Surviving a university course when you doubt your abilities | Self-development

University is the best time of your life” – I suppose this is something we all have heard too often in our lives. I’m not writing to argue with this quote or to confirm it. I just want to put it out there that university is not all fun and games, nor is it all doom and gloom. I don’t believe the universality of what university should be, but I wanted to give a personal insight in my relation with university and how I’ve struggled the last period with a particular course. I struggled because I doubted my abilities to pass this course, and this was new to me. In extent to doubting myself, my anxiety took over.

I’m an Arts & Culture student in my second year of university and I’m doing pretty well to be honest. I’ve managed to pass the majority of the courses bar one – due to an argument with my lecturer – with minimal effort. Now is this because I’m that intelligent? Not sure, it could be luck as well or just that I do exactly what they ask of me. In any case, I had no difficulties. Every topic we addressed was something I could understand and every theory was something I could set my mind too. I didn’t do much of the tutorial preparations and I was just one of those students, that just did nothing to get a good grade, but still gets a good grade. I’m that person many hate.

Now there are different reasons for some doubt in your abilities when going to university. I suppose you can be that kind of person or some personal events in your life might have triggered the doubt. In my case the above wasn’t the case. I got introduced to a new situation and new information, and because this was different from the usual, I had no idea how to adapt, adopt and improve.

My university life was quite easy, but this changed with the start of this academic year. This year, everything is different. After just a few weeks, I lost that confidence and feeling that I could do this course, like I had the year before. This course evolved around technological determinism and how technological change leads to a different society. I thought I might grasp everything that was said, but I had no tools to adapt to it. For the first times in years, I felt like I didn’t know anything about a certain topic. At first I didn’t bother with it, because I thought it would all find its place as always. I just thought: “well I just learn a few theories, put them together and ace the paper. Et voila, bob’s your uncle.” But then the weeks passed and passed, and then I realised I had to write two papers. Two bloody papers and I had no clue how I would do it. The first paper was about a certain interview technique, which wasn’t too bad in the end. But it was related to the bigger paper and oh my word, I was proper lost. Something fairly odd happened: I panicked. Now, I wasn’t exactly new to the concept of panicking, but I never panicked because of university like this. I think I’ve always been quite the anxious person, but education always escaped the demon of anxiety. And then this course about the Network Society commenced. Bugger.

This panic ultimately lead to questioning my own abilities, which was really terrible. I suppose it was all new to me to experience this on an academic level and in some ways it’s partly my own fault. I haven’t been preparing correctly and I got behind on the things I had to do. Add to that the panic and the fact that I had no clue how the theories worked (well, I thought I didn’t understand) and I was just one big insecurity wandering around university. At one point it even became worse, because it not only affected me academically, but it also had effect on my life outside university. I think I’ve caused the people around me some hard time.
The fact that I struggle with my mental health didn’t really help. My mental health is not really stable, but I think I’ve grown stronger in the past year. However, when this new situation arose, my mental health took a turn for the worse. When I was in this state of mind, I wasn’t thinking logically anymore, and this needed to be fixed. In my perception, if I could get a grip on my problem at university, my mental health would improve. But how?

I’m not sure what helped me in the end, but I’d like to believe that 4 things will help me in the future in the likely event that this happens again, and then I will be better prepared and equipped to deal with the situation. I’d like to call them the pilars of how the learning process works for me at the moment, but I know that everyone has their own way of learning.

1. Realising your self worth
Firstly, I had to realise that my insecurities about my academic performances were connected to my self worth, and how I perceived my self worth. In my opinion and experience, you can’t separate them and therefore not see them as two completely universal, separate things. In thinking I couldn’t do the assignments and the papers, I thought less of myself. This was something very alien to me, but I talked myself down to the point that I was certain I was unfit for university. Which was utter codswallop, because I had managed to pass almost every course I took. I had finished more difficult courses, but due the fact that this was something completely new to me, I lost all sense of respect for myself. There was something deeper that troubled my soul, I felt not worthy of good things happening to me academically speaking, and this was the moment my insecurity had been waiting for all along. And, it hit hard. So hard, that I really questioned myself. Have I made the right choice by going to university? Did I get lucky all the previous assignments and papers? The fact that I didn’t know what to do with this course, made me think that I was not fit university.

2. Getting to the core of the problem: what is it that you feel insecure about exactly?
I was incredibly insecure, but I didn’t know why. It took me a while before I could identify that the insecurities find its roots in university. I couldn’t see the core of the problem with university, before I looked at my self worth, as described above. My insecurities focused on the fact that I couldn’t do the papers, but that wasn’t the real problem. This course concentrated on a topic I had never come across before in this form, and I guess that is what scared me to be honest. It was new to me and in my mind that was weird, because I know things. In no way do I want to sound arrogant (and in saying this, I probably will), but in every course taken I always had some basic knowledge of what we were talking about. But this was completely new and I had no idea how to adapt to this situation. That was how my brain saw this course and the new information, completely freaked me out. It was the fact that I knew very little about the topic, that made me freeze and induced my frustration. I just was full of panic, and instead of doing everything in my power to learn, I froze. This is somewhat of a disappointment for me, because I’m always so eager to learn. But in this very moment, that I really needed to learn and adapt to new information, I was utter useless. It wasn’t until I knew what was really troubling me, that I could take action and start working to a solution. The new situation made me feel anxious, unworthy and a failure.

3. Start well, be prepared and keep up
I started to catch up with some theories and concepts, then I realised that preparation is so important. Especially when you are not certain about some things in particular, it might really help you if you just prepare everything on time and read everything there is to that particular topic. It really helped me relieve some of the anxiety and it made me realise, that I know more than I was lead to believe by my own brain. Yeah, I can hear you thinking: you should always to that Marc. I’m just not that kind of student I guess, or haven’t been that student. But now I have too. In this case I was too late with everything, but I learnt that for the future, I needed to step up my game. When it comes to preparation, I’m like the Crystal Palace of the class. I don’t know anything and you should definitely not ask me to give you tips.  I found some really helpful tips coming from Dalindcy. This blogpost is everything you need right now:
Obviously everyone learns differently, but some of these tips are easy to adopt and adapt, in my case they are really working.

4. Ask your co-students
I have been the student, everyone turns to. But when I didn’t get the theory, I just kept isolated and that was probably the worst thing I could do. Sure, I talked it over with my girlfriend and some of my friends, but those you study with can provide vital help. I was too proud and was just scared to admit, that I didn’t get it. By doing that, I let it get worse and dumped myself in an even bigger hole. Don’t be afraid to ask your mates to help you, you could help them in return too. You learn so much from other people and it is just a shame if you are scared to be considered a loser. Life is grand and you are worth it to learn from others as well. I used to think that admitting that you don’t know something meant that you were a failure, but now I know different. I know now, that it’s a sign of strength. Because you are eager to learn.

Now I know, that I was overreacting like mad and I don’t want to let this happen again. I might get into a situation again, where there’s new information, but this time I know what to do. I think I’m better equipped and can manage this situation better. I feel this is a victory for my academic life and for my mental health, and the tools given by various people have definitely helped. I feel very grateful to have such brilliant people in my life, but I’m also very proud of myself. It has been very hard for me to say that, but I’m proud.




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  1. november 6, 2017 / 8:15 pm

    I never went to uni. I guess I doubted myself before I even started applying. In a way I regret not going. Then again I might not have had the experiences I have had

    Tasha x

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