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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Academic achievements define success 

Academic titles and accomplishments have come to define our success and identity. Growing up in the 1970s in India, I still recall the pride that friends and relatives exuded when they cracked an IIT or IIM entrance exam, secured a seat in a prestigious institute, or topped their academic institutions. That feeling of having conquered the world remained with us for months! 

Then there were some academic accomplishments more equal than others; triumphs in the engineering or medical fields trumped ones in commerce or literature. That mindset of looking up to those who aced these tests is ingrained in our community and culture.

An academic triumph is indeed an admirable achievement. It takes a lot of determination and personal sacrifice to get into reputed institutions and graduate with flying colors. And those achievements go a long way in opening doors to exciting career opportunities and possibilities in life. 

But just as we cruise down the highway of life, embracing adventures with confidence, time puts the brakes on our plans; we make critical decisions like parenting and caring for our elderly, that can impact our careers in ways we did not plan for.

Fortunate are those who never have to deal with doubt or debate, and who don’t second-guess their competencies. But for most of us, these life-altering situations cause us to stumble, making our world seem fragile, as our caliber is questioned.

“Smart people don’t struggle”

In our cultures, the struggle was and still is, seen as an indicator of intellectual weakness, a sign of poor abilities. We are told time and again that smart people don’t struggle. And more often than not, academic excellence is seen as that one powerful weapon that is supposed to fix any problem, personal or professional. Even a personal, social, or emotional problem is a DIY project, and we are expected to fix it with whatever our books taught us in school. EQ can take a hike, you got the IQ, right?

So, when an educated person talks about their struggle, it comes as a surprise to others, drawing insensitive remarks that question their competence. Anyone and everyone judge you: family, friends, spouses, and even children. The closer the relationship, the more it hurts. Our education is held against us during times of crisis, and we are then labeled a failure.

I would be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every time I heard statements like:

“You are educated and qualified, how come you are not updated on this matter?

 “This is such a trivial problem”

“Instead of staying home, get a job so your mind is better occupied”

“Why can’t you handle her (relative, parent, in-law, sibling)? My mother handled more struggles with greater competence”.

And the list goes on… 

Belittled time and again, we can fall victim to self-doubt and self-loathing. Eventually, either we shut down and pull back from friends and family, or get burnt out from pursuing purposeless activities to fill the I-am-not-enough vacuum. This behavior can skew how we view ourselves, making us feel discouraged and hopeless.

Life lessons trump academics

Often, we subconsciously measure success by academic degrees. Drawing a connection between a person’s academic titles and their ability to deal with setbacks is not only unfair, it’s unhealthy. Academic merits are not protection or defense against adversities or unforeseen challenges. 

There comes a time in our lives when our conventional education feels inadequate to solve some of life’s problems. Not every situation can be solved with academic intelligence, and more importantly, not every hardship implies incompetence. We ought to value more the wisdom we gather from overcoming real-life challenges.

Detangle your struggles from your degrees

As lifestyles and decision-making become more complex, we need to step back and untangle the damaging association between academic merits and competence. Know that your struggle in life is valid and not a comment on your competence. Here are a few suggestions to kick-start the process of realizing your true potential as a human being.

It’s okay to not be okay

Analyze and unwire unproductive thoughts

First, set aside your own egoistic, unhealthy expectation that your academic qualifications should have automatically equipped you with problem-solving skills.  Isolate the problem you are facing from all other issues, titles, and opinions. 

Be realistic and objective

Most people prescribe “positivity” as a solution. But what we need to be is “realistic” and objective about the issue at hand. Where does that problem truly lie? Is it real or perceived? Do I possess the kind of information and knowledge needed to resolve the issue? 

Eschew self-doubt

When faced with challenges we struggle to resolve, many of us are gaslighted into believing that we are not good enough or are inefficient. Forgo thoughts of self-doubt before it becomes a crutch and leads to inaction. It’s okay not to know right away what to do, or how to deal with the challenge at hand. 

You got this

Remember your past successes

This is a very effective way to build self-worth. Many of us tend to minimize our past successes and exaggerate our shortcomings. This is the time to recount your past intellectual and personal accomplishments. Spend time with people who remember the person you were, and know how you handled difficult situations. Rarely do we come this far in life without walking on thorns. Relive those times when you triumphed with poise and steadiness. Writing up your résumé is an effective way to summon energy and enthusiasm.

Accept your personal limitations with courage and honesty

Do not try to overdo it to prove a point to anybody. In the end, those who care for you are not keeping score of your life events. In January this year, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, shocked many of her counterparts around the world, when she announced her resignation. She said, “I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”  She was the youngest female leader in the world in 2017. She stepped down after giving her best. 

Keep good company

Mingle with supportive groups

Seek validation from people who are realistic and support you in your journey. Be it a friend, a support group, or a family member, a sympathetic shoulder to lean on does wonders for your self-esteem. Know the difference between, “Come on! You are not the only one having problems…”  and “I understand. You are not alone in this.” One is dismissive, while the other is comforting and more likely to help you overcome whatever challenge you are struggling with.

Avoid the naysayers with actions not words

One cannot control the nitpickers, the doubters, the disparagers, and the put-downers. We can spend countless agonizing days trying to come up with defenses for our actions or inactions, frame our comebacks, and prepare ourselves to take on our critics. In the end, it’s futile. Unlike in movies, rarely do people sit through monologues and applaud in the end. Most of the time they are not even listening. The best response is to focus your energies on how to deal with the situation at hand and silently act on it.

Meditation and self-care

Pick a practice of quieting the mind and collecting your thoughts. Meditation brings clarity to the situation and how you can tackle it.

This is a photo of a young man walking past a large sign with the words "Love to Learn" written on an image of a giant pencil.
(Photo credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)
Photo credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Is academic excellence ineffective? Not at all. Academic success can empower us both financially and socially. It gives us a firm footing and stature in society. But we should be aware of the limitations of our formal education in solving life’s problems, and be humble about learning new ways and different approaches, even if they come from an unlettered person. We need to incorporate real-life lessons and build on our academic achievements.

Despite all our education, adversities can paralyze anyone. To those discouraged by self-doubt and cynicism, I say, go beyond the boundaries of academics fearlessly, and embrace a life of complete learning.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of India Currents. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything.

Annapurna Saripella

Annapurna Saripella

Annapurna Saripella is a freelance creative writer. She likes to write on Indian themes, social issues, the environment, and health. She also likes to narrate stories from Sanatana Dharma epics for the...