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With each Convocation, Penn President Amy Gutmann welcomes the “best and brightest” freshman to Penn, the most finest of institutions of higher education.

During the ensuing four years, the typical Penn student’s life is a mad race to be the most amazingly accomplished, the most extraordinarily brilliant — to be the best.

At Penn, we are here to win.

We have to win at classes — in most humanities classes, any grade less than an A will permanently brand you as a loser. We have to win at On-Campus Recruiting, which amounts to no less than an internship at a Fortune 500 company by junior year.

Winning means doing novel research, collecting grants, collecting awards. It means we’re double-majoring and triple-minoring across at least two schools.

But the alpha mindset isn’t limited to academics. At Penn, we have to win at community service (you’re not doing it right unless you’ve founded an non-governmental organization by the time you graduate). We have to win at partying, at having fun and having friends — this isn’t the University of Chicago, people.

And we see our futures just as we see our present — winning at Penn is only preparation for winning at life.

After graduation, our creative writing majors are all set to write the next great American novels. Our physicists and engineers are off to develop time travel. And our pre-med students, of course, can do no less than find a cure for cancer. They are undoubtedly capable. Penn students, if anyone, have the drive required to win at all those things.

But recently, I decided to drop out of the race.

I had been operating under the winning mindset ever since I got to Penn. As a freshman, I walked into The Daily Pennsylvanian office determined to win at journalism.

During my first semester at Penn, I worked for the DP’s online, video, photo and news departments. I thought I was on track to win a Pulitzer prize by 40.

But my delusions of grandeur quickly faded. No matter how much I did, it wasn’t enough. One look at my peers, who were earning tens of thousands of dollars in research grants and internship spots at Politico and USA Today, and I felt like all my work amounted to nothing.

I just couldn’t keep up. I could barely manage to balance school with work and internship applications. I often didn’t have time to socialize. I spent my freshman year Spring Fling catching up on schoolwork. I became so obsessed with winning at everything that I felt like a total loser.

I stopped enjoying most things. I had a brief mid-major crisis; I forgot why I decided to study English in the first place, I forgot how much I loved reading and analyzing literature. For a moment, I even forgot why I wanted to be a journalist. I forgot that I actually enjoyed reporting and taking photographs.

I didn’t start enjoying life again until I stopped reaching for the superlatives.

It’s not that I no longer feel compelled to do my best and it’s not that I’m somehow tragically accepting a life of mediocrity. But I have come to realize that it is not always a virtue to aim for being the “best and brightest.”

Sometimes it’s OK to just demurely glow amongst all the others in the greater Penn galaxy. And sometimes it’s all right to just blather around.

But letting go of the superlatives is easier said than done. I struggle against it as I write this column.

There’s this squeaky, nervous voice in my head that keeps insisting that unless I absolutely win at writing this column, no one will respect me as a writer. Which means I’ll never get a position at The New York Times when I’m in my twenties, and I’ll never win a Pulitzer by the time I’m 40. Which means… which means my career, my future, my entire life rides on this!

Wait a minute… Maanvi Singh is a rising College junior and a former Daily Pennsylvanian photo editor from Walnut Creek, Calif. Her email address is

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