Guides / Life Beyond HSC

How to Stop Feeling Like You Aren't Smart Enough

Is being "smart" the most important thing? We beg to differ...

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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…

If this sounds anything like you, just know that you are not alone. There’s even a phrase for it (no, seriously, just look up “gifted child syndrome” on Google). This question was posted into one of our Slack discussion forums called #hsc-and-beyond, where students can anonymously ask for advice.

Truth be told, everyone has moments where they feel out of depth, like they wouldn’t live up to expectations that were either thrust on them by someone else, or self-imposed.

So how do we cope when we feel like this? To help you navigate these complicated feelings, we’ve compiled some anecdotal advice and personal stories from a few of our Project tutors. Having felt the same highs and lows of high school, and gone through the stress of HSC themselves…they’ve been in your shoes.

Their advice and stories might bring that little bit of comfort that you’re looking for. Hopefully this article is a bit of a “pick me up”, enough for you to get back out there and give it your best shot.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Leticia Liao — Head of Programs
Growing up, I have always been seen as the “smart kid” in my family, and I have always taken pride in that. Throughout primary school and junior high school, Maths and Sciences were subjects that came naturally to me, and if you are Chinese as well, you’d know just how ideal that is in my Asian parents’ eyes!

When my family and I moved from Hong Kong to Sydney at the end of Year 10, Maths to me was still breezy because I had already learnt most of the content prior. But then the tides turned when I got to Year 11. I still remember how in one of my Maths Extension 1 classes, the Math content got so hard that I felt as if my “smartness” had been used up, and that I actually have to put in a lot more effort than in my junior years to get good. It reminds 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 am grateful that I have found the Project community when I joined tutoring at Project Academy in Year 12. My tutors have always reminded me that your “smartness” can only get you so far, while your determination, curiosity and hunger for knowledge are the things that will get you to places.

One thing I have found to be really powerful is changing the way you talk to yourself, changing your inner voice from saying, “I suck at this so I won’t even try” to “I suck now, but if I start working on it now, I will suck less a year later”.It’s about having a growth mindset — that you are capable of getting good at something through dedication and hard work, and whether you were the smart kid or the dumb kid in class growing up, that is irrelevant to you now.

A Project tutor I had was a living proof of this. I was looking at one of the HSC Syllabus Tracker that he had built and I said, “wow I wish I was that good at using Excel!” He humbly replied, “I spent hours learning how to do this and it was all trial and error.” I was utterly amazed by the dedication he has when he is determined to achieve something. It wasn’t that he was just a child prodigy that was born with the Excel skill, he just has a huge amount of hunger and curiosity when it comes to learning about something new that makes him a more capable and “talented” individual than the average human being. It’s the same with everything else, in order to get good, you must accept the reality that it’s not always about talent, and you have to put in the effort.

After all, it’s about detaching yourself from labels like “smart”, “talented”, “dumb”, “stupid”, etc. The seemingly positive ones are likely to make you feel complacent, and the negative ones are likely to demotivate you, so why put yourself in a box like that? I must admit, it does take years to detach yourself from unhelpful beliefs that other people have ingrained into you, but at the end of the day, you need to believe that you hold the power in the way you talk to and think about yourself.

So next time you catch yourself saying “I am not good at this”, try rephrasing it to “I am not good at this yet”, then think of one action you can take to change that narrative.

Don’t be embarrassed to actively ask for help.

Dexter Gillett — Maths Tutor

It can be demotivating to study hard for a subject and not achieve the results you were hoping for. For me, every time I did English, I felt like Sisyphus (the guy in Greek mythology who had to roll a huge boulder up a hill every day, only to have it roll back down).

No matter how hard I tried it felt like I couldn’t improve. Was I not smart enough? Was English just not for me? Was the cliche true that if you’re good at Math you’re bad at English? None of this was true and I ended up getting a 91 in my HSC English. It can be easy to be hard on yourself, but if you feel like you’re struggling, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. I asked for help from my friends to view their essays, my teachers for my main mistakes and what I could improve, and even my parents to check over my essays.

The main takeaway is that constant feedback will help you grow and become better, so try not to be too harsh on yourself and try and learn and grow from your experiences.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Jasmine Loh — Chemistry Tutor

As someone who transferred into James Ruse (a top performing Selective School) during Year 9, I really do know how it feels to feel like a failure, especially from comparing myself to other people who were already doing great in all subjects.

I struggled with this throughout Year 11 and 12, but what made me improve in lots of subjects from being below median to consistently above and even top 10 in chemistry, was to stop comparing myself to other people and only focus on myself.

And it definitely is easier said than done, but in the end, comparing yourself to others won’t make your marks go up. But, if you work hard, you will improve, and every improvement against your past work is a success. Also, it sounds cliche but everyone has their own standards. In the end, as long as you put in your best effort with the energy level you have on that day, you should be proud of the work you do :)

If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

Aryan Lal — Maths Tutor

From an early age, academic success seemed to come naturally to me. I breezed through most of high school with minimal effort, consistently ranking at the top of my class in Mathematics by the end of Year 10. However, “breezing through school with minimal effort” meant I never developed a proper framework for studying. As it turns out, this is really important.

Transitioning into Year 11, I struggled when the content became a lot more challenging, and my lack of proper study techniques really showed through. My confidence took a real hit from the repeated poor results and I started doubting whether I belonged in the highest level of Mathematics (I was doing Extension 2).

But, if you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

If you’re feeling like you’re not smart enough, trust me, I’ve been there. The first step towards regaining your confidence is to believe that you are capable of achieving your goals in the future – even if you’re not quite there yet. Even when I began Maths Extension 2, I struggled to pass the first exam. Many of my friends and family recommended that I drop the subject, but I knew that I loved Maths and decided to give it my best shot, one last time. For myself.

So, lock in – you’ve got this! Always remember that if you genuinely want to do something, you belong there and deserve to do it! For me, I stayed consistent with my Maths study and managed to score the third highest mark in the grade for the very next exam. I went on to score 95 in Math Extension 2 and became a tutor here at Project Academy, a testament to the power of consistency and resilience.

We all fall short of our expectations sometimes, but I hope I’ve inspired you to stay consistent and believe in yourself. If you’re willing to put in the work, success is inevitable—it’s just a matter of time! <3

Conclusion

To summarise their advice,

  • Hard work trumps intelligence.

  • Actively look for feedback to improve yourself.

  • Comparing yourself to other people doesn’t do you much good, so why bother?

  • Focus on self-improvement - that’s what really matters.

  • Believe in yourself!

That’s all for now - stay tuned for more content like this :)

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Guides / Life Beyond HSC

Read More:

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