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October 26, 2010

I struggle with the need to win approval.

Growing up, it was easy to be the teacher’s pet.  School came easily to me.  But some time into college, things got a little more difficult.  It was harder to win the approval of the professors I admired.  It became increasingly difficult to stand out as a student, to impress anyone.  I began to feel intimidated by the professors I looked up to.

This has increased exponentially in grad school. Granted, no one told me it was going to be easy.  I didn’t have any starry-eyed expectations of floating into a Masters program, kicking back for two years, and somehow earning all A’s.  I knew I was going to have to work my ass off. I set high expectations for myself right off the bat.  I wanted to be a badass.

I went into midterm week knowing there was one exam in particular that was going to give me trouble.  I studied hard.  I reviewed all materials, asked other students about the things I was unclear of, contributed to the group study guide, contributed to the group study session, and I went into the exam feeling confident. When I sat down to write all five pages, typed, no notes, no books, no outlines, just me and two essay questions and two hours, I felt competent. I thought I did a good job.  I left midterm week believing that was the best one I produced.

We got it back tonight… before our prof handed the exams back, he addressed the midterms.  He told us he was disappointed in us.  He said, in our class of 9, he gave two A’s.  But because he likes our class and believes we understand the material but just didn’t understand the exam, he didn’t give anything lower than a B-.

I got that B-.  In a class where I felt confident, where I feel I can articulate myself just as well, if not better, than my colleagues, I got the lowest grade in the class. AND it was a pity grade, because the prof likes us.

So, here it is, Internet. Here’s the real life crap that blogs don’t tell you.  I’m upset.  I’m disappointed in myself because now I just feel like a B- student. Am I cut out for this? Will I forever be doomed to the B- out of pity? Will all my best work, the work I’m most proud of, just consistently be worth a B-?

I’m craving encouragement from a professor who thinks I’m worth investing time into, who thinks I’ve got a special something, who thinks I can DO THIS. I want to win the approval of those I admire.  There’s nothing worse than disappointing those I admire.

I’m feeling intimidated and I know this is linked to a bruised ego and unstable self-esteem.  I’m feeling hurt because I thought I was someone worth an investment.  I’m feeling let down because I truly thought I handed in an exam worthy of an A.  I know that grad school isn’t supposed to come easily, but I’m feeling mediocre.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 11:02 pm

    Bs get degrees! 😀

    I struggled with this my first semester of grad school. I made my first F since high school in my first semester of grad school in ANOVA for Behavioral Sciences. I was a straight A student in college. I’d been out of school for three years and was soooo rusty with my stats. I got one of the lowest scores in the class. I still, to this day, am sometimes in the bottom of my classes. But I know, in the end, I work really hard and do my best.

    That stats professor said something the first day of class that will always stick with me:
    “You were all A students in undergrad. Now that you’re all A students, some of you will fail and others will not. You’re all the smart kids now and you have to put your A game on. You have to be on point always. The curve is now very different.” He was right.

    You are where you are because you are awesome. Remember that always. It takes about a semester to adjust to grad school, IMO. And I promise you, you will ROCK it. You are more than a B- student even if it means sometimes you get a B-. 🙂

  2. October 26, 2010 11:42 pm

    I’ll NEVER forget my first grad school grade… It was a B. But anything less than that was technically failing, so it was nothing to be proud of. My professor wrote on my essay “this is not grad school work… perhaps you should visit the writing center.” The writing center?!?! I was in grad school FOR writing. I WORKED at the writing center in college. I felt numb, went home and bawled my eyes out. But things got better from there… In part, I think my teacher just had VERY high expectations for us (as yours probably does, t00). I also heard he said hurtful things to other students too like “here at xx college, you’re among smart people. not like your undergrad!”

    The bottom line is that you got accepted into grad school for a reason and you’ll end up doing just fine… Professors don’t give you grades just to build you up and they want to scare you and show you it won’t be easy. But I know you can do it!

    Sorry this is so long-winded 🙂 It just made me remember what it was like to be there and I know it’s not fun. But I also think it gets better 🙂

  3. October 26, 2010 11:45 pm

    I know it’s not much of a consolation, but so many people would kill to be a B- student. All this year, I had major perfectionist syndrome in terms of my grades. I was never putting in enough effort, all my Bs should have been As. I wanted to do as well as I knew I could do. I wanted to work and to earn.

    And then I got a tutor who marked so hard that even the A++ student who has probably never gotten below an A- at uni before got a C. I think I got about the same. And I got an assignment back I KNOW I did badly on, and got an A. I should have been stoked, but I hadn’t earned it, and it really made me realise: I can’t control other people. I can’t control my grades and I’m not less of a person if a hard marker gives me a C on an assignment an easy marker would give me an A on. I can’t control my tutors, and my self-worth should NOT be tied up in grades.

    If I’ve worked my butt off to the extreme, you can bet I wouldn’t be happy with a C, but apart from things that I know are unfair I just try not to think of it. I’m not a grade, I’m someone who is soaking up the knowledge that uni provides me and taking that out into the real world. The grades don’t matter – showing up, listening, making contacts and putting in the work matters.

    (Sorry for the lengthy reply!)

  4. Carolina permalink
    October 27, 2010 12:12 am

    I’m just barely starting out my undergraduate journey. But I can relate to this post. Somehow I end up feeling this way far too often!

    You managed to convey perfectly what I think so many people feel 🙂

  5. October 27, 2010 4:38 am

    This is a lesson I had to learn very quickly after my first year of my undergrad. I’d sailed through high school, barely breaking a sweat, to earn an overall 3.94, but when I got to college, I found that I had to actually work. This pissed me off, and I went through a lot of what you’re describing here – feeling like I suck, feeling like I shouldn’t be in college, feeling like I didn’t deserve an education.

    But I sat down to really think about it before I threw myself into the metaphorical abyss. Each level of our education tree is harder than the last. It’s intended to be that way so that we’re challenged more and more, so we have obstacles to meet and rise above. We choose to participate in higher levels once we’ve conquered the last so that we can learn more, experience more, and achieve more. If it was easy, we couldn’t do that. Then there’s the grading system. Folks who are used to easy As get super bent out of shape when they get Bs or Cs (I should know, cos I’m one of them). But a high school A is not the same as an undergrad A is not the same as an graduate A. Plus, it’s well worth remembering that, as you go up the levels of education, professors will grade you more and more subjectively, moving the meaning of each letter grade as they see fit. Some give no As no matter what; some give As to everyone.

    Finally, you cannot base your self-worth on your letter grades. Did you learn anything? Are you progressing? If so, then great! You’re doing what you set out to do and absolutely belong where you are. Don’t let a hard course, not-easy-As, or lower-than-expected grades tell you you’re not worthy of an education or worthy of investment. The only person who gets to decide that is you. Don’t make the decision for someone else.

  6. October 27, 2010 5:10 am

    Oh, lady! Grad school is not where mediocre students hang out. And you are definitely not mediocre. Grades in grad school are so different from undergrad. I struggled with the same issues you’re struggling with and I think it’s normal. I got my Masters in England, and the professors there were good, but they weren’t interested in me personally. It was so different from university! They were there to help me hone my skills, to show me where my weak points were and to help me strenghten them. They certainly weren’t there to make me feel good about myself, and I definitely had a hard time adjusting to that. BUT! Once I did, I could step back and understand that I am not perfect. The person who marks my tests/papers is not perfect. Heck, the test isn’t even perfect! And I’m sorry, but a B- is a respectable grade in grad school. YOU are not a B-. I repeat, YOU are not a B-. You’re Renee. Beautiful, smart, talented, intelligent, hard-working, authentic Renee. And that gets an A++ in my book. If you wrote the crap out of that test, then give yourself an A for it and move on! Grades are just numbers, you awesome person! (I know you know all this. But someone told me these things when I was feeling down and I really needed the reminder.) I hope you feel better soon!

  7. October 27, 2010 10:08 am

    I agree.
    B’s get degrees.
    Seriously, no one ever asks me what my master’s gpa was. They care that you have the degree. That’s it.
    Even if you’re some day going to go on to a Ph.D., research and experiences often carry more weight than grade point average.

    My mom always used to tell me, “You know what they call the guy who graduated last in his class from Med School?”
    Shaba: “What?”
    Mom: “Doctor”


  8. October 27, 2010 10:14 am

    We all love you, believe in you, and support you NO MATTER WHAT GRADE YOU GOT, or what grades you will get in the future. Learn what you can from this test so you’ll feel better about the next experience with this prof, ask for help if you need it, and then move on. I love what WonjuWife said– You are not at B+. YOU are Renee.

    And Renee is enough. Just as you are.

    love, love, love, and a big ass hug, and permission to feel exactly as feel without letting it change your opinion about yourself or your grad school experience. Feel it and let it move on…


  9. October 27, 2010 11:56 am

    Ouch. I know how much that stings. Grad school is HARD, but it’s worth it. I know it’s so hard to not pay attention to grades, but as long as you understand the concepts and are learning, that’s what is really important. Sometimes having to keep your grades a certain way to keep your tuition waiver, etc. just adds so much more pressure. This was only your first run at grad school midterms. Now you know a little better what to expect, so it’ll just get easier.

    Also, you are not mediocre. You are one of the least mediocre people I know.

    Sending you lots of love and baby cuddles! Come visit us anytime you need a break.

  10. October 28, 2010 5:25 pm

    Oh man. I received grades like that. But then in another class I’d get one of the higher grades. It was such a hit-or-miss situation and I hated not knowing if I was excelling or crawling through. BUT, then my professors would make comments about how they felt I’ve grown as a student through the course of the semester. And that’s what I learned mattered in grad school. The grades? Pish. But you’re learning, you’re being challenged, and you care. You’re excelling as a graduate student. Don’t you worry.

  11. November 1, 2010 10:14 am

    I was like you until i started doing my degree course whilst working full time. I learned that as long as you are challenged and you are learning and you are getting something from your study, grades don’t really matter that much.

    Once you’ve graduated no-one will ever ask you what you scored on that paper will they?

  12. November 2, 2010 9:00 am

    Well, I can 100% relate to this. I hated getting grades that I wasn’t totally proud of, especially when I thought I performed better than what I earned. Disappointing myself, letting my professor down, worrying about my GPA. I did it all. But then I realized not only was I going to school I was managing work, a relationship and the subsequent ending of a relationship, a social life, family commitments. It’s not that I didn’t apply myself 100% of the time but sometimes I just couldn’t make the grades perfect every single time.

    I think the fact that you are doing this program, that you’re there, committed and working on it shows all of us, professors included that you’re a smart cookie, you know what you’re doing.

    I often think that the grades matter less than our actual continual commitment, less than us applying ourselves to something so tough and challenging. They just assign grades because they have to.

    I believe in you and know that you’ll rock this program. I just know it.

  13. November 10, 2010 1:06 am

    Hang in there, girl. Things will get better. And hey, a B isn’t all that bad! 🙂 I’m no grad student but that B sounds pretty good to me. 🙂

  14. Leanne Behrns permalink
    November 16, 2010 12:53 pm

    I agree with what Alex said about the difference between undergrad and grad school. We’re used to being great students, and now we’re lucky to be middle of the pack. I was so upset last fall when I began my masters program and received a B-. Especially since 70 is a pass. This fall, I’m rocking the A+. It gets easier the deeper you get into it.

    I recommend asking those who got As to read their papers and see what they did differently. Maybe there was a perspective you didn’t think of before, and reading these papers and comparing will help you expand your mind — the whole point of grad school, yes?

    From what I can tell, you’re a very intelligent girl with a lot of ambition. You can do this.

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