A Fear of Inadequacy

The sticky note of inadequacy.

I don’t claim to be a perfectionist. I’m just afraid of being inadequate.

Conversation 1:

(in the car)

“Mom: I saw John* at the track the other day.

Me: …

Mom: He was running with the cross country team. That boy works so hard. Remember at the awards ceremony? He got awards in science and math. You didn’t get any awards in science or math. He gets straight A’s too, and he works so hard outside of school. You just sit around all day. Why don’t you do anything?

Me: …

Mom: Remember Amy*, my friend’s daughter? She got accepted to a prestigious private college. She didn’t even go to high school. Why can’t you be more like her? Why can’t you…”

You know that saying that there’s always someone better than you? Ever since Kindergarten I’ve had that saying drilled into my head. Whether it be my brother, my best friend, or my neighbor’s kid, my mom has always negatively compared me to others. She’s done it so many times not only am I afraid of what she’ll do when I fall short, but I punish myself as well.

Conversation 2:

(at lunch)

“Me: Oh my gosh, I got a B+ on the Chemistry test, what am I going to do?

Friend: I got a B on that test. Don’t worry about it, you’ll pull it up like always… wait, why aren’t you eating?

Me: I can’t eat, I have to study. My mom will kill me once she gets the grade report. I have to do better next time. I have to work harder. I have to…”

Last year I received a C on a geometry test. It was the first C I had ever gotten during my high school career. When my teacher handed me the paper, I literally felt like my life was caving in. I know it sounds melodramatic now, but at the time I couldn’t even think about anything other than how angry my mom would be. I immediately asked my teacher to go to the restroom, where I proceeded to lock myself in a stall and cry for fifteen minutes.

Remember this? Hopefully Precalc with Trig Honors won't be too bad this year... (image via benjaminhurt.com)

If you think I’m a crybaby because of that incident, I don’t blame you. After much stress I ended up with an A for the quarter and an A for the course. Looking back on that over-dramatic, teenage-hormone induced moment when I imagined my life was ruined forever, there is one piece of advice I would give myself.

There is always going to be someone better than you, but there’s always someone out there who’s worse than you or worse off than you are. I run the risk of sounding like a snob, but it’s true. After all those years of self-deprecating and living in constant fear of not being the best, I’ve realized that I should be thankful for any and all the opportunities life has given me. I’ve been so self-absorbed in my own insignificant problems that I failed to see just how lucky I am.

My Prince O3 Speedport Black racquet. Oh baby.

Who cares if my mom complains I’m not #1 on the tennis team? At least I made it. So what if she yells at me for not having the highest grade in AP US History? At least I have access to a quality education, unlike a myriad of unfortunate souls elsewhere.

So, from now on, I’m going to try my best to accept my shortcomings and strive to improve them without being too hard on myself. It’s the effort that counts, right?

What do you think of perfectionism? Do you have a fear of failure or know someone that does?

*names changed for the sake of anonymity.



Filed under Personal

20 responses to “A Fear of Inadequacy

  1. I feel your pain!

    I dropped out of uni and not heard the end of it since!

  2. Hmm..I actually teared up at this. It’s like, all the little things I’ve noticed about you add up, and I feel bad about the way you treat yourself. But then you come here and you nitpick these things yourself, and you actually strive to fix them. You’ve examined so many issues and you’re working to make them better; it just makes me so proud ^_^

    • Thank you so much best friend! I mean it 100% when I say I couldn’t have done it without your support, I mean you pretty much inspired me to stop self-deprecating… which led to this.

      I think one of the biggest reasons I love blogging is because it allows me to write about and attempt to fix my problems without having to worry about my family or not so nice people judging me. The comments from friends and followers are encouraging too.

      I’m really glad I got this one out before school started. (:

  3. Amazing post. I can relate to so many of these situations, but it’s mostly from myself that the pressure comes from. I got a 2:1 in my degree from University- up until that point, I got all A’s at school and college. To fall short at the last hurdle was pretty heart-wrenching. A few weeks down the line though, I began to realise that a 2:1 was actually still pretty awesome. It’s not the top grade, but it’s a true reflection of my abilities and I am totally happy with it. I still get people smirking a little when I tell them, but I’m happy and my general opinion of them is that they didn’t understand having to endure three years of study alongside growing mental problems: in some ways, I am better than these people, and in some ways I’m not. It’s so relieving to have finally come to this conclusion and this was a wonderful post that I can totally relate to.
    You can never please everyone; you should just try to please yourself 🙂

    • I agree, getting a degree from university is already an impressive achievement! You bring up another important point that it’s impossible to know what people are experiencing in their personal lives so it’s essential to treat everyone with kindness.

      Thanks for reading and sharing a little bit about yourself, it reassures me to know that there are other who have dealt with this. (:

  4. First and foremost, perfection is unattainable, and I can’t see why people can’t accept that and try to live to their ability. Second, when people compare you with others, they are asking you to be someone you’re not. And this is for their vantage only.

    If you can, read Bitter Melon by Cara Chow. You can relate with the protagonist.

    • Very true! I think some people don’t realize that perfection is unattainable until a certain event occurs that causes them to reevaluate all they’ve done – especially if outside influences push them to attain perfection. You’re right that people asking you to be someone you’re not is only for their benefit, it’s selfish.

      I’ve added it to my to-read list, I can see from the plot summary why you would say I can relate to the protagonist. (:

  5. Cara

    You know I think more people deal with this than people let on. I can remember feeling I was never enough (still happens but MUCH less). It’s hard to find the balance of pushing yourself and putting yourself down in the process. I’ve come to learn that I have to stop comparing myself to others, and concentrate on my own progress. The most important person to please and to make proud is yourself. Great post Thomas:)

    • Thanks Cara. I feel like a lot of the people who’ve had this problem grow out of it as they get older – not entirely, but they seem to become more focused on themselves and less on others. I hope I can do the same. (:

  6. My parents always expected me to be the best in school. At one point, I got frustrated and fed up, thinking that they didn’t think I was ‘good enough’. Years later I realised that they saw my potential and were trying their hardest to make sure that I don’t waste the talents I have. Your mum sees how smart and gifted you are, and how much you are able to achieve. She wants the best for you, that’s all 🙂

    • I suppose, though her delivery of such a message leaves something to be desired. I’ve discussed with her what is expected of me and how I have enough motivation to get along without her yelling at every A- I receive on a test, yet she continues to do it anyway.

      But, I guess you’re right, when it comes to academics anyway. How she feels about other facets of my who I am, on the other hand…

      Thanks for the comment, I’ll keep it in mind whenever I receive a thrashing. (:

  7. Right about now, I’d like to smack your mother.

    I completely understand parents wanting to push their kids and make sure their kids reach their full potential. But there’s a limit, and this is like borderline emotional abuse, IMO.

    After high school, your grades are pretty much meaningless. It’s not going to matter that you got a C on that math test in the long run. And chances are, that $200,000+ degree from Prestigious University isn’t worth any more than the $30,000 degree from a state university. Hell, I’m a published author and an editor for two publishing houses and I haven’t even finished my degree yet.

    Don’t worry about what she says too much. Just try your best. If you stress over it too much you’ll end up working/worrying yourself to death.

    • I generally agree, a lot of people achieve success without a top-notch education. Though I do think going to a good school is important, it’s not the sole determining factor of one’s fate and the course the rest of their life will take. One of the reasons my mom pushes me is that she’s afraid I won’t make enough money to live comfortably, but I definitely won’t let that happen and she does take it a bit too far at times.

      Thank you for the support, Mr. Cooper, and congratulations on being a published author as well as an editor for two publishing houses. (:

  8. I have to disagree with Mr. Cooper above. Your grades do matter after high school, depending on what you want to do. If you want to go to law school, business school, medical school, get a PhD, etc.. grades matter. They matter quite a lot, whether you end doing your doctorate in a state uni or a private uni. If you’re not really looking towards more education after 4 years of college (if you go to college at all), then grades matter less. But they STILL matter! Not all of us can have jobs where academic success doesn’t relate.. like being a writer or being a painter or an auto mechanic (but I suppose you have to pass a licensing exam)..

    of course, I don’t want to malign people for wanting to do other jobs that don’t require a vast amount of education, but if you *think* you possibly might want to head in that direction, you want to do everything possible and make sure that when the time comes, and you want to be a consultant for McKinsey, you have the resources and opportunities to back you up, one part of that is to have high grades and have a prestigious/thorough education backing you up.. it is a sad reality, but it is a true reality..

    While I do express sadness over how your mother is implied to be.. I don’t want to sound disparaging or suggest immaturity.. I used to tutor 16-17 year olds for SATs (when I was 18!), and man, the difference in their thinking and my thinking in terms of maturity was a huge, huge chasm. Though she may be mean sometimes, just listen to her now. Perhaps don’t push yourself as hard as she intends, but listen to her basic gist.. and one day (as corny as it sounds), the clouds will part and you can really, really decide for yourself what is best. Teenagers (myself included) make all sorts of dumb decisions. Really. So listen to adults.. it sounds hard.. and it is hard.. but it’s worth avoiding those aforementioned dumb decisions (ugh I wish I could have someone tell me that when I was that age! Repeatedly..).

    T__T wow that took quite a while to write!!
    good luck for the start of school!

    • Michelle, I agree with every thing you said about working hard in school, getting a good job, etc. And when I wrote this post, I was aware of the risk that I would come off as immature, whiny, whatever you want to call it.

      The thing is, I’m not “implying” how my mother is. I’m saying it. While in this post I’ve focused on how she pressures me, she also does a lot of unnecessary things that scare me, to put it frankly. She’s the type that when I tell her I’ll do better on the next test, she’ll continue to yell and scream even when I’ve already understood what she’s trying to say. She will not listen to reason, no matter what. She thinks that I have to be the best at everything, and if you think I should listen to her taunt and ridicule me for trying my best and not being the best, I have to disagree on that account.

      Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate her. I appreciate how she’s raised me as someone who has high expectations and someone who is respectful and disciplined. I do “listen to her basic gist”, though it’s hard to sift through her inundation of insults pertaining to things as pointless as my sexuality and the books I read.

      As for the thinking of 16-17 year-old’s, trust me, I cannot wait to go to college. The shallowness of some of my peers makes me want to scream at times. Though I don’t have much time to think of them now that I’m entrenched in school work…

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, as always. (:

  9. Pingback: The Benefits of Having Strict Parents | the quiet voice

  10. Although I don’t have the same experience as you, that my family isn’t that judgmental, my grandmother is constantly trying to tell me about how I shouldn’t be like my mother, constantly comparing me to her, even though, unlike my mom in her regrettable younger years, I’ve stayed away from drugs, smoking, and babies. I graduated from highschool with 4 science credits and 5 math credits when I only needed 3 each, and with an Excellence in Science, and am now attending full time at a University in which I maintain a 3.75 GPA. I can walk through my university every day confident that I’m “not doing too damn bad.” Sure, there are students pulling 18 hour semesters and 4.0 GPAs and maintaining a job on the side (not many but there’s probably a few freaks out there), but I don’t want to BE them. I’m happy just the way I am, and that’s because my mother so kindly raised me to be proud of my achievements and learn, but not focus, on my mistakes, and so should you. Your mother fixates on negative things, and as such she’ll probably live a miserable and unhappy life of disappointments, but you still have time to save yourself from that fate, and in many ways I think you have already. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t fixate on them. They’re a moment in time, in the past, and cannot be changed. Instead, stride confident that you know better now and look at all the achievements you have made, and work on the ones you will make. You and I both know that even if you were exactly like those people she would probably find somebody else to idolize, so just let her be unhappy and make your own happiness for yourself. ❤

    • You have no idea how much I’ve taken this comment to heart. I’ve been waiting for some sort of inspiration to hit so I can reply with an awesome anecdote or moral like you have, but, I still haven’t thought of anything as awesome as what you’ve said.

      “Learn from your mistakes, but don’t fixate on them. They’re a moment in time, in the past, and cannot be changed. Instead, stride confident that you know better now and look at all the achievements you have made, and work on the ones you will make.”

      I am seriously considering constructing a collage of the wise statements you’ve made on my blog, they’re so inspiring! Reading this comment has made my day, even though I’ve read it a few times. Maybe whenever I’m down I’ll just read blog comments, the idea doesn’t even seem that unhealthy. Anyway, thank you so much for your amazing advice!

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