloumi Heirloom Tomato Bake

That alliteration in the recipe title actually gave me goosebumps.


My mum’s been at it again folks, we have ripe tomatoes in our garden! If you don’t follow me on Instagram, firstly hop to it my username is @lifeisohsodandy! Secondly, you wouldn’t know about our chickens. Yes, we have chickens. You may have seen the first hen who was a gift to my mother from a friend in this post, her name is Butters. We thought that Butters was lonely, so we arranged for a rooster to keep her company and his name is Rodney. Don’t they make a sporting pair?


Whilst they are fascinating creatures to observe, they are wreaking havoc in the vegetable garden. Our gardener has recently locked the gate to the vegetable garden to stop them from getting in. In their hunt for earthworms and various insects, our beloved chickens have been digging up dirt en masse and uprooting the vegetables- not good.


Aside from the mischievous chickens, my mother has been successful in her tomato growing venture. We have beautiful heirloom tomatoes! I did what I do best- turned them into a delicious dish, of course. This makes a wholesome appetiser, best served with garlic bread or just plain toast as I’ve done. Throw in some olives and hummus and you could turn this into a winning platter!

Herby Halloumi Heirloom Tomato Bake

Ingredients

For the tomato bake:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • a sprinkle of chilli flakes (optional)
  • 100g halloumi, sliced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp mixed Italian herbs
  • 4-6 heirloom tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 medium potato, unpeeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 2 tsp castor sugar (optional- most of the time I find this unnecessary but if you think that the sauce is too bitter then throw in the sugar)

For the crusty bread: 

  • 3 slices white bread (sourdough also works really well)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • some salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, oregano, basil and thyme. Add the halloumi and toss to coat in the herb mixture. Set aside and allow to marinate for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Reserve 2 of your tomatoes for the top of the dish. Dice the remaining tomatoes into small pieces. Heat some olive oil in the bottom of a large saucepan and fry the onion on high heat until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, carrot and mixed herbs to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until the carrots are soft and the garlic is fragrant, about another 5 minutes.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste (if using) and water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil  before adding the sweet potatoes and reducing the heat to low. Simmer until the tomatoes have cooked down and the sweet potatoes are soft, between 15 and 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes you had reserved earlier into thin slices. Heat up your grill/broiler and adjust your oven rack to the top shelf. Once the sweet potatoes are fully cooked, remove the saucepan from heat. Taste and season with salt ad pepper if needed; if the sauce is too bitter then add the castor sugar. Layer the top with the sliced tomatoes and top with the marinated halloumi. Grill for 8-10 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is golden brown, serve hot with crusty bread!

For the crusty bread: 

Slice the bread in half diagonally and lay on a rimless baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 5-7 minutes or until golden and crusty.

Spicy Chickpea Veggie Burgers

I’ve been dreaming about the veggie burgers I had in Europe ever since I got back.


Black bean burgers, soy burgers, cauliflower burgers-ugh it’s like a vegan’s playground! Vegetarianism is pretty uncommon in Zimbabwe, so it’s incredibly difficult for me to find something to eat whenever we go out to dinner. So you can imagine my delight at finding that most European food establishments in fact have a separate menu for vegetarians/vegans. Even McDonald’s had a vegan menu. You heard me, MCFREAKINDONALDS STOCKED VEGGIE BIG MACS + VEGGIE MCNUGGETS. Absolute insanity.


On a brighter note, the supermarkets in Zimbabwe have recently started re-stocking vegan frozen foods, i.e. vegan chicken burgers, vegan nuggets and vegan sausages. These are incredible options for veggies who don’t always have the time to prepare their own burgers from scratch (I know I don’t). If you’re not big on the taste of commercially produced frozen food, then hey, this post is for you! Top tip: prepare these burgers in bulk, shape and freeze them to consume at a later date!


These burgers are packed with intense flavour, and are amped up with the addition of toppings. I’m a huge fan of loading burgers with as many toppings as possible, just look at these loaded burgers I made a couple of months ago. For these particular burgers I spread the toasted buns with some honey mustard sauce, topped with burger, followed by sliced tomato and fresh sprouts! Other alternatives include sliced avo, caramelised onions, crispy onions, an extra burger (cheeky) or even some good old tomato sauce. Make sure not to skip out on the sweet potato fries, they are heavenly! Or crack open a cold one with the boys on a warm summer afternoon with these burgers!


Spicy Chickpea Veggie Burgers

Ingredients

  • 1×14 oz tin of canned chickpeas or 2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • ½ red or white onion, diced finely
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • ¼ cup plain flour (or gluten free flour)
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or water if you want them oil-free), optional
  • For serving: 4 bread rolls (gluten free if desired), sliced tomato, sliced avocado, fresh sprouts, sweet potato fries

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F. Add the chickpeas to a large bowl. Use a fork to mash them as best you can, it’s okay if some of them are still whole, at least half should be mashed. Throw in the rest of the ingredients, except the olive oil, and use your hands to mix until the ingredients have been evenly distributed.
  2. Shape into 4 patties. If you’re finding the patties difficult to shape or they keep falling apart then add the olive oil (or water) and try again. You should be able to shape them easily after this.
  3. Lightly grease a rimless baking sheet and gently transfer the patties to the pan. Bake for 15 minutes before gently flipping and baking for another 7 minutes. The burgers should be golden brown and crispy on the outside. Enjoy on top of a freshly baked roll topped with tomato, avocado and sprouts!