Feeling inadequate is a widespread experience among students.
Our research has shown that experiences of feeling inadequate during one’s study life was normal and widespread among students.
Insecurities deriving from feeling inadequate
Feelings of inadequacy can arise for example in situations where a student might feel that other students are managing an assignment better or have understood curriculum better, as the quote above illustrates. It brings up an insecurity of not being good enough.
Feelings of inadequacy are often related to a fear of being exposed as not being good enough and of being judged by others. This fear in turn can inhibit students sharing their challenges with others, which then creates a culture of silence.
Inadequacy and ideals
Furthermore, feelings of inadequacy also stems from the existence of the “myth of the ideal student”, which sets an ideal in the culture that is impossible to live up too. Then, even when doing their best, many students share that they often feel as though they are not doing enough or not doing thing good enough. This kind of pressure leads to lack of well-being and potentially stress in the longer term. When these type of insecurities and challenges are not shared, it leads to the assumption that “others have it better figured out.”
To normalize inadequacy and insecurities
However, during several years of studies – and in life in general – experiencing feeling inadequate at times is natural and inevitable. In an Instagram poll done among 200 Cand.soc. students at CBS, 86% answered yes to the question “during my studies, I have experienced feeling inadequate.” It is part of being human, the question is how we mange this feeling and what it does to us. Does it inhibit us from sharing ideas or our thoughts with others in a group? Does it keep us from raising our hand in class to ask a question? Do we take it “with us home” and feel bad about yourself?
In an environment with steep learning curves, like university and higher business education, in such an intense learning environment, feeling inadequate at times and experiencing different kinds of insecurities must be expected and considered normal. It is okay to feel these feelings, it is even a part of the learning process. It means that we have to dare to be insecure, to be comfortable with “not knowing” and to proceed even if failure can seem like a risk – in order to learn, to innovate and find new solutions to problems, and in order to grow and develop as humans.
“It also requires that CBS creates an environment where it is safe to talk about these things. Because it is not there now, I do not feel that it is. It should be normalized. Break this taboo, be more compassionate and be more sensitive. Because sensitivity is not a weakness, it is a strength.”
– CBS Student
“I have felt inadequate in situations where my study group has been better at reading than I have. For example, if we are writing an assignment where theory must be included. Here I have often felt that they have understood and interpreted the syllabus better than I have. Then I feel like I’m not as good as they are and that they think I’m stupid or lazy, and that’s why I don’t understand the syllabus. When I feel this way, it also helps to create even greater anxiety around exams.” – CBS Student
No one dares to announce that they think things are difficult. I believe it’s because nobody wants to be perceived as being stupid. In essence, you are scared of what others might think.” – CBS Student
“If people have a hard time expressing it or speaking about it, either because they are not comfortable talking about their emotions or because they feel that it is taboo, then you can show videos with other students (addressing insecurity); where you then feel like “wow, that is exactly how I felt too”, so that it becomes easier for them, and normalized, that these challenges are part of being a student. Showing that it is normal to have such feelings instead of people are thinking they are wrong.” – CBS student
Material to explore on this topic
We have developed different kind of material that addresses the topic of feeling inadequate. However, since much of the material addresses the different main themes simultaneously, they cannot sharply be divided into single topics. But, for some material that covers the topic of inadequacy in different ways, see for example:
- Dialogue Cards – Theme: Inadequate
- Podcast: Usikkerheder og udfordringer i studielivet – hvorfor faen snakker vi ikke om det?
- Podcast: Does your inner judge accompany you to work?
- Podcast: En virksomheds perspektiv – myten om den ideelle studerende
- Podcast: Kunsten at træde i karakter som menneske – klædt på til transformation
- Video series: Utilstrækkelighedssituationen – reflections from using the dialogue cards
- Video series: Exam and performance pressure and insecurities
- Video: Du er ikke alene med tvivlen