Here are two questions that are both kind of about confidence.
Question #125: How do I regain my confidence?
Dear Captain Awkward
I’m a 25 year old who is at university for the first time in her life after making not the best choices as a teenager.
I have been there for 2 and a half years now and for the most part I have been doing pretty well, but recently I had to do a prac for my degree, and it went terribly, which I’d blame 50% of on a huge personality clash with the Mentor Teacher.
I am redoing the prac soon, so thats terrifying enough, but I have lost all my previous confidence in my student skills, I drag my heels on assignments, find it increasingly difficult to go to class and in general just feel really down on myself. I worked really hard to get up my confidence in going to uni as I have a minor learning disability (developmental dyspraxia) that can affect my work. but all that self talk I did to get myself there in the first place just feels really useless now. I’d really like your help in becoming confident again.
Wants To Finish Uni before She’s Thirty
Dear Wants to Finish:
I’m sorry you are going through this. I think it is very common for university students to hit a wall at some point during their education. Some have it early, as they struggle to adapt to the college workload and the freedom of being away from home and having to create their own structure. Some have it the closer they get to graduation, as worries about jobs turn into panic about jobs. You’re having it smack in the middle – you’ve done well and survived so far, so now you know enough to be dangerous and to realize how much you still don’t know. I know it feels horrible, and it is horrible, but I want to tell you: This is normal. You are right on schedule. It will be genuinely horrible for a while, but then it will pass. I’m not telling you this to belittle what you are suffering, I’m telling you this because every single person who works at your university has seen this before (and most likely experienced it themselves), and there are a lot of resources in place to help you deal with it.
I teach first year film students, who have a pretty serious workload. I went to fancy book-reading and paper-writing university for undergrad, and NOTHING I had to do in four years there is as hard as what my freshmen have to pull off, especially in their second semester. Most of them have some kind of slump during that first year, and sometimes they completely tank a project as a result. However, most of them do not fail the course and go on to be just fine.
The ability to bounce back from failure is an extremely important one. You can’t develop it if you never fail at anything. School is a controlled environment where you are given discrete, regular challenges. You will succeed wildly at some and do not so well at others. This is a normal part of learning. It means you are stretching yourself by attempting things that are out of your comfort zone. It may take a couple of tries to get it right.
Here’s what I suggest you do right now:
- Failing the practical exam and getting to take it over again is okay. You now know exactly what to expect, yes? Sit down with a notebook and a pen and write down everything you were expected to do during the exam. Make yourself a plan to study for it. Is it possible for you to practice all the things you need to do during the exam ahead of time?
- Is there material on the exam that you just don’t know or understand? Re-do any reading, talk to your fellow students (maybe find a study partner?), and ask your teacher to walk you through that material again.
- Close your eyes and visualize yourself doing every step of the exam correctly.
- Get yourself to your university’s counseling office post-haste. Talk to them about your problems with your Mentor Teacher and ask for strategies for working things out. Talk to them about stress, anxiety, managing your learning disability (do you need a tune-up of strategies you use to manage it?) and imposter syndrome.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, enough exercise, and good food. Take frequent study breaks and walks to clear your head. Ease off of alcohol and caffeine (coffee is awesome, but when you’re on edge it can make you jittery, so save it for when you need it).
- Communicate with your teachers about what’s going on. “I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, can we talk through the assignments again?” Try to stay on top of your deadlines, even if the work you’re handing in is not perfect. You’ll feel better if you’re meeting your obligations and not falling further behind. Keep going to class!
It may look like you are surrounded by gorgeous, perfect, happy, rich, A-students who are flying through their university careers while you drag, weighed down by your past and your struggles with learning. This is an incomplete picture. Nearly all of your fellow students are just as anxious about something as you are. For two years, you have been doing pretty well! You say so in your letter! Whatever grit and skills and knowledge allowed you to do well for two years will get you through the next two. Dig in and take really good care of yourself.
Question #126: Friendship, Jokes, and Boundaries
Hi Captain Awkward!
This is a question about my friends. Two of them are dating each other; let’s call them Fred and Jen. We are all university students, ages 19-21, and they have been dating for about a year and a half total, with a several month period in the middle where they broke up temporarily.
Anyway, Fred is a bit of a joker. He’s actually quite funny, and very outgoing. He makes a lot of friends with his jokes and light-hearted nature. However, sometimes he goes a bit too far. This wouldn’t be such a problem if he didn’t respond so negatively to anybody trying to say something about it. His jokes have sometimes offended me and Jen in the past, but if anybody ever tries to say anything about it, he gets really defensive. Quite a while ago, he made a joke about Jen being unnattractive compared to a certain celebrity and his electronics. He obviously meant it as a joke, but it was way over the line, and very offensive and demeaning to her. I wasn’t there the first time he made the joke, but apparently nobody laughed, until somebody awkwardly changed the subject. However, he was very proud of this joke, and repeated it to me later that same day. I didn’t laugh, and said “That’s not funny. If I were Jen, I would be mad. You need to apologize to her.” He got upset, acting like it was hurtful to him for me to say that, or like I didn’t have a sense of humour. He then continued to repeat the joke to other people as if he still thought it was funny, even though nobody responded to it positively. This was a long time ago, but I just wanted to give it as an example of the way he’s dealt with this kind of situation in the past.
Earlier this week, he posted a rather explicitly sexual joke about me publicly to Facebook. It made me rather uncomfortable, and I considered saying something to him, but then I couldn’t find it again on my newsfeed and thought he might have deleted it. I found out today that he did not actually delete it, and Jen had seen it and told him that it upset her. I didn’t hear their conversation, but she says that he was extremely defensive, and told her that he was sure I was okay with the joke, and that she was being too conservative and jealous about it. She didn’t know that I wasn’t okay with it until after speaking to him, so she backed off, and he never took down the joke. Now that I’ve discovered that it’s still on Facebook, and that Jen is uncomfortable with it as well, I’m wondering what I should do, and what she should do. She wants to talk to him about it, because it still upsets her, but she’s afraid that no matter how she brings it up, he will be defensive and angry. Even if she mentions that other people find it offensive too (I’ve also found out that both my boyfriend and another one of our friends were offended by it) she thinks he will feel as if the whole world is out to get him, and continue to think his joke is funny. Based on his previous reactions to this kind of thing, I find this completely plausible. So I’m not sure if I should say anything to him or not, or whether I should let them work it out between them. I think she’s leaning towards not saying anything about it right now, but I think this kind of situation is going to keep popping up, and I don’t know how either of us should deal with it in the future.
Thanks for any advice!
Trying to be a Good Friend
Dear Good Friend:
It seems to me that when Fred makes an offensive joke, he’s trained you all (by his petulant and pouty responses) to talk to each other and try to find some consensus about whether the joke was “really” offensive before you say anything to him. My advice to you is to stop looking for a consensus from Jen, your boyfriend, your other friends, etc. about whether something offends to them or how it will affect their relationship(s). “We’ve all talked about this and everyone agrees with me!” is guaranteed to provoke a defensive response from anyone, because it becomes a conversation about who said what vs. That Offensive Joke You Told.
Find that joke on your Facebook newsfeed. Either respond publicly to the thread with “Wow. Repulsive much?” or send him a note that says “Can you please delete that completely repulsive joke about me from your feed? Thanks.”
If he lectures you about how it is really funny and you shouldn’t be so sensitive, just hold the line. “Yeah, I’d still like you to delete it, thanks.” “Ok, sure, please delete it now.” Don’t engage with the question of “Is it funny?” at all. Who cares? It made you feel gross and unhappy and he should delete it. The correct response from him is to say “Ok, sorry,” and then delete it.
You may not convince him that he is unfunny. He may continue to act like a tool (He sounds like a tool). But the first step in having conflict is generally to tell the person who is bugging you to knock off whatever it is, swiftly and directly. No need to convene the Friend Council. Have the confidence to know that if something is not okay for you, that’s enough of a reason to speak up.
It may indeed create friction in his relationship with Jen, because when your boyfriend acts like a tool and is told directly to stop doing that and then he keeps doing it and turns it into a tantrum about how he is funny and people who don’t get that are “too sensitive” and need to “lighten up” it’s hard to keep dating That Guy. Hopefully he is a good guy with some tool-ish tendencies that will be nipped in the bud before they grow into horrible, blooming Michael Scott Tool Flowers.