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What to do when you feel like you've wasted your potential?

  • Physics
  • Thread starter Zxzx25
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  • #26
When you talk about being less than stellar at math, Oliver Heaviside is an example who comes to mind. You may not have heard of him, but he was a physicist and an electrical engineer who made huge contributions to signal theory and our understanding of electrical waves as they propogate over transmission lines. They even named a mathematical funtion after him.

If I remember correctly, he got a job working at a telegrapher's office in the 19th century and decided his math wasn't good enough to do the kind of cutting-edge work he wanted to be doing, so he took some time and improved his calculus and differential equations and went on to make huge contributions to electrical engineering theory. So even some of the really heavy-hitters had to go back and improve on their weak spots but there was no shame in it and obviously great results
 
  • #27
Chronos
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Sounds like a bad case of laziness. I too was a victim of more ambition than effort. It's a killer. Your fellow students are rarely far behind and can close the performance gap in a blink, if your effort falters. Now that you have realized the price of complacency, it puts you in a better position to motivate. It might be too late for AP, which is a test in academic survivalism, but, not too late to channel your talents into something you will find rewarding, providing you are willing to fire your lazy side for lack of productivity.
 
  • #28
Mark Harder
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I still feel that way sometimes, and I'm retired from a long career as a biochemist with diversions into other areas. I'll remind you of a couple of things you said..."I feel like a failure, like I'll never succeed" Of course you'll be a failure if failure is something essential to being you, if it's an essential part of you in other words. You are in the middle of a stage in life in which you are being exposed to a wider range of life options than ever before, and such times naturally incite us to re-examine our past decisions and their consequences in the hope that re-examination will be some use in making the sorts of commitments we will be making soon. Since your future depends on it, perhaps it would be a good idea if you examined why you made the statements I just quoted. You see now that you have failed in something and you no longer wish to continue failing in that fashion. Fine so far. But then you go on to conclude that your past failures mean you, yourself, are a failure. Damaged goods, forever effing up. I submit that this conclusion does not follow from your self-observation. You have failed, you are trying to learn from that. But that is a useful, possibly constructive process so far. The conclusions you draw, however, are specious. Why are you doing that to yourself? In a way, deciding that you'll never succeed is one way out of your dilemma. Knowing that you'll never succeed in astronomy, the logical path of action is not to invest any more time and energy in an enterprise that will only fail. Now, perhaps that is true. Your previous career decision was a mistake and continuing in that direction will not be the best use of your talents. But the fact that you dropped that ball in the past is not in itself a sufficient reason to conclude that re-committing yourself to a career in astronomy would be a mistake. Knowing what you know now about your present inclinations and the evidence for your abilities, what do you want to do? Maybe you've simply outgrown your interest in astronomy or science in general. You say you're interested in the philosophical aspects/consequences of scientific endeavors. Turn that over in your mind. You're in college, which is when you have an opportunity, perhaps the last in your life, to shop around the intellectual marketplace. Have you found any interesting questions to ask and the means to answer them?

If you find that you aren't interested in anything the academic experience offers, ask yourself if you have lost interest in other things that once interested you. If the answers are yes and yes, you may be suffering from depression, which is why other commenters here mention medical/professional attention. I'd beware of taking prescribed medications only. Usually, talking with a counselor and taking prescription medications simultaneously is the best course for treating depression.
 
  • #29
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I've wrestled with feelings of failure, worthlessness, and wasted potential in my life. In fact, I'm still wrestling with them. These are not easy things to deal with. The most important step for me so far has been learning to separate guilt (which can be useful) from shame (which isn't.) Both have to do with remorse and regret, but the distinction between them (at least as I use the words) is that guilt is associated with a particular action, while shame is something that attaches to you as a person.

For example, suppose you fail to meet a deadline on a major project (a paper submission or something like that) and your advisor/boss/etc chews you out for it. Guilt is the feeling telling you that you screwed this up, and that you could have done better. Shame, on the other hand, is the feeling that's telling you that you're a worthless person who's never going to do anything right, and this latest incident is just more proof of that.

You can process guilt, benefit from it (by figuring out what to do differently next time), and get it out of your head. Shame, on the other hand, tends to stick around for a long time. If you've already got shame sitting inside you from before this particular incident, then the latest shame will just add to the big pile of festering shame in your head.

What helped me tremendously was figuring out where my original shame came from and dealing with that. I'm still working on that, and probably will be working on it for the rest of my life, but it's helped me keep the "shame pile" from growing. That's where a good therapist can be very helpful.

(This is essentially the same thing Mark Harder said just above, but expressed differently.)
 
  • #30
Delta2
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1) Its never too late, there is always room for a new start
2) never give up, if at first you don't succeed try try again
3) Don't let anything/anyone mess your psychology and self confidence. Neither yourself or others. We are human beings we do mistakes in our lives, long term mistakes or short term mistakes, we just cant do optimal perfect actions or choices every time, in any area whether it is dealing with a problem with math/physics or dealing with a person that makes our life harder or whatever else problem. We should learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them.
 
  • #31
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It is a funny thing that telling people they are smart is a bad thing. When children are complemented on a test with the compliment that they really worked hard, they seek to test that with harder challenges, and don't fear failure. When children are complimented on a test with the compliment that they are so smart, they begin to avoid challenges, and do fear failure. One of the things that is striking in your post is that you seem to have internalized that. You believe the compliment you are smart. And you want to use that. But you have avoided the possibility of failure, and are consequently feeling like a failure.

I don't have an answer on how. But you have to desensitize yourself to the fear of failure. You have to internally praise yourself for HARD WORK, not success. Go do something hard. Don't listen to others. Take 50 days to solve in impossible jigsaw puzzle and don't talk about it. It will be hard and it will take impossible amounts of work. Do some things that take work. More things can be accomplished with work than with natural "smart" talent.

People fail all the time. You may live your life and never succeed at a single thing. There is no guarantee. But what is holding you back is the idea that you should be able to succeed because you know internally how smart you are, and it should be easy, and if it isn't, that tears up your internal esteem. Screw that. Ask the stupid question. Look stupid. Laugh about it. Learn to work hard at things that you like, and fail like everyone else. Seek challenges, work hard, and learn to not fear failure.

Besides, you probably will never do anything that distinguishes you from the other 7 billion humans on the planet ... no one is THAT good. But at least you can know that you worked hard and did a few things that mattered to you. (This last is not to kick you when you are down, but to hopefully help change perspective).
 
  • #32
4
2
Wow the responses I had on here are incredible, I never imagined people would be so kind, just to clarify I was in an incredibly bad mood when I posted this, it's my only post and I just wanted to share my thoughts and feelings with someone, looking back, I kind of sound like a narcissist, maybe it's more of a between-the-lines kind of thing, but I think it can be inferred that I expect to be rewarded simply for having a passion/higher than average intelligence, I would go back and punch my teenage self in the nutsack if I could, not for failing mind you, I think I already made peace with that, but for thinking the world owes me, I have to admit sometimes I felt like I was God's gift to the world, maybe I was raised to believe that, one of the people that responded I believe noticed this and layed the cold hard truth on me, which is that science isn't about sitting with a tobacco pipe and blowing smoke rings while stroking your beard, it involves a lot of not so fun things such as sitting on your ass for hours practicing Integrals/memorizing facts/cursing at your papers, I replied by thanking him/her, also some people mentioned that I attribute failure to who I am as a person, I think that's also true, a friend once told that I would be too harsh on myself whenever I'd fail, it's something that I've been aware of and working on, regarding whether or not I really do think science is my passion, I certainly didn't think so in my teenage years, I thought about lots of different things, I still do, I'm a person with lots of interests, but I tend to catch myself thinking about the nature of the universe a bit too often, which is a sign for me I suppose, I'll have a lot to think about during the next few weeks/months, thank you all for your responses, the community in this forum is one of the best :), I wish you all a good life and I hope you are all enjoying yourselves, keep contributing to the scientific community.
 

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