About a week ago I went through this horrible self-esteem crisis. It occurred to me that almost everyone I know has a degree from a university, but that I do not. In an organization I am a member of, everyone there is a lawyer, professor, teacher, engineer, etc., and the friends I have all have Bachelor's or Master's degrees. Here I am with no degree and having dropped out of three universities – it makes me feel like such a failure. In the next two weeks I'll be starting truck driving school – I feel like it is something I can do and be successful at? – but I still have accomplished nothing that compares to a degree!
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Society & Culture (81 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
People tell me I am intelligent (including those educated friends and members of that said organization), and I like to think I am somewhat knowledgeable on what interests me: I can recite all the world's capital cities in alphabetical order in about 3 minutes or I can type each country's name with correct spelling in about 6 minutes; I write articles (mostly on foreign policy) for a nationally distributed newspaper; I have about 30 feet of world maps and at least two dozen international flags; I raise tarantulas, true spiders, centipedes, and scorpions, with a strong interest in tarantulas of the subfamily Ornithoctoninae; I collect insects and do insect photography, with one of my photos coming in 2nd place in a competition; I taught myself chess when I was 12 and was known for my chess abilities in high school; and things like that.
But because I don't have a degree like all these other people, I feel like none of this matters and that I must be too stupid to be successful, and it makes me want to hide somewhere or put a paper bag on my face in shame for not having one.
When I am asked about why I stress so much about this, the answer to that is that I feel I am nothing if not intelligent, that I have no other redeeming or worthwhile attributes if I am not intelligent. I am not attractive, funny, social, charming, or anything like that, hence intelligence is possibly the only strength I have, and if I don't have that, I have no purpose or value whatsoever. The thought of everyone around me thinking of me as stupid or appearing stupid and uneducated to others is a worst nightmare scenario for me.
I've been told that it is possible my mental health issues and disabilities could have made it difficult for me to be successful at university – I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome/PDD, OCD, severe anxiety, major depression, PTSD, and I have a history of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and self-harm. When I was a child, I used to be beaten with belts, fists, and threatened for making mistakes in school by my dad, and so I became an extreme perfectionist at an earlier age. The thought of making a mistake or failing is unbearable to me.
Also, in addition to the perfectionism, I see myself only as valuable as what I have accomplished. If I receive a 60% on an assignment, it must mean I am worth 60%, not the assignment. Having or not having a degree must add or decrease my value as a person. What use am I if I have no accomplishments? The equation in my mind is like this: Degree = Valuable or Success. Me + Degree = Valuable or Successful Me. Or like this: 60% = Failure. Me + 60% = I am a failure. My therapist says it doesn't make sense but it does to me.
So, I conclude, can I be intelligent without a degree? How do I definitively know if I am intelligent or not? (If it helps I am 22 years old.) I feel like a useless failure.
(Please don't advise me about the need for medication or counseling – I have done 5 years of speech therapy, 10 years of behavioral therapy, over a month being institutionalized, and I am on medication.)