The Myopia of Self-Centrality

The Myopia of Self-Centrality

Photo by S Migaj / Unsplash

This month, I've been volunteering for Penn Alumni, interviewing high school students on behalf of Penn Admissions. While it has been a bit awkward at times, being on the other side of these conversations is rather interesting.

One common misconception was that jumping through the hoops and checking off the boxes of good grades, good exam scores, and being involved in an extra-curricular is good enough to go to a prestigious university. Sure, that might get you into a university, but perhaps not the one you want, especially as you move up the ranking lists.

What many candidates struggle to understand and answer is: why you? Why you compared to every other high achieving candidate that is applying? These candidates believe themselves to be the best of their high school and competing against the same peers. Yet, in most cases, those high achieving candidates have self-selected themselves across the country into the applicant pool, significantly raising the bar.

Usually, the candidate will go over their achievements in high school: taking AP courses, being their NHS club president, and doing community service. But so have 80% of the other candidates. They fail to identify or indicate what makes them stand out, what makes them unique versus everyone else, and why they should be chosen.

Part of this challenge is that from the minute we are born, we are the stars of our lives and the concept that we are common or mediocre cannot be true.

There is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

- David Foster Wallace, "This is Water" speech to the Kenyon College graduating class of 2005

We often interact through the lens of being the main video game character in an open sandbox world and that everyone around us is just a non-playable character. The fact that we can be ordinary is jarring.

One area where this presents a challenge is when we compete against others for a scarce achievement in which we are judged by others. Think college admissions, job interviews, or award considerations.

When we see ourselves as only the main characters, we fail to understand the evaluator's angle and struggle to competitively differentiate ourselves. Knowing how to use Excel could be a skill you are proud of, but when you are applying to a finance role, it is rather unremarkable and expected.

For us to truly grow and thrive as humans, we need to be able to not only understand the context(s) of our environments but the alternate perspectives of the other participants.

In a competitive environment like a job interview or a dating, that means understanding what the baseline of your competition is and then how you'll stand out relative to that baseline to your evaluators.

Being aware of these factors empower us to escape the myopia of self-centrality and adapt our actions so that we can truly live our main character lives.

Game on.

Dragon Chan
Philadelphia, PA
Hey, I'm Dragon and welcome to my blog. I'm an innovator, leader, and storyteller and this is where I share my ideas, thoughts, and random musings.