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Feeling insecure about my abilities

  1. Aug 22, 2014 #1
    I knew this guy from K-12 who was easily the fastest learner I've ever met in my life. This guy spent his entire school day dicking around, talking, playing games, cutting class, getting kicked out of class, and repeatedly getting in trouble with teachers because he paid absolutely no attention to what he was supposed to be doing. He'd learn and master a new concept after doing an exercise question or two, he didn't study for anything except midterms/finals, and his quiz papers were packed with random numbers that didn't resemble what the textbook or teachers would teach us... yet he'd still get excellent grades. I don't believe that he was secretly studying the entire time, because he could and would fail spectacularly on tests after spending the entire month in class playing video games under his desk. This guy just didn't care at all.

    I just struggled through second year university (studying general science) and I only manage to pull off a 70% average despite working my *** off all day every day. Recently I heard from this guy again and he told me that he failed out of university because he spent the entire time playing vide games. I'm shocked. How can I expect to compete when someone like this fails out of unversity?

    I can't help but feel this horrible "he finally got what was coming to him feeling', but I wish I didn't. He was never a dick about it. He was honestly one of the kindest people I knew growing up: he had no problem helping anyone if they asked for it and he was nice to anyone who spoke to him. Not many people did, though, because honestly, he was weird as **** and somewhat intimidating. He's one of those people who you can't help but feel horribly stupid around, even though he never called anyone else stupid or downtalked them.

    What the hell am I supposed to do? I feel like people will just outclass me by the time I'm finished with school. I'm scared that I'll never be able to compete as a professional when there are people like that guy who can absolutely outclass me in every way.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2014 #2
    Then you could have installed a camera in his room and watched him. :biggrin: bhuhahaha
    You saw him playing games but when you did not see him playing around might be time he concentrated on learning stuff.

    I think you're a tad jealous and thinking "it serves you right, smuck!". I understand your feeling but playing video games all day is not the main cause to get failed at college. I doubt too. You've met or talked to guys who can get 95-99% ever ? This is what we should doubt. :biggrin: bhuhahaha.
    That's nice of you.
    Actually, being good or bad at school doesn't qualify one to be good at work. I stand tall to support all ideas to educate young people to be good at social life and behaviors before being excellent at school or in industrial professional career. In life, there are a plenty of people who are not really good at academic subjects but are successful businessmen (what the heck I don't have an idea to do any business myself :frown: ); I used to work with several smart arses who are definitely bad at their areas of expertise but very good at making use of others' ideas (most companies I have worked for don't have any value realization or transparent policies or that they "may" have them as they tell the world but actually they don't follow any so all things are a kinda mess in disguise)
    A common strategy is to delete him out of your competency list before he knocks you out. Will you do this ? In companies, they do this very often if some are dangerous to their positions or may ruin their tickets to work long time in Silicon Valley, enter MIT, Stanford or Princeton etc, anything precious to them. :biggrin:
  4. Aug 22, 2014 #3


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    Everyone knows someone like that at some point, they seem to effortlessly glide through life. I had a friend at uni who was a top student, he used to be able to go out drinking all night and playing sports in the day and then when it came to revision in a few hours of reading lecture notes he'd understand a concept pretty much perfectly. Quite often we'd study together and in a single session he'd learn something that I'd been struggling to understand and remember all week.

    He was (and still is) smarter than me and a better scientist. And I don't care at all, neither should you. If you just compare yourself to people who are exceptionally talented then yes you are going to get insecure and upset. But why do that? Would you compare yourself to an olympic athelete and get upset when your gym session is nowhere near as good as theirs? Of course not. We all want to grow up and be the smartest, the fastest, the strongest etc but the reality is we wont. And that's perfectly OK!!! If you spend all your time focusing on how far away from the top you are then you'll never be happy even if you're doing exceptional well. This guy failed because he tried to rely too much on his natural talent rather than actually working. You on the other hand have good grades and seem to really care. You're doing fine.

    You're averaging a 70% grade which is great. You're already in the top 10% of the population probably and I bet doing well compared to the university average. Focus on that rather than your lucky talented friend.
  5. Aug 22, 2014 #4


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    I suspect both talented friends here may be making use of the 20-80 principle, a.k.a, in this case, to "free your mind, the rest will follow ". IHOP most of the actual progress --the 80 in the 20- 80 --is done in those few moments when your mind is open and receptive; there is a diminishing returns issue here. Their playing video games or going out and partying may allow them to clear their mind to be receptive. Do you, OP, have some activity that allows you to feel mentally refreshed? Maybe try exercising? There are other issues like having effective study methods, etc. that may allow you to improve.
  6. Aug 22, 2014 #5
    Did anyone see the new Stephan Hawking film where he talks about how the cool thing to do was to get good grades and not study? I think he even goes as far to say that the attitude around the school (I think Oxford) was that, if you had to study much at all to pass a physics class and get a good grade, then you weren't up to snuff? That struck me as kind of odd, but he seemed dead serious.
  7. Aug 22, 2014 #6


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    Didn't see it, haven't gone to Oxford but that's a stupid thing to say. Seems to rely on the myth that if you're one of those people that don't have to study much then you're inherently better at the entire field. I don't think this is the case. If it takes Alice five hours to understand something and Bob two hours and Alice has more than enough time to get those five hours done then what does it matter?
  8. Aug 22, 2014 #7
    I agree. Actually, I found the clip. Fast forward to 12:20


    There may be something like "natural ability," but there's not natural knowledge, you have to learn it and earn it, and you do that by putting in the hours and paying your dues.
  9. Aug 22, 2014 #8
    The Tortoise and the Hare, ennit? The point of the fable is that it's better to be the plodding, steady, reliable Tortoise, however slow, than the fast but unreliable and easily distracted Hare.
  10. Aug 22, 2014 #9


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    I had to read the original post a couple of times.

    Your friend well in high school and then flunked out of university because he applied the same (lack of) strategy to his studies that worked for him in high school. The issue there is it's often possible for people to get by with good grades based on innate ability at the high school level. The problem these people face at university though, it that they are dealing with more advanced, more challenging material, and just generally more volume of material. They are being taught by professors rather than teachers. And they are competing in a pool where the average student did very well in high school.

    Lots of students face this problem. Their grades suffer because they don't learn good study habits in high school. Innate ability can only get you so far and it seems this fellow reached his limit.

    That shouldn't affect you in any way. One useful tip is to forget any notion of innate ability. From what I've read those who believe that skills in STEM subjects are learned do far better in the long run than those who subscribe to the believe the skills are innate.
  11. Aug 22, 2014 #10


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    At some point, everyone has to put in the work to get any further. But it shouldn't affect you, there are tons of people like that. At the end of the day, the innate ability to surf through high school isn't what makes a great scientist/physicist/mathematician. Furthermore, no matter how good you are there will ALWAYS be people who you perceive as better than you (even the very best will think this way).
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2014
  12. Aug 22, 2014 #11


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    I don't know first hand about Oxford, but there was definitely a similar attitude at Cambridge on the liberal arts side. There were undergraduates who were well known for never attending a single lecture in their entire course and getting a first.

    Of course "not attending lectures" didn't mean "not doing any work". The real work and learning was in writing a weekly essay and having its arguments torn to shreds in one-on-one sessions with your tutor.

    Actually, the teaching style for maths and science was similar, except the essays were replaced by problems. If you skipped your tutorials you would definitely have to explain why. Most science undergrads did attend lectures, if only to find out the course contents for the final examination (when I was there you didn't get the spoon-feeding of set textbooks for each course), but lectures were not compulsory and there were no attendance checks, etc.
  13. Aug 22, 2014 #12
    I skipped most of my Chemistry classes (which were inefficient use of time), but I did the homework and got an A.

    I think people tend to overestimate "natural" ability. Most of the famous scientists had to put in a lot of work to achieve what they did, and as they put in the work, their innate ability increased.
  14. Aug 22, 2014 #13


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    There's at least one area where you can easily outclass him: Work harder, play fewer video games and you'll have more than leveled the playing field. As you move up through an academic and professional career, potential brilliance starts to count less and delivered results count more.
  15. Aug 22, 2014 #14


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    I was one of those kids that never had to study, kids in class couldn't keep up with me, so my teachers took my books away from me, I was bored to tears, attending school was torture. As my 3rd grade teacher told me, I cannot teach two classes, the other children cannot keep up with you, so you will have to slow down.

    You can not even imagine what kids like us go through!! You thing we have it easy???

    Luckily, I got a new teacher in 6th grade that realized that I was not NORMAL. She asked the other teachers why I was being held back. They said that they had nothing to offer me, they didn't know how or what to teach me, I knew more than they did.

    Anyway, I won't go into all of the details. It's sad and painful.

    When I started work, we had classes at a campus and everyone wanted to study with me for the final. I hadn't planned to study. But I agreed to let them come to my hotel room for the last night in case I could answer questions.

    I had one note book with color coded tabs. The final tests would be open book and I realized that they would be triggered to key words in the text. So, I had simply color tabbed the book to coincide with keywords. When the computer prompted for a keyword I simply flipped to the tab and selected the answer. Don't ask how I knew how to color tab, it was extremely obvious at the time. Don't ask how I knew the keywords, I just knew them.

    We were in a closed room.

    After I passed, I went over and started passing my fellow students tests for them. We all passed. They loved it. They were all good people, they just took more time to pick things up than me. All my life I never needed more than a glance to get something.

    But I was no genius. I had no creativity. I couldn't think outside the box. I was locked inside the box.

    People are different, that doesn't mean they are better than you, it just means that they process things differently from you, you may take more time to process things, but you may be able to do more with it.
  16. Aug 23, 2014 #15
    I wish. I didn't do well in school until I started studying hard and neglecting fun things.

    Buy my grades are still mediocre despite putting so much effort into studying. It feels like I'm climbing up a mountain while other people just sit on the chairlift.

    Anyway, posting this helped clear up my mind a little bit. I managed to sleep off a lot of the worry, but some still remains. Thanks for all your posts.

    Also, I'm still shocked I managed to get the name godzilla
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