In a Harvard commencement speech in May 2013, Oprah Winfrey imparted a morsel of her wisdom: “There’s a common denominator in our human experience. What we want is to be validated; we want to be understood . . . I’ve done over 35,000 interviews in my career. And as soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me, and inevitably in their own way asks me this question: ‘Was that okay?’” That is a question I have been hearing to this day.
I am not Oprah, nor have I interviewed 35,000 people, but I have discovered that her experience resonates in my own life. Over the course of 13 years, I have witnessed the question “Was that okay?” permeating the academic and extracurricular realms; however, the treatment of that question needs to be approached more humanistically and humbly.
Especially in a school setting, students are conditioned to compete and win through ranking systems, SATs, college admissions, and more. Students are not necessarily reminded to contribute to a collaborative environment as frequently as they are encouraged to work hard in order to be “the best.” The question “Was that okay?” is almost neglected, viewed as a sign of weakness and self-doubt in a sea of competitive confidence.
As our everyday lives soak in increasing amounts of competitive doses, we tend to forget that it is okay to ask for help, not know an answer, or seem unsure of ourselves. The truth is, everyone doubts themselves sometimes – but nothing is wrong with asking for some reassurance.
In fact, steering our educational goals in the direction of collaboration rather than competition will create more confident students in the long run. Personally, I believe a community benefits from its people working together and collaborating effectively, not by its residents racing against each other to gain control. Instead of learning to work against each other to win, why can’t schools teach students to look to their peers to fuse ideas and knowledge to lift their community higher? Wouldn’t students have a better self-confidence when they know someone else will be there to assure their thoughts and ideas?
It is only human to doubt yourself. Yet, the academic, extracurricular, and even workforce arenas attempt to mold us into a competitive state that wards away the humility of the human race. If we allow our society to keep driving home the competitive goal in every aspect of our lives, we will eventually forget the benefits of working together with other people. Yes, competition is good; it allows for motivation and determination. But it is only useful in moderation, much like most things in life.
Ten years from now, when I have settled into a career, I will likely ask myself, “Did I do okay?”
Though I do not know how I will answer then, I know that if I keep both competition and collaboration in harmony, I am confident of how I feel about my future now:
I will flourish.