How do I not feel like a failure?
December 7, 2009 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I failed high school -and- college. How can I not feel like such a failure/cheer myself up?

In High School, I had problems with procrastination and completing work, which I attributed to living in an abusive household. I also had social anxiety, so all of my friends were online. I had zero real-life friends.

I ended up not passing. I took a year off before college and did the therapy/self-help thing, in hopes that I would get good grades and make friends in college.

I got accepted into numerous colleges because of my high GED/SAT scores, and I got over my SA. I felt like my life would finally turn around. I chose a college in a small, scenic area just outside of a big city, in hopes that would satisfy my love of nature as well as my love of big cities.

I get to college and attend all the social events, try to get people to hang out and what-not, but my social skills are still too subpar and I end up with just one friend. To top it off, Small College is -way- too small for me and I end up going stir crazy, yet can't afford to travel to Big City most of the time.

Work-wise, I put all my effort in and still get poor grades. I realize it's because my school goes for "understanding" and not "blind memorization." I start doing well, but then when exams roll around I run out of time on all but one. I feel like crap, the procrastination and etc problems set in again, and I start failing... again.

I go to the doctor to see what's up, because I thought those issues would go away once I was away from home. I'm diagnosed with ADHD and put on meds, but too late. I'm not allowed to come back in the spring, and my final grades will all be failing, or if I can get a medical leave (not likely) I'll have no records at all.

Which means that I am officially two years behind where I should be, which sucks because the only reason I took a year off was to ensure this -wouldn't- happen. The only good thing, I guess, is that I can use the spring to get a technical degree I'd had my eye on for years.

I feel like a failure. An utterly lonely failure. I haven't felt this bad since my four-year relationship broke up some years ago. I hate that I put so much effort into making friends and still failed, and that the work thing was just de ja vu.

There's no way I'd get accepted into another college, so I'm stuck going stir-crazy for another year while I make up my grades or moving back home with all the stresses there and going to the local community college.

How do I not feel so hopeless, lost, depressed, terrible, etc? I feel like I'm nothing. I'm in the exact same position I was in high school - the girl who is alone all the time, with no friends, who gets terrible grades.

I know I should see a therapist, but I've been to numerous therapists over my lifetime and only one has helped, so I'm not too keen on that right now.
posted by biochemist to Education (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a race.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:48 AM on December 7, 2009 [10 favorites]

Lots of people have these experiences and get through them. Failing out of college sucks, but it's only a long-term setback if you let it become one--think of it as a challenge to be overcome, a hassle to be dealt with, not as a vote on whether or not you're a worthwhile person.

I'm 45 and I know lots of people my age who flunked out of college (my brother-in-law did it twice!) before finding a school that was right for them, or a career that was right for them, or a combination of both.

You're not a failure. You are a person who has experienced failure. That's how we grow, seriously.

How do I not feel so hopeless, lost, depressed, terrible, etc? I feel like I'm nothing

Medication and therapy are the best solutions for many people. Also, helping others through volunteering or doing paid work with people who really need help.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

It is not too late! You've been to a doctor, you are on ADHD meds that you believe will help you, and you know that the school you initially chose is not the right fit. That doesn't sound like a wasted year to me at all.
posted by something something at 10:53 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am officially two years behind where I should be,

You are where you are. If you can proceed from here and do better, then that's what it took to make it happen, and that's a triumph no matter what.

Look, I very nearly failed out of high school, and for the same reasons, dropped out of community college after 3 semesters. I have spent the rest of my life compensating for those facts and proving to people that I am capable of doing everything I claim. I do experience bouts of insecurity and jealousy at times, imagining what my life would be like if I hadn't had certain problems that lured me off the timeline-of-success that people set their clocks by.

But you know, it's like they say: when your car gets a flat tire, you can get out and change it, OR you can sit inside and fume and curse and cry and feel sorry for yourself and THEN get out and change it. Depression and self-pity insulate you and trick you into trying to avoid the inevitable. They call it "the inevitable" for a reason, you know. Please keep forcing yourself to face the reality of things -- its the only way to constantly prove to yourself that none of this is the end of the world, there are always options you hadn't foreseen. Perhaps you'll wind up going off in directions that you hadn't really planned on or never particularly desired -- but who cares? Realizing your potential is not exactly the same as having all your dreams for yourself come true, but it is every bit as satisfying.

If you become a knowledgeable, effective, stable, reliable person, then few are really going to care about how well you did in school. Most will look at you as a whole package, as the final product of your experience, and also as a work in progress. What you overcame will be more interesting to them than what you failed to do.
posted by hermitosis at 10:55 AM on December 7, 2009 [14 favorites]

A lot of people go to school specifically because they're unfulfilled and don't know what to do, what they want to do for a living, or what makes them happy.

So you're not really behind on any of this. Forget the school thing for a minute and think about what you want, and what makes you happy.

School might not be required, or at least not such a huge consideration.
posted by rokusan at 10:56 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The only good thing, I guess, is that I can use the spring to get a technical degree I'd had my eye on for years.

Definitely do this!
posted by oinopaponton at 10:59 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lots of people have these experiences and get through them.

Yes. I myself did.

It often was not pretty, but I did.

I now have an M.A., and in the past, I've had some pretty unique and coveted jobs.

MeMail if you want.
posted by jgirl at 10:59 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

There is no such thing as a complete loss. Learn from your mistakes. You learned a few things, right? You know how to study more effectively. You know what kind of school and area will help rather than hinder your success. You know that you need to stay on your medication.

The next step is to not dwell on the mistakes that were made and move forward. I can speak with some experience here; it took me six years to finish my undergrad. Rather than dropping out (...well, I did drop out one semester to drink heavily and play Halo 2 after I failed everything and lost my job), I trudged through with -terrible- grades every semester except my last four. Dropping out now will be better for your GPA than if you stayed in like I did.

Stop looking at it like you are behind. Once I got past that, my grades improved and I became much, much happier. I joked about enjoying school so much I stayed there an extra two years but once I stopped worrying about supposedly being behind I really felt that way. I ended up with a Physics degree and am now getting my masters in Applied Physics part-time while working in satellite communications in the Beltway.

Basically, if I can do it (and I was a tremendous fuck-up as my past questions will attest to), you can.
posted by Loto at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and echoing jgirl, feel free to MeMail!
posted by Loto at 11:05 AM on December 7, 2009

Which means that I am officially two years behind where I should be, which sucks because the only reason I took a year off was to ensure this -wouldn't- happen.

A lot of people go straight from high school to college and finish in four years, but a lot don't and there's nothing wrong with that. And a lot of the people who do take the traditional route end up with a mountain of debt in the form of student loans, and/or degree that they can't really use for anything. As long as you keep working toward your goals it's never too late. My mom dropped out of high school and worked a lot of crappy jobs as a single parent before she eventually got her teaching degree later in life and started doing what she really wanted to do for a career.

How do I not feel so hopeless, lost, depressed, terrible, etc? I feel like I'm nothing. I'm in the exact same position I was in high school - the girl who is alone all the time, with no friends, who gets terrible grades.

You've gone through a lot of crap in your life, and at least in my experience that's how you really grow as a person. You are working past your own issues to reach your goals and that's what's important.

Also, did you end up going to the meetup last week? I wasn't able to make it to that one, but if you are looking for random Internet people to hang out with once a month, I can attest that there is no better group than your local mefites.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:11 AM on December 7, 2009

There's no way I'd get accepted into another college,

I want to say this is not true. We have people at the college I work for who've failed out of other grad programs before, let alone undergrad.

Things happen. You gain experience from things happening. If you learned something from said experience and include it in your application, you might just be surprised by where you could end up. And leaving a year or two between previous college and new college can sometimes speak more to that than jumping right into another school.

But point is, it's very possible you could and would get accepted to another school when you are in a position to apply again.

I had a call a few weeks ago during our advising period from someone who has taken one class a semester every semester and every summer session for nearly 10 years to complete her degree. I mention this to illustrate the point that people do what they need to do. For her, that's what she needed to do to finish. In terms of school, you'll eventually find what you need to do for you to finish.
posted by zizzle at 11:15 AM on December 7, 2009

Here's food for thought: I coasted through grade school on test scores alone, because I never ever did my homework -- because I'm lazy, and I procrastinate. I got into the public magnet high school I wanted because I knew the admissions director, and coaster again without doing homework, on the strength of test scores. Mind you, my GPA sucked, but I passed.

Then I went to college, and did the same thing again for the first couple of years. Then I realized that I was spending a lot of money and wasting my time, and decided to go work for free at a place of business that specialized in what I was genuinely interested in (the only classes I ever got As in were on this subject.)

So I did that for ten years, and I did okay, but I didn't truly blossom until a freak series of events got me a chance to do something I could do well and did as a hobby for pleasure already -- but for money. And lo and behold, suddenly I was motivated and did really well and now I've got a wife, two kids, a house, and a job I continue to love on a daily basis, one of many I've held in a career I continue to love on a daily basis. And I'm not 40 yet.

As the days go on, I still struggle to motivate myself, but over the years I've developed a lot of coping mechanisms and tools to keep myself going, to keep just enough pressure on myself to thrive without feeling overwhelmed. I've also learned to push back when I do feel overwhelmed, and seek out challenge when I'm bored.

Ultimately school may not be easy for you, but it's not a death sentence; you just have to find something you do thrive in, and concentrate on it.
posted by davejay at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're not a failure.

Not all of us are cut out for "do good in HS -> do good in 4 year college -> Job in field". Lord knows I wasn't. I spent plenty of time doing awful in school, but eventually made it through. Hell, it took my wife's (then girlfriend) incessant urging to get me enrolled in college in the first place.

ADHD medication and counseling can be a lifesaver. Find a counselor/educator/doctor who specializes in ADHD -- someone knowledgeable, sympathetic and full of coping strategies is easily worth 100x their weight in Adderall pills.

You will be fine. Live today, don't stress out about where you are versus where someone or something thinks you should be. It is not a race.
posted by wrok at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

You say you failed out of high school, but somehow you managed to get to college in the first place, right? Forget what happened after that. It HAPPENED. So you can see that there are different ways of getting through this situation and persevering.

You're way ahead of a lot of people.

Right now, just focus on getting good at something, or making money, or earning a good reputation at what you do (playing in a band, being a manager at Subway, being a good romantic partner, whatever). Take some classes, one at a time if you want to.

You know what many of your issues are, and there are many people (particularly at community colleges -- and by the way, you are in no way obligated to go to the one by your parents' house) who are specifically trained to help you make sense of your needs and your desires.

Finally, I'd echo what davejay said above. As a fellow ADHDer, I think you need to remember that there are actually some advantages to having it -- occasional hyperfocus, adrenaline, the ability to make connections that other people wouldn't. Reframe the situation to be about what you CAN do instead of what you think you CAN'T.

I've worked in admissions and with people taking a long time to work on college. It isn't for everybody, but not everybody who thinks they're messing up is doing it as badly as they think. Feel free to MeFiMail me if you'd like some more support.
posted by Madamina at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2009

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to talk to a man who was in a kind of a similar position as yours. He ended up dropping out of high school, got his GED because he wanted to join the Armed Forces, then they wouldn't take him. He coasted around a series of terrible jobs, enrolled in and failed out of college on numerous occasions. He finally ended up taking a series of night courses at a local community college, one at a time, and then enrolled in full-time school for keepsies when he was 24. Despite the early start from the community college credits, it took him four years to make it through the next two years of school.

Although you wouldn't think it would be a great idea, he then enrolled in law school. . . got through law school in 5 years instead of 4. Took him three tries to pass the bar, which isn't actually that big a deal. When I talked to him, he'd been a Superior Court judge for 17 years. He told us beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was a better judge for the road it took him to get there.

It's not about winning the race. It's about finding your road.
posted by KathrynT at 12:00 PM on December 7, 2009 [16 favorites]

I dropped out of the first college I went to, and had feelings of loneliness and failure for a long time afterward. I didn't actually end up getting my shit together and finishing community college until 5 years later, but in the end that set me up for getting my degree from a top tier state university and landing a great job. For a long time, I thought that if I had "stayed on track", I might have my MA or PhD, or be making more money. Honestly though, the issues I had would have caught up to me sooner or later and derailed me eventually. Looking back on it, I don't regret the path I took at all. You took a chance on something, and it didn't work out. It happens.

If you don't want to feel like a failure, break things down and start working on things that you have confidence you can succeed in. Start small. Try to have an interesting conversation with one new person every week. Do your application for the technical degree. Take up a new hobby, get a part time job, enroll in community college classes, whatever, you build a feeling of success by succeeding at things. As you overcome small challenges, you can work your way up to bigger and bigger things and you will stop feeling stuck, lonely, and depressed. Avoid looking at the top of the mountain and berating yourself about how far away it is. Focus on where you are right now, and putting one foot in front of another.
posted by sophist at 12:03 PM on December 7, 2009

I asked a similar question here recently, and got some good advice.
posted by serazin at 12:21 PM on December 7, 2009

I have several exceptionally bright, creative, and talented friends. Top of the curve. One buddy has raised in excess of $50 million in investment capital, and he's not yet 40. Started with nothing. Has a worthless history degree - **NOT** what got him where he is. My roommates are both amazingly talented artisans, both of whom are entirely self-taught, and degreeless.

I could go on & on. Failed to finish my master's degree myself, and I've always fought feelings of failure over that - it's pretty standard for people in my profession - but my resume speaks for itself at this point.

Your certificates of accomplishment, or lack thereof, are not how the world judges you. Nor should it be how you judge you.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:07 PM on December 7, 2009

I often beat myself up for being three or four years behind where I could be, but then I remember that there are any number of places where I could be, and that none of them except the one at which I actually am is the one where I should be.

All you've got to do is figure out what really motivates you. If your username is any indication, it's probably helpful to keep in mind that a lot of the very best scientists don't do terribly well with in-class type evaluations targeted at hundreds of students simultaneously. If you find yourself running out of time, it's probably because you know more than the test is asking for.

Don't judge yourself based on some sort of chronological metric.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2009

Which means that I am officially two years behind where I should be...

Says who? Life has no scorebook.
posted by rokusan at 1:55 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing not a failure!!!

Listen, you failed out of high school and got into college anyways. You didn't give up. You worked though your social anixiety (which is a big deal; it is utterly paralyzing) and attempted making friends with new energy. You evaluated who you are and what you want and moved to a place you thought it would work. You went to a doctor and got meds for ADHD. That is brave. And here you are asking for help and advice instead of feeling miserable and not doing anything about it.
It sounds like you are very aware of who you are, what problems you struggle with, and what you want out of life. This is an amazing level of self-awareness; this is a BLESSING many people do not have. It is so much easier for these types of people to coast through high school, college, first jobs, etc. because they aren't constantly analyzing what does/does not work for them and making big life changes so they can "get it right." Many times being so self-aware leads to being really hard yourself, too. You have a really clear picture of what you want out of life, and it hurts when its so damn hard to find. Be kind to yourself -- you shouldn't "be" anywhere. We all have our crazy life journeys with failures and rewards.
Personally, I dropped out of TWO different colleges. Moved all around the country trying to find peace and then, when I believed no college would ever accept me for my final semester of FAILING grades, I got accepted into a program at a prestigious women's college for older students. And now I'm finishing my first semester after procrastinating the entire damn time and not having made any friends and feeling kinda crappy about it. But you know what? The days keep coming, and I gotta believe there is something good around the corner, for all of us.
Hang in there, you can do it! Be good to yourself.
posted by missmary6 at 2:26 PM on December 7, 2009

Many good comments here. I'd like to add: please allow yourself to forgive yourself a little bit. You were raised in an abusive household, which is a classic recipe for social anxiety and poor study skills (how could you learn how to be a student at your desk in your bedroom when you had to be constantly vigilant about what was happening in the house, or, alternately, constantly trying to escape what was happening around you by shutting it out?)

You got yourself to therapy, which shows far more maturity, management skills, and self-awareness than the average 18-year-old. Then you started college, and found that you were in an environment that was claustrophobic. On top of that, you had to get through it without effective help, support, or treatment for a learning disorder that, left unaddressed, can make being a good student totally impossible.

Yes, there are things you want to change about yourself. But just there are also reasons why things happened the way they did, and some of them are not your fault. You're now in a position where you know better what you want, and have the chance to make something much different happen now that you've finally got the ADHD covered. I'm not giving you any "look on the bright side" bullshit. I'm saying that you are entitled to some self-forgiveness, and that allowing yourself to do that will help you focus on the next steps rather than the painful past.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2009

There's no way I'd get accepted into another college, so I'm stuck going stir-crazy for another year while I make up my grades or moving back home with all the stresses there and going to the local community college.

Have you considered that maybe college isn't where you're supposed to be right now? Not going to college doesn't mean that your life is over, nor does it necessarily doom you to a lifetime of flipping burgers.

Why not stop thinking about school for a year and try to get an internship somewhere? Or take a handful of classes that interest you at the community college, and forget about the degree part for a little while?

Not everyone is cut out for academia, and there's nothing wrong with that. Imagine if we suggested that everyone were equally able to play basketball, or do quantum physics. It'd be ridiculous, right? Different activities require different skill sets and different types of people, and college is just another activity. Go do some other activities for a while and figure out what you *are* cut out for. Not only will you feel like you have more direction, but if you decide to go back to college at some point, you'll have a solid idea of what you'd like to be studying and where you might excel.

Also, fight for the medical leave. From the sounds of it, you don't just have ADHD, you were cripplingly depressed, as well. Mental health issues can be every bit as debilitating as physical ones, and your college is likely aware of that. Ask your psychiatrist to help you, and make your case to the college. Good luck!
posted by MeghanC at 8:01 PM on December 7, 2009

You've bought into the ridiculous fallacy that everyone needs to go to college. The fact is, many people not only don't NEED college, but aren't even cut out for high school.

The world needs receptionists, bricklayers, construction workers, welders, line cooks, bartenders, and florists as much as (or more than) we need architects, scientists, librarians, and anthropologists.

Hang out for a while. Pick something that you like enough to work at it, and go to trade school for that thing.

Side note: I often wish I'd realized all this before I went to college (and grad school). I succeeded at both, but FUCK I wish I could have started my real life at 17 instead of 30.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:08 PM on December 8, 2009

You sound like you are writing a chapter from my life gender aside. I barely made it out of high school and was kicked out\dropped out about 5 times. I still have no degree. Guess what, I had undiagnosed ADHD. No one really knew what it was back then.

I can tell you from my experience that it won't be easy to get past all of this but the path is pretty strait forward.

The good news is you know what the problem is. The bad news is you have years of bad habits to get rid of and maybe some traumatic experiences in your life that you need to get past. You have a brain that is not suited to standard education.

Here is what I would do if I was diagnosed at 19 and 34:

1. Take care of the biological component. Find a Psychiatrist that will work with you to find what medication works best for you. I take Concerta, it is a 12 hour release from of Ritalin. Not a doctor so consult with one to see what will work best for you. Then take the medication. I struggle with this, but I am better off on it. If you want to go the no meds route do your homework. This is a longer path to getting your ADHD managed in many cases. 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise first thing in the morning does wonders for blood flow to your brain. This seems to be a key factor in ADHD. I am trying to walk in the mornings, no need for a trip to the gym or anything elaborate to start..

2. Deal with the issues from your past. This whole failure thing in your head is the result of your interpretation of your past. Find a psychologist that specializes in ADHD. Also, you may want to consider a consoler that specialized in PTSD the person I saw that helped with the past traumatic experiences also worked with something called EMDR. Well intentioned people in your life have tried all sort of mis guided things to fix you. You need to work on managing the impact of this. Also, if things weren't good at home for other reasons there is stuff to work on there.

3. Try doing a course call "The Landmark Forum" at Landmark Education. This is not a substitute for any of the above and you should consult with your Psychologist before taking this on. The course will go a long way to empowering you in dealing with past incidents and failures. It will also empower you in creating a future for your life that inspires you. I have done many of these courses and the are wonderful. They have made a huge difference for my life.

4. There are colleges that have programs for students with ADHD. Seek these out and apply. Also, consider getting an ADHD coach to work with you on organization and school.

There are no perfect formulas or guarantees in life but, here's the good news. It works out in the end. My last job was as the CIO of a software development company (still no degree, but that's okay because I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.)

Best of all I just got married a year ago to a woman who is a better person than I will ever deserve. She is my inspiration and the light of my life. My diagnosis was a little over three years ago. Do what there is to do day by day.

You have an amazing brain in your skull! I works differently than most people and you need to manage that.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

You are in good company many of our greatest minds were likely ADD'ers.

These people include:

Inventors: Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin

Photographer, Ansel Adams

Physicist, Albert Einstein

Political Figures: James Carville, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln
posted by empty vessel at 2:34 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. Words can't convey how grateful I am for the advice and personal anecdotes. I'll be MeMailing those who offered later today.

@burnmp3s - I actually didn't end up attending, and I forgot I even posted about that. I'll keep those in mind, though.

I wanted to post an update - I'm officially withdrawn with two W's and two W-F's. I was told medical withdrawals have been done in my situation, but that my particular case didn't warrant it, because the counselor believes I haven't done enough to try to deal with the ADHD. I don't understand why this is, because in my eyes I've fought hard to find out what was wrong and get help for it, but the counselor doesn't agree.

So I am pretty bummed out about that response. The college I wanted to transfer to requires 48 credit hours for transfer eligibility, and unfortunately it's the only big state college in the area. The upside to this is that when I applied last year, I got into every private college in the area (applied too late for the public ones)... So, assuming this situation would have happened regardless, I am at least not locked out of the somewhat connected college system there.

Just so I don't clog up my thread with updates, if anyone wants to know where I end up (even if it's December 2010 when you read this :P) feel free to me-mail me. :)
posted by biochemist at 11:47 AM on December 9, 2009

« Older How do you get a 19 year old who has already been...   |   Jingle Noms - share yours? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.