How to cope with no longer being the best

Not such a big fish anymore


One of the unfortunate side effects of getting into a university for very clever people is the knock to the ego that comes with no longer being an exceptionally clever person.

For those of you who go to Cambridge and are still the best in your field, you can stop reading. You probably aren’t reading this anyway, you’re working. Fuck you. For the rest of you, get ready to embrace your mediocrity.

We know all the old clichés about no longer being a ‘big fish in a small pond’ when you come up to university. The thing is, for most of us, we weren’t just big fish – we were the biggest fish. We were sharks. Not the kind you get hanging around Freshers’ events, but the kind who scored top marks in exams and the ones who actually enjoyed results day.

This is literally you.

Well wave that goodbye. You’re just going to have to get over it: you’re not the best anymore, and stop trying to be.

Hopefully you enjoy your degree enough to be okay with only being average. Unfortunately, if you got in to Cambridge, that’s probably not very likely. You can’t fight it – the ones who are pissed off,  seething in silence, are one of the most annoying subsets of Cambridge student. They’ll never say it out loud, but you might get hints of it around exam time. For god’s sake don’t antagonise them.

My first essay said I was ‘promising’ and it was all downhill from there. Getting a tick is enough to send your heart into palpitations and a ‘good’ on the margins is heard of – but probably only for geniuses. It’s all a far cry from being annoyed at 19.5/20 on a Latin vocab test.

Seeing the person who came top of Tripos in a lecture hall is a similar feeling to glimpsing Stephen Hawking going around Cambridge – it’s a feeling of awe and crippling self doubt in your own academic ability. You’ll be fine, you got in, so you are able to make it through a degree. If an academic behind a desk reading your personal statement thought you could do it, you probably can. Probably.

For all you know they are literally the best.

How do you get over it then? Take up some hobbies, get out of your room. Have a life that isn’t work. I know some of us didn’t do that at school (IB kids, looking at you), but it’s so important at Cambridge.

If you find something you enjoy – and might even be moderately good at – then you can get over the crushing realisation that you’re special enough to get into Cambridge but not particularly special when you’re here. At the very least, having a hobby will take your mind off this sad fact.

Not the best but having fun.

In the worst case scenario: if you’re too uncoordinated to do sports, too uncommitted to join any societies, or just too lazy to leave your room, you should probably work at finding people with whom you can drink away the hours and weeks of wallowing in your overwhelming averageness.

Enjoy being fine at your degree.