In reading about academic self-concept, I think back to my earlier years of education. These years were intensely frustrating, and they only grew worse with each passing assignment. I couldn’t concentrate, comprehend, or keep up with my classmates. By second grade, the humiliation peaked as I still could not read, and my disability was becoming apparent to everyone around me. Shamed into silence, even bullied for my cognitive delays, I was growing depressed and losing self-esteem. Soon after, I was diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability. Unable to process words at an average rate, my verbal comprehension issues were magnified in the classroom. After receiving my diagnosis, my parents appointed various therapists and instructors to help me learn tools to succeed. Although these professionals helped me immensely years of struggling, my education left me feeling defeated, and my perception of my academic abilities was diminished.
Academic self-concept is the attitudes, perceptions, and feelings that a student has about their academic ability (Coutts, Gruman, & Schneider, 2017). Based on my negative track record, I felt that I would NEVER be able to succeed in school and that I was just “not made” for it. Gruman & et al. (2017) explains that good academic self-concept has the effect of academic achievement and that there is a reciprocal relationship between the two. So as I continued to believe that I was not made for school, I continued to fail, and as I continued to fail, it further confirmed my perception of my abilities. It was a vicious cycle that went on through high school. Although I was fully capable and was instructed on learning techniques that worked best for me, I continued to beat myself up and fully believed that I would ALWAYS fail. As this went on in high school, I chose to go out with friends and get into things that I wasn’t supposed to instead of working on my homework. In doing this, I was self-handicapping, which is when “people handicap their own performance on a task so that they have a ready excuse for failure” (Gruman & et al., 2017). The whole situation was headed for disaster. Although I didn’t want to apply to college, my mother forced me, and I was accepted to every school I applied to. Even though I had these letters to promote academic self-concept, I doubted myself. I eventually went on to start my freshman year out of state. I dropped out within two months. I gave my friends and family every excuse in the book “I’m just not intellectual enough,” “ I am not made for school,” “school isn’t for everyone,” “I’m street smart, not book smart” (Ha!). I spent six years working jobs I hated and desperately searching for my passion. Upon finding that passion for occupational therapy, I knew I had to face my biggest fear, which was going back to school.
The first semester back was absolute hell as I continued my vicious cycle of self-doubt and hatred of myself. It wasn’t until I spoke with one professor about my concerns. Those talks would become the foundation from which my strength would rise and elevate me finally have faith in myself and leave the excuses behind. I stopped choosing a social life over my education and started putting in the work to succeed. When I ended a semester with my first A (ever!), something changed. My academic self-concept and my passion for occupational therapy gave me the motivation to strive for bigger and better things in life. It truly is fascinating the effect that our ideas and beliefs of ourselves have on our outcomes.
Coutts, L. M., Gruman, J. A., & Schneider, F. W. (2017). Applied social psychology understanding and addressing social and practical problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.