On Reading and Competitions

This summer, I’ve signed up for the library’s Summer Reading Program. The library aims to entice people of all ages to read by offering prizes and recognition for reading a certain amount by the end of the summer.

When I was a kid, I had to read at least 300 minutes to be eligible for the grand prize. Every summer, without fail I finished my 300 minutes (which is 5 hours) in about a week. In my house, although we have a couple gaming systems and we like watching television, reading is an integral part of our household.

Now that I’m an “adult” (does 18 really count?) I have to read at least 3 books and write 3 book reviews to be eligible for the adult grand prize: an iPad Pro. I feel good about my chances to achieve this goal, mostly because I still love to read. Weirdly enough, I feel at a disadvantage as compared to the other people reading books for the adult program.

My disadvantage does not come from a learning disability, it does not come from lack of access to books (I’m working at the library for goodness sake), and it does not come from my inability to concentrate for more than 30 minutes (although I’ve extended to about 35 minutes so I’m looking pretty good for sitting through college lectures). No, my disadvantage comes from the fact that I always feel the need to one-up everyone and everything around me. Although this usually means going “above and beyond” (in the words of my guidance counselor) with my academic assignments, right now it means that rather than reading the latest cheesy romance or an easy celebrity book, I’m reading books that probably don’t have a place outside of the classroom.

My first book is Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night. My second book is William Shakespeare’s King Lear. And my third book is probably going to be some unnecessarily long and complicated classic like Tolstoy’s War and Peace (although now that I’m thinking about it, The Prince, doesn’t seem like a bad option – thank you Niccolo Machiavelli)

Although I’m a little bit anxious about completing three books such as these before August 6th, I’m excited to finally do some heavy reading outside of school. Never before have I taken on such a project as this, never before have I decided that I need to read a school book outside of school just for the pleasure of it. Although I want to say that I’m reading these books because I want to be a good addition to global intelligentsia, I’m really doing it because I’m competitive.

I’m reading all of these books because when it comes down to it, I want to be able to understand of the the references that my peers will be spitting out in an effort to impress each other. I don’t plan on showing off my own literary and cultural knowledge, but rather I want to make sure that my peers don’t get too big for their britches. Although I’m not in this competition to beat everyone else, I sure am in it to stop everyone else from winning.

Does my desire to bring people down a notch make me a bad person? Maybe, I don’t know.

Does my desire to pull people down off of their high horse stem from a desire to see people fail and lose confidence in themselves? Certainly not. That I want to be among the smartest people in any given room does not stem from a desire to make other people feel bad about themselves. No, my desire to be in the top tier is mostly about making myself feel good – I don’t like it when I don’t understand references that other people make. When I don’t understand something that someone says, I feel stupid, I feel lesser than. And unfortunately, my self worth is heavily informed by how intelligent I feel in a given situation. Scratch that, my self worth is determined by how comfortable I feel in a situation and my intelligence helps me feel more at ease when I am in a new and unknown environment.

My competitiveness stems from the inherent need to make myself feel good, not about my desire to make others feel bad. More than anything, I want to help others, but first I have to help myself. I think that’s why I need to spend time alone reading. Unlike some of my friends who need to be around friends to recharge and recalibrate themselves, I need to be alone with a book (or a reading tablet) in my hands. I need my time alone, I need my time to myself. Then, once I’ve had my alone time, I able to reenter the world and apply my intelligence to the problems of others.

My goal in life is to use my intelligence and skills to benefit others. I know I’m smart, I know that I could probably be a really good investment banker and make a huge amount of money, but I don’t want to do that. I want to use my intelligence to advocate for the millions of people around the world who can’t advocate for themselves. I want to use my privilege to uphold ideals and groups of people who need it.

Although I began this journey talking about competitiveness and reading, I think that I’m truly writing this because I want to make a promise to myself:

I promise to use my skills, intelligence, and privilege for the benefits of others. I promise that I will not use anything that I have been given to hurt others or to make their lives harder. I promise that if I am ever given the chance to, I will reach down to help someone up. I promise that I will use my privileges for the greater good over my own good. I promise that the only time I will look down on someone is to help them up.

Wow. That felt good. Not in the sense that now that I’ve written out all of these promises to myself (and now to you, I guess). That felt good because now I can be held accountable by myself and by anyone who reads this. I now know that because the internet will probably last my entire lifetime, I will forever be reminded of these promises that I made. I will forever be reminded that my duty is to the world, not to myself. I think now that I’ve written all of this out, I will be aware of how my actions and decisions impact others and how I can continue to help others.

I want to end this post by saying thank you. I know that this probably won’t go very far and maybe only one person will ever read this, but I really needed to write this and I really needed it to be out there for everyone to access.

So, thank you. And remember:



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