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Feelings of failure: a story of maturation

  1. Jan 11, 2012 #1
    Greetings. First a little introduction; I am a current high-school senior, and this time of year is very stressful. It seems that it is the time of my life where I will be measured up, so to speak, with my peers, and perhaps have to decide my goals and future plans. I don’t want everyone to think this is a sob-story, because this is not what it is. It is a trial of self-discovery and realization.

    I’ve always known to have very low self-esteem. Now, I wouldn’t say that I have depression, because my problem is not an inherent sadness, but rather it is my disappointment in my comparison with others. It is almost like whatever I try to accomplish, someone else has accomplished it better than I did. One part of it is that I am so amazed with other’s abilities, and I feel that I can’t match up, but this seems normal. I attend a decent high school, where students need to pass an entrance exam to be admitted, so it is natural that some of them are very brilliant. Perhaps it is that the high-school environment is not the best to collaborate with work, as everyone is so interested in doing the best they can, and making sure that others are not as good.

    One thing that is making me feel this way is the college admissions process. Since I come from a “prestigious” high school, a large part of the students apply EA/ED, and of course, many are accepted. I was not able to apply EA/ED, due to problems with my personal statement and with test scores. People like to boast about their acceptances, deeming it a culmination of several years of work, and an affirmation of self-worth. I let it get to me, and I am personally affected by these acceptances. No matter how hard I try not to hear about them, the news always spreads around, and it makes me sad. For one thing, it makes me worried about my future, and what will happen with my applications. It is even worse now, given that a majority of the applications have already been sent, since I am now second guessing myself; I think that maybe I should have spent more time on them, or perhaps my essays were terrible, and therefore I will get rejected. The other part of it is seeing people who are the most pompous and lazy I know, getting accepted to schools that I want to attend. I’ve been told that these acceptances are random and that they don’t matter, but right now, my shortsightedness is not letting me see past that. For right now, it seems that I truly believe them to be a measure of self worth.

    Another thing happened today, which prompted me to write this post. Today, the Intel Semifinalist results came out. My school always has about 8 people win every year. I was very surprised that it almost felt like college admissions. I was not chosen as semifinalist, and I did not expect to. Yet, people I dislike (for various reasons) were. This was very disheartening for me. A student I worked with at the local lab became semifinalist. We had very similar projects, but he did not know how to perform many of the procedures, so I had to teach him. Needless to say, I am very surprised he became a semifinalist. I began to think about myself, that perhaps I am really stupid, or perhaps I am not that talented. In my desperation, I googled this student’s name. What I found was lists of awards, top 5% of the National Merit Scholarship, things like that. Things that I don’t have. I begin to ask myself why I am unable to reach such a high level of greatness. It is not only this other student, as many students in my own school show so much more accomplishments.

    I worry that similar things might happen with college admissions, and causing me to receive rejections. I think that maybe my already negative perception of myself is not negative enough. My school offers Linear Algebra and Multivariable calculus, but I did not even realize that I could take such classes. I am competing against people who have taken Calculus BC in Junior Year, when even in my Senior Year, I was not qualified to take that class. It is almost like I did not exert myself enough, that I did not give myself the opportunities that I should have taken.

    One teacher, who is very close to me, has told me that I don’t need to be so negative about myself. He tells me that I am just as capable as others, and I simply need to add the confidence that I don’t have. Apparently, he had similar feelings when he was my age, and he locked himself out of many opportunities because of it, and he doesn’t want me to repeat his mistake. I know that he tells me these things out of good intentions, but I don’t see how this is true, especially since it has become self-evident in high school accomplishments, and things like college admissions. This teacher then goes on telling me that I “will go very far,” but for the same reasons, I don’t see this happening.

    I will probably come back to this posting years later and call myself ridiculous for believing such things. Yet, I think it is good to express myself in this way, especially in such a time of mental-growth and expression.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2012 #2
    I've found that negativity gets in the way of growth. What happens is that its a rat race. If you end up in the top 10% of anything, you get bumped up to the next level, so inevitably you'll end up average or below average. Happens to every one.

    Something that helps me a lot it to do lots of stuff that I know I'm terrible at, so I don't have the pressure of having to be not terrible.

    And life is very different from college. Lots of people who do well in high school have serious, serious problems in college when they find out that they are "average." People that do well in college, often get hit badly in graduate school.

    Then there is life after graduate school. You get a job. You retire. Then you die.

    Maybe not. One thing that surprised me is that a lot of the "issues" that I had when I was a teenager never went away. I wasn't sure what I was going to do when I grew up, and I'm still trying to sort that out.

    You never stop growing. Which is scary if you think about it.
  4. Jan 11, 2012 #3
    This is your number one obstacle. You are relatively speaking so young that it's absurd to start giving yourself a really hard time for what you "could have done". You can still do those things.

    And, relevant to this, ideally one doesn't quit after realizing one is average amidst a fairly talented pack! Quitting when you are just in high school is really selling yourself short.
  5. Jan 11, 2012 #4
    I'm going to be the resident jerk here and slap you in the face. Do you know how much math I started college with? Pre-algebra. Do you know how many math competitions I had won? Zero. To this day I have not taken linear algebra, and I have no intention of doing so. I have never been a semifinalist in anything. I was rejected by the first college I applied to. My degree will take five years of my life minimum before I even enter the workforce, and two of that was spent in community colleges. I even failed a class last semester - a math class, can you believe that? Oh, but did I mention that I'm now going to one of the best engineering schools in the country on a very nice scholarship?

    The only thing you're competing with is your own unrealistic expectations. Not everyone deserves to go to a private school. I didn't. Maybe you don't - or maybe you do. There are countless public schools which are just as good, with a quarter the cost of attendance and a tenth the snobbery. What you need to do is get over yourself and deal with what comes your way. Freaking out about .. about bloody semifinalist positions in competitions that most sane people have never heard about is, well, immature and ill-befitting someone who is going to go to college, who is going to become one of the intellectual elite of society for crying out loud. IF you get rejected - and that's a big IF - then y'know what? The world will not end. Not even your world will end. You will pull yourself back up and relish in the character building that the odd failure will entail. You will come back with a vengeance and make them think that they were freakin' lunatics for rejecting you the first time.

    Just look at it this way. Every time you fail is a chance for growth, for change, for advancement of yourself. The 'smart' people that you idolize will never experience such opportunity. And when they finally do run into challenge, they'll freak out and not know what to do - and that may be at a very bad time, like in the middle of their doctoral dissertation. Consider your proverbial cherry popped now. Better now than at age forty.
  6. Jan 12, 2012 #5
    Why are you trying to compare yourself to other people?? It's quite a bad habit and it gets you depressed quite easily.

    You are who you are and you have to live your life. Who cares what other people achieve in their lifes? Just try to have fun in whatever you want to do.

    I will never win the Fields medal, I will not even achieve a major breakthrough in mathematics. But I don't care. I just try to have fun with the theories and try to so the best I can.

    Everybody has their OWN life goals, everybody has their OWN things they want to achieve. It seems that you didn't yet found these things. Rather, you see what other people think and you try to copy them. Do some introspection and find out what it is YOU want. Professional help might do the trick here, do consider it.

    I guess that your problem is that you're in a difficult age. But that will change.
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