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Guides / life beyond hsc

Feeling Like a Failure and Not Being Smart Enough

I used to believe that "smart" meant being perfect, not making mistakes...

Project Academy TEAM OF ACADEMIC ADVISORS

Question: I have always been regarded as “smart” by family, friends and literally everyone. I don’t even know why but now I feel like I’m not going to fulfil this and idk this just adds to me feeling down…

Leticia Liao — Chemistry Tutor

Hard Work Beats Talent

My family and relatives have always seen me as the “smart kid” and I’ve always taken pride in that. I have always been good at Maths and usually got good grades — I guess that was very ideal in my parents’ eyes. When we moved from Hong Kong to Sydney at the end of Year 10, Maths to me was still breezy because I had learnt most of the stuff. Then the tides turned when I got to Year 11. There was a time in a Maths Extension 1 class when things got sooo hard that I felt like my “smartness” had been used up. It reminded me of this quote I’ve seen printed on some of our Project iPad cases — “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”.  I’m grateful for the amazing people who have reminded me that your “smartness” can only get you so far, while your determination, curiosity and hunger for knowledge and experience are the things that will get you to places. One mindset that helps me get out of the “I suck at this so I won’t even attempt to try” mindset is to tell myself “I suck now but if I try today I will suck less a year later.”

An Epiphany I Had 

A few weeks ago I was once again inspired by this hard-working Project tutor we all know — it was Rish! I was looking at the HSC Syllabus Tracker (a spreadsheet where you can colour code how confident you are with each dot point) he has built and said, “Omg I wish I knew how to use Excel!“. He humbly replied, “I spent hours learning how to do this and it was all trial and error!“. I was utterly amazed by how much dedication he has when he is determined to get something done. It’s the same with everything else, in order to be good you gotta put A LOT of effort! ‍

You’ve got this!

It takes time to unwind from toxic beliefs that your family and friends have ingrained into your brains. Once you acknowledge them you’ll develop the courage to appreciate your own beauty and learn not to internalise them. What I really want to tell my parents is that I’d like you guys to let go of the fact that I was smart as a kid, and appreciate who I am now, just as much as my lovely friends do — that I’ve always been proactive and literally pour my heart out for anything I’m passionate about, that I love and care about my friends so dearly, and I’m practising healthy mindsets to improve myself every day — all of the above takes you wayyy further in life than just being smart! I hope you find your inner peace as well🤍

Rishabh Jain — Head of Product & Head of Chemistry

A personal experience

In Year 11, I was awarded Dux of Baulkham Hills High. In Year 12, my marks started to plummet. I went from loving Chemistry and being at the top, to getting below average for my Year 12 Task 3. All my friends around me, even the ones who I thought weren’t that smart, did very well. I was devastated. That exam essentially validated any feeling I had of being a failure. This was further reinforced when I got a low mark for my Common Module essay, and both friends sitting on either side of me beat me by ~40%. My friends would “oooh” in pity, thinking that I was supposed to be “smart”. ‍

Perseverance is key!

For some reason though, I didn’t give up. I loved Chemistry, and I wanted to do the best I can in all my subjects. I believed that I could do very well if I put my mind to it. I cut out all the distractions, I spent less time with friends that weren’t focused or committed. I studied hard. I changed my mindset: I used to believe that “smart” meant being perfect, not making mistakes. This is the exact opposite of what it means. A “smart” person is a person who makes mistakes and learns from them intelligently. A smart person is someone who put in the work to improve themselves constantly. They don’t have to have an insane IQ; it’s about the mindset and attitude. ‍

An important reminder

Whenever someone calls me smart, it becomes a beautiful, well-needed reminder. I wasn’t necessarily someone with the most knowledge or highest IQ, but I was someone who made mistakes proudly and learnt from them. Whenever I was going through hard times or feeling like a failure and someone called me smart, I thanked them internally for reminding me that mistakes were okay, but that I needed to put in the work to learn from them. Fast forward to the end of Year 12, and I got 97 in Chemistry, and 100% in Paper 1 Eng Adv. You can do anything if you put your mind to it. “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” I didn’t do anything superhuman. I just believed in myself and made sure that my actions were in line with my dreams.

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Guides / life beyond hsc

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Maximise Your Chances Of Coming First At School

Trial any Project Academy course for 3 weeks.

NSW's Top 1% Tutors

Unlimited Tutorials

NSW's Most Effective Courses

Access to Project's iPad

Access to Exclusive Resources

Access to Project's Study Space