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Credit: Catherine Liang

Last school year, I was sitting in a study lounge in Hill College House when my friend showed me an Instagram photo on his phone. It was a picture of a girl crying. The caption was: “Worst day of my life.” It was Ivy Day — when all the Ivy League universities release their admissions decisions.

Throughout the world people that day anticipated the results of their college admissions decisions. For those denied, their friends and families tried to sympathize with their pain. But for those accepted, is it all celebration as we jump and scream with our families?

I thought back to the day I received my acceptance letter from Penn. I remember feeling incredibly anxious. I refreshed my browser waiting for the result. I feared thinking about who I would be without a college acceptance. And I remember the incredible relief once I had found out I had been accepted.

A different result would have hurt my self-esteem. But I wasn’t rejected, so all was well, right?

In my case, my accomplishments were in total control of my self-worth. Now at Penn, I ask myself before any big decision:

Regardless of whether or not I get this, will I still have self-worth?

If the answer is no, I think that a lot of us at Penn are enforcing a losing mindset, regardless of if we get what we want. We do this by slowly training ourselves to believe that our accomplishments dictate our self-worth. 

We have drilled into ourselves a “do-or-die” mindset. The very fact that we are students at Penn speaks to our intelligence. Some of us have never really experienced overwhelming rejection or underachievement. We’ve accomplished, and then continued to accomplish more and more.

When we are pressured to find a job, or to apply for multiple clubs, and then we do achieve those things, this conditions us to accept that our self-worth is dependent on our accomplishments. That pressure and stress has worked for a lot of us. I know I’ve often thought, “good thing I got in, or that would’ve really lowered my self-confidence.” But that doesn’t mean the damage wasn’t done. It just means that it pushes the pressure on to my next accomplishment.

We must value ourselves even when we're rejected. I urge everyone to ask themselves how a decision will affect their self-esteem before making it. 

In a perfect world, I see our accomplishments having very little hold on our self-worth. But there’s still space for healthy motivation, where we push ourselves to succeed. We should be proud of our accomplishments, but they should not control how we feel about ourselves.

I encourage everyone to ask themselves before applying to a club or an internship: “Regardless of whether or not I get this, will I still have self-worth?” In the beginning, it was "no" after "no" for me — a computer science test I wasn’t OK with doing poorly on or a club that I really wanted to get into. But, slowly, I’m starting to make my answer “yes” instead of “no.”

JOEL LEE is a College sophomore from Groton, Conn. His email address is

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