Life lessons

Not good enough

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It started around the time I moved back to Bombay. I was in Year 6 and had been uprooted from all things familiar in Oman. A new school, new hours {9 to 3 as opposed to 7 to 1}, new friends, a new house, a new place. It took me a while to find my feet. Some of the teachers had high expectations. You see, I had always stood first in my previous school.

With all the changes, I guess it was to be expected that I wouldn’t perform all that well. I probably scored in the average range on almost all subjects much to the disappointment of my parents and my teacher in the first few tests. My class teacher told my mum at one of the first parent-teacher meetings: ‘Sanch has the potential to do a lot better. We were expecting so much more from her‘.

It wouldn’t be the last time I would hear something like that.

As tests continued and exams went on, I heard that throughout my school life. My report cards always read ‘Has the potential to do better‘ or ‘Well done in English but has the potential to do better in Maths, Science, Hindi, Social Studies…‘ It didn’t seem to matter that I would get the highest mark in English sometimes; what mattered was that apparently, I had the potential to do well in all other subjects but just wasn’t applying myself.

I thought I got rid of that once I started my undergraduate studies. I tried hard particularly for my psychology units as it was imperative I get to major in it during my final year. In my college, the psychology department took into account our participation within the department as well as our marks. Because I inherently suck at giving exams {hello anxiety!}, my marks were generally still average. But like I said, I tried really, really hard.

We had interviews to determine from the 60 or so applicants, who would be the final 25 getting in. As I sat with my two psychology professors from the previous years, I heard the same message: ‘You work really hard but you have the potential to do better.’ Of course, I got in based on the ‘potential’ they saw but it frustrated me.

Almost all my life I’ve seen ‘potential’ as a negative word. I know it doesn’t always imply negativity but to me, it has always said that whatever I’ve done hasn’t been good enough. There were times I wanted to tell my teachers that maybe I just wasn’t good at science and maths. By the end of my B.A. I knew for a fact I wasn’t good at exams. Especially the Indian-style exams which focussed purely on learning by rote. But no one seemed to get that. Not teachers, not my parents. It’s no wonder I continued to have the ‘not good enough’ belief all through my life and even sometimes today.

Because apparently, no matter how hard I try, nothing will ever be good enough.

Today in my work, I try hard to challenge kids and teens who believe they aren’t good enough for similar reasons. While doing that, I manage to slowly break down my own beliefs. But it’s hard after years of being passed on this message.

So parents and teachers, if there’s one word of advice I can give you it’s to not tell someone they have the ‘potential’ to do better. Recognise the efforts they are putting in now. And praise them for that.

They need to learn that they are good enough.

How do you interpret the word ‘potential’? 

Have you got a ‘not-good-enough’ story to share?

Do share!

***Linking with Blog-a-Rhythm for the Wordy Wednesday prompt ‘Potential’ and Grace for FYBF***

Image Source: Pexels

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

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  • elly stornebrink
    3 July 2015 at 6:58 am

    I SO hear you on this one Sanch! I can see why you felt frustrated. How discouraging to repeatedly hear this “negative” message about your skills. No wonder you have the belief of being “not good enough” and perhaps why you are a psychologist. I am one of many who carry this belief. I was criticized a lot by my parents. Thus the same belief became ingrained in me. And I too am working to break those chains. It certainly does requires patience, persistence, and faith! All the best! 🙂 <3
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  • elly stornebrink
    3 July 2015 at 6:58 am

    I SO hear you on this one Sanch! I can see why you felt frustrated. How discouraging to repeatedly hear this “negative” message about your skills. No wonder you have the belief of being “not good enough” and perhaps why you are a psychologist. I am one of many who carry this belief. I was criticized a lot by my parents. Thus the same belief became ingrained in me. And I too am working to break those chains. It certainly does requires patience, persistence, and faith! All the best! 🙂 <3
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  • Amy @ HandbagMafia
    3 July 2015 at 6:59 am

    Oh man. Story of my school career. Has potential. Could do so much more. We know she is capable of better. In some people (me) these words encourage the opposite. You literally stop trying, to prove them wrong. Could do better? Nope. Can’t. See?
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  • Amy @ HandbagMafia
    3 July 2015 at 6:59 am

    Oh man. Story of my school career. Has potential. Could do so much more. We know she is capable of better. In some people (me) these words encourage the opposite. You literally stop trying, to prove them wrong. Could do better? Nope. Can’t. See?
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  • Lydia C. Lee
    3 July 2015 at 7:09 am

    That’s a tough one – but then there are kids who are so smart and do nothing, so it must be frustrating for the teachers to see that…(We have a lot of non-handing in of homework and low marks, and then when they start doing their homework again, the marks more than double…)
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  • Lydia C. Lee
    3 July 2015 at 7:09 am

    That’s a tough one – but then there are kids who are so smart and do nothing, so it must be frustrating for the teachers to see that…(We have a lot of non-handing in of homework and low marks, and then when they start doing their homework again, the marks more than double…)
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  • Raychael aka Mystery Case
    3 July 2015 at 9:17 am

    My eldest is going through something very similar at the moment, although I suspect for one reason or another she just isn’t applying herself to her studies.

    I kind of like the word potential but then again, it wasn’t a label ever thrown at me. Mine was quiet achiever. Like achieving top in the class wasn’t enough, they also wanted me to be chatty in the process.
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  • Raychael aka Mystery Case
    3 July 2015 at 9:17 am

    My eldest is going through something very similar at the moment, although I suspect for one reason or another she just isn’t applying herself to her studies.

    I kind of like the word potential but then again, it wasn’t a label ever thrown at me. Mine was quiet achiever. Like achieving top in the class wasn’t enough, they also wanted me to be chatty in the process.
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  • Laurel Regan
    3 July 2015 at 9:25 am

    I can so relate, though the “not good enough” message came through to me in a different way, as in, “You have such a pretty face – but you’d be so much prettier if only you lost some weight.” Hurtful and frustrating. 🙁 Thank you so much for your thoughtful post and wise words.

  • Laurel Regan
    3 July 2015 at 9:25 am

    I can so relate, though the “not good enough” message came through to me in a different way, as in, “You have such a pretty face – but you’d be so much prettier if only you lost some weight.” Hurtful and frustrating. 🙁 Thank you so much for your thoughtful post and wise words.

  • Pinky Poinker
    3 July 2015 at 9:37 am

    That was all my school reports said too. I never thought I wasn’t good enough though. It made me think the c I got in my report didn’t reflect what I could have achieved if I hadn’t been so lazy. I’d much rather get “Could have done better if she’d applied herself” than get a low mark and be told, “She worked as hard as possible and received a satisfactory result”. In saying that it didn’t make me try harder though. I didn’t bother trying until I went back to Uni at 40 years of age and finally put some effort in!
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  • Pinky Poinker
    3 July 2015 at 9:37 am

    That was all my school reports said too. I never thought I wasn’t good enough though. It made me think the c I got in my report didn’t reflect what I could have achieved if I hadn’t been so lazy. I’d much rather get “Could have done better if she’d applied herself” than get a low mark and be told, “She worked as hard as possible and received a satisfactory result”. In saying that it didn’t make me try harder though. I didn’t bother trying until I went back to Uni at 40 years of age and finally put some effort in!
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  • Deborah
    3 July 2015 at 10:04 am

    Ah yes… I had a very high-achieving older brother so measuring up to that was always going to be impossible. I’m glad I wasn’t a boy or it would have been worse. As a result expectations for me were never that high. He excelled in school and sports and I saw my place in life just being his sister.

    And then something changed. I don’t know what. I became anorexic and got a bit serious about sport. I did some modelling and people saw me as attractive. I suddenly wanted more from my life and for a while my ‘potential’ was also recognised.

    And then something changed again. And yet again I don’t know what. After Uni I stopped playing sport and started gaining weight. And kept gaining.

    I again became a support act.

    The sane part of me knows I should be happy about my life and my achievements… but I can’t help but think of that lost / thwarted potential!
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  • Deborah
    3 July 2015 at 10:04 am

    Ah yes… I had a very high-achieving older brother so measuring up to that was always going to be impossible. I’m glad I wasn’t a boy or it would have been worse. As a result expectations for me were never that high. He excelled in school and sports and I saw my place in life just being his sister.

    And then something changed. I don’t know what. I became anorexic and got a bit serious about sport. I did some modelling and people saw me as attractive. I suddenly wanted more from my life and for a while my ‘potential’ was also recognised.

    And then something changed again. And yet again I don’t know what. After Uni I stopped playing sport and started gaining weight. And kept gaining.

    I again became a support act.

    The sane part of me knows I should be happy about my life and my achievements… but I can’t help but think of that lost / thwarted potential!
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  • Natalie @ our parallel connection
    3 July 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I had potential to be a lot more than what I have done… It use to upset me now I want to tell them all to rack off
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  • Natalie @ our parallel connection
    3 July 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I had potential to be a lot more than what I have done… It use to upset me now I want to tell them all to rack off
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  • Zoe Meunier
    3 July 2015 at 2:25 pm

    Yes, it’s a shame that ‘potential’ is only ever talked about in terms of it being ‘not lived up to’ or ‘wasted’.
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  • Zoe Meunier
    3 July 2015 at 2:25 pm

    Yes, it’s a shame that ‘potential’ is only ever talked about in terms of it being ‘not lived up to’ or ‘wasted’.
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  • nabanita
    3 July 2015 at 3:31 pm

    It makes so much sense Sanch… I think we first need to appreciate people for what they have done and not jump to critiquing them… That will never work..Atleast it doesn’t work with me…If someone points out my mistakes without appreciating the good things in my work, I will never actually listen to that person seriously…So I agree to everything you have said here…
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  • nabanita
    3 July 2015 at 3:31 pm

    It makes so much sense Sanch… I think we first need to appreciate people for what they have done and not jump to critiquing them… That will never work..Atleast it doesn’t work with me…If someone points out my mistakes without appreciating the good things in my work, I will never actually listen to that person seriously…So I agree to everything you have said here…
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  • Sreesha Divakaran
    3 July 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Yeah, I heard this quite a bit when I went from straight A to average and later to below average. I was indifferent to it though. I guess I had given up on the whole education scene.
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  • Sreesha Divakaran
    3 July 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Yeah, I heard this quite a bit when I went from straight A to average and later to below average. I was indifferent to it though. I guess I had given up on the whole education scene.
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  • Ira
    3 July 2015 at 4:10 pm

    That ‘potential’ thing is actually a burden on the person on whom it is being bestowed. My mom says never start a sentence with ‘never’ as negativity attracts ‘more negativity’. The only competitor one should strive to do better is ‘yourself’.
    Well written and thought provoking post.
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  • Ira
    3 July 2015 at 4:10 pm

    That ‘potential’ thing is actually a burden on the person on whom it is being bestowed. My mom says never start a sentence with ‘never’ as negativity attracts ‘more negativity’. The only competitor one should strive to do better is ‘yourself’.
    Well written and thought provoking post.
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  • Vishal Bheeroo
    3 July 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Agree to that point..on potential to do better. Teachers should encourage students to follow passion and encourage on efforts made. The problem lies with the education system, and the stupid rat race where creativity and arts is not encouraged.

  • Vishal Bheeroo
    3 July 2015 at 8:02 pm

    Agree to that point..on potential to do better. Teachers should encourage students to follow passion and encourage on efforts made. The problem lies with the education system, and the stupid rat race where creativity and arts is not encouraged.

  • Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    3 July 2015 at 8:29 pm

    That just have been, and from the sounds of it still is, very frustrating. I always keen that I could try harder but seemed to be doing okay with just a little bit of effort. I was always told by my parents that as long as I was doing my best, which I suppose I wasn’t at times. But life or my taste for fun kind of got in the way I suppose!
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  • Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    3 July 2015 at 8:29 pm

    That just have been, and from the sounds of it still is, very frustrating. I always keen that I could try harder but seemed to be doing okay with just a little bit of effort. I was always told by my parents that as long as I was doing my best, which I suppose I wasn’t at times. But life or my taste for fun kind of got in the way I suppose!
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  • Cat Graham
    4 July 2015 at 3:29 am

    Great post that has really resonated with readers, Sanch. I, myself, never felt good enough in school and lacked confidence. I’m sure the teachers instilled that belief further since I was shy and introverted which was often interpreted as me being slow and stupid. I was an okay student and not brilliant. Never heard that message about potential but I think I could have done better with encouragement. I always find that the teachers who encouraged and expected more of students, got more.

    Our choir director always pushes us to sing really hard pieces. We complain bitterly that they’re too hard and we can’t do it. She persists and we reach our potential and even further since she pushes us further than we think we can go.

    These days I’m more at peace with that “Not good enough” syndrome. It still rears its head but I can overcome it better than before. Of course it helps I’m not in school or the workplace where competitiveness runs rampant and you can’t help but feel “not good enough” and not reaching your potential as it’s such an artificial environment with all the pretense going on.
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  • Cat Graham
    4 July 2015 at 3:29 am

    Great post that has really resonated with readers, Sanch. I, myself, never felt good enough in school and lacked confidence. I’m sure the teachers instilled that belief further since I was shy and introverted which was often interpreted as me being slow and stupid. I was an okay student and not brilliant. Never heard that message about potential but I think I could have done better with encouragement. I always find that the teachers who encouraged and expected more of students, got more.

    Our choir director always pushes us to sing really hard pieces. We complain bitterly that they’re too hard and we can’t do it. She persists and we reach our potential and even further since she pushes us further than we think we can go.

    These days I’m more at peace with that “Not good enough” syndrome. It still rears its head but I can overcome it better than before. Of course it helps I’m not in school or the workplace where competitiveness runs rampant and you can’t help but feel “not good enough” and not reaching your potential as it’s such an artificial environment with all the pretense going on.
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  • Grace
    5 July 2015 at 11:48 am

    Interesting post. I hadn’t looked at the word “potential” in that respect but I totally see your point.
    There’s definitely a conscious effort parents need to make to praise their children for the here and now rather than get upset with them for what they have yet to achieve. Sometimes with so much stuff going on, we tend to forget.
    Thanks for the reminder.
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  • Grace
    5 July 2015 at 11:48 am

    Interesting post. I hadn’t looked at the word “potential” in that respect but I totally see your point.
    There’s definitely a conscious effort parents need to make to praise their children for the here and now rather than get upset with them for what they have yet to achieve. Sometimes with so much stuff going on, we tend to forget.
    Thanks for the reminder.
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  • Ashleigh - mymeow.com.au
    5 July 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I so hear you. So many kids think they are not good enough. It is so sad. Life is huge when you get out of school and we have a lifetime to discover our ‘thing’ and it can change as well! Those negative messages have a lasting impact.
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  • Ashleigh - mymeow.com.au
    5 July 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I so hear you. So many kids think they are not good enough. It is so sad. Life is huge when you get out of school and we have a lifetime to discover our ‘thing’ and it can change as well! Those negative messages have a lasting impact.
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  • Melanie Greenhalgh
    5 July 2015 at 11:29 pm

    I spend a lot of time with my kids talking about how they are good enough as long as they are trying their hardest, we talk a lot about the fact that we don’t need to be great at everything for example a teacher recently said “Google has potential to do so much better at Science.” Google was with me and I looked to her and asked her “Does Science make you excited?” No, she said. I said “Do you want to be a scientist when you grow up?” No, she said. I turned to her teacher and politely said Analise has passion for many other things in her life and I am pretty sure that although you think she has great potential – I am pretty sure she will use that potential to pursue something she is passionate about. She got a B for that subject! Too much pressure for one little person. I had to go into bat for her! We have to support young people and children to be what they want to be when they are ready to be it. Mel xx
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  • Melanie Greenhalgh
    5 July 2015 at 11:29 pm

    I spend a lot of time with my kids talking about how they are good enough as long as they are trying their hardest, we talk a lot about the fact that we don’t need to be great at everything for example a teacher recently said “Google has potential to do so much better at Science.” Google was with me and I looked to her and asked her “Does Science make you excited?” No, she said. I said “Do you want to be a scientist when you grow up?” No, she said. I turned to her teacher and politely said Analise has passion for many other things in her life and I am pretty sure that although you think she has great potential – I am pretty sure she will use that potential to pursue something she is passionate about. She got a B for that subject! Too much pressure for one little person. I had to go into bat for her! We have to support young people and children to be what they want to be when they are ready to be it. Mel xx
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  • BeatabouttheBook
    6 July 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I so hear you on this Sanch. We focus so hard on things we’re not good at – things we could be better at – that we forget to enjoy what we really ARE good at. And so we end up taking our strengths for granted while focussing on areas we ‘need’ to improve upon. Result : we get to become average at everything rather than shining at the one thing we are good at or love.
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  • BeatabouttheBook
    6 July 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I so hear you on this Sanch. We focus so hard on things we’re not good at – things we could be better at – that we forget to enjoy what we really ARE good at. And so we end up taking our strengths for granted while focussing on areas we ‘need’ to improve upon. Result : we get to become average at everything rather than shining at the one thing we are good at or love.
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  • CookieCrumbsInc.
    6 July 2015 at 5:20 pm

    My sister is in Grade 10 and she is pushing herself too hard :/ She is more than good enough, she is the best there is. Yet she doesn’t have faith in her own capabilities because there are teachers to tell her she isn’t good enough to be there because she didn’t finish one assignment or didn’t bring one book.

    I’m worried for her.
    🙁
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  • CookieCrumbsInc.
    6 July 2015 at 5:20 pm

    My sister is in Grade 10 and she is pushing herself too hard :/ She is more than good enough, she is the best there is. Yet she doesn’t have faith in her own capabilities because there are teachers to tell her she isn’t good enough to be there because she didn’t finish one assignment or didn’t bring one book.

    I’m worried for her.
    🙁
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  • Nibha
    8 July 2015 at 12:18 am

    Oh I have been through that too!! My report cards in school were also filled with the similar remarks “can do better”! I guess all they wanted to encourage me to do even better but it never really worked out either! Sometimes we are good just as we are, there’s no need to be better!

  • Nibha
    8 July 2015 at 12:18 am

    Oh I have been through that too!! My report cards in school were also filled with the similar remarks “can do better”! I guess all they wanted to encourage me to do even better but it never really worked out either! Sometimes we are good just as we are, there’s no need to be better!