Beating that feeling of inadequacy

Beating that feeling of inadequacy

Photo by Luismi Sánchez on Unsplash

We all have triggers, emotional buttons that people can push to set us off. 

Many relate to nasties locked away in our closet that we don’t want anyone to see. But something said or done eases open the door with a creek and lets out the monsters. Those nasty gremlins that play with our emotional balance and throw us off, sometimes into the abyss. 

One of my buttons is incompetence. 

Whenever I come across it I cringe and my equivalent of road rage takes over. I become angry and depressed at the same time. The older I get, even modest incompetence pulls the trigger. And when it’s really bad, I seem to come over in a massive funk that affects me for several days.

I have long been curious to know what relic in my past was setting off this frustration at people unable to do their job properly. 

An anecdote from my backstory might shed some light.

Hartlepool

When I was 10 years old my parents moved the family to the north of England from south London. The coastal town of Hartlepool famous for, well, famous for being a coastal town where they used to build ships.

I had to quickly learn a new dialect and a new accent so as not to sound like a complete southern ponce, a handy skill as it turned out. 

Young enough to still be in primary school, I was enrolled in the little brother of the local grammar school. I have no idea how my parents managed to get me in there. Probably their status as local preachers had something to do with it. The old firm clubbing together. 

At the time there was an exam that all 11-year-old schoolkids in England sat to decide whether they went to the posh grammar schools or the dodgy comprehensives. I took this ‘Eleven plus exam’ and, much to my astonishment, I passed and ended up at the grammar school proper. 

My feelings at the time were incompetence and inadequacy digging their heels in while surprise tried to lighten the mood. Passing an examination that, in my mind at least, I had no hope of getting through was a shock that I never really got over. I reconciled it as… inadequate I may be but I got through anyway

As it was, I remember very little about that grammar school other than that I couldn’t play rugby. After one outing I would never consider that crazy game again. Soccer, the pastime of the hooligan comprehensive set, was my thing. 

Within a year my parents were off again, back down south where I had to start all over again. This time at an even posher grammar school a short step down from the paid private schools.

I was instantly bottom of the class but it turns out that being bottom of those chosen to be at the top pulled up my academic socks. What it didn’t do was give me any confidence. That only happened when, again by some miracle of the universe, I made it to university.

Inadequacy begins at home

After many years of reflecting on childhood experiences, as you do, I figured my sense of inadequacy, and its related incompetence trigger, was inherited from my parent’s attitude to life. 

At home there was never enough money and whatever there was had to stretch to cover all contingencies. My parents did remarkably well. Whilst we never went to restaurants or cafes or own a car and some of the smaller things in life were hard to come by, there was always food on the table and uniforms to wear to school and all the elements to make it look normal. 

What wasn’t quite so normal was the lack of confidence in the household. A giving to religion sucked up all the energy in the room, all day every day. The church took control over our lives and made all the major decisions. The lord provided and took any sense of self in return. 

And for me, that translated to feelings of inadequacy in myself but also in my folks. It became a trigger that persists to this day nearly 50 years on. When I see people performing poorly I rail at myself while smiling politely. Later I will fall into a funk brim full of cynicism and negativity.

I’ve often thought of how to come out of such a malaise, I mean people are people. The world over there are folk who are good, and not so good at what they do. It’s a law of nature – the raw material that allows diversity to exist. Without variety, there’d be nothing to choose from in the next generation. And I think that’s part of the story too. This idea that everyone needs to be good at something to persist into the next generation, to deliver on their genetic promise.  

Even though I can accept the logic of averages, when I see people who are not very good at something or bluster their way through without the skills and all they are is below average, I’m disconcerted. 

Often it’s not that they’re poor at a task or lack certain skills. I think it’s the realisation that so many know that they’re not so good but have no desire to get better. 

Beating inadequacy

My response to childhood feelings of inadequacy was to become self-sufficient. 

I learned to knuckle down and do what I could and worked at that self sufficiency by doing what was in my control. 

This resulted in a narrow zone of confidence and a certain naivety about how the world really works but I felt adequate some of the time. As it turned out the academic sphere likes this kind of narrow focus and I carved a career in science despite being bottom of the class for all those years. 

Even now I have to remind myself that I am good enough. I can do a lot of things and I just have to choose well among the many things that interest me. Those that are appropriate to be doing at the time. And focus on those and be comfortable. 

It doesn’t stop the triggers. 

Rationalization cannot protect against an innate emotional response. It also doesn’t make ineptitude a good thing or even an acceptable response. We should all be striving to be the best we possibly can be. 

We won’t all be tall poppies. But if everyone is striving to grow, the true tall poppies would be even better than they are now. 

In these ever more complex and challenging times, humanity must tap into its skill base to extend itself. And that means individuals not accepting inadequacy and not accepting incompetence, but promoting quality, wherever we can find it.

Maybe this is the best way to beat inadequacy, to embrace the best, grow the tall poppies and try to catch up with them. 


If you enjoyed this post or even if it made you cringe, post about it. I don’t mind.

Does it matter if online information is true or false?

Does it matter if online information is true or false?

Photo by Josh Marshall on Unsplash

Nowt as queer as folk

This north of England expression, although probably also Welsh, is said to emphasize that people sometimes behave in a very strange way. 

No kidding. 

We were bonkers before lockdown and now, well, just check out all the fails on Youtube. 

Yes ma’am, there is a battery in the car, not just the one in the key fob’.

Our blissful ignorance is so complete that it is a miracle that we figured out how to make a car in the first place.

Thanks in large part to this capacity to be ignorant, there is another famous quote first attributed to Mark Twain in his 1897 travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World” where in chapter 15 he writes 

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar

Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. 

However, in 1823 Lord Byron published several cantos of his epic satirical poem “Don Juan” wherein the one-hundredth stanza of canto 14 included the lines 

‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange,

Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,

How much would novels gain by the exchange!

How differently the world would men behold!

So we have known for a long time that people are the source of much craziness, more even than can be conjured in the imagination of great writers of fiction.

And nothing has changed. 

We are as mad today as ever and it looks worse for our attention span is that of a gnat. 

We are only interested in the bizarre or peculiar or some poor bugger falling off his skateboard onto his gonads. 

Then, of course, we believe everything we hear or see, especially online. 

Our common sense left the building with Elvis and no matter how unlikely the scene it must be true given that truth is always strange, stranger than fiction.

Does it matter? 

If we are entertained and no animals were harmed in the making of the film, then presumably it doesn’t matter. 

We can be entertained by fact or fiction in equal measure. The important thing is that we enjoy it so that we click the like button. 

Of course, if there is contention or opinion involved then we are in, for human beings are addicted to drama. Just a brief look into any family will tell you that. And we are much more likely to want to argue with each other than we are to agree. Just for the pleasure of something to argue about. 

This requirement for entertainment and drama has fuelled a whole industry that in its modern form is open to anyone with a smartphone and some botox or the aforementioned skateboard. 

Ask an evolutionary biologist about this phenomenon and she would say…

“Sure, makes perfect sense. We are designed to notice the unusual because that gave us an advantage in finding food and water. Our curiosity also helped us develop smart ideas and solutions to no end of problems back before agriculture. Youtube is an obvious extension of that instinct”

Ok then, that is interesting. 

It means it is instinct to like boat ramp fails and crazy Russians overtaking at 120 kph on an ice-bound road.

It is also ok if the clip is true or made up? I’m still just following instinct.

“Well yes,” says the biologist, “only along with the curiosity and eye for the unusual goes the ability to test. No point in picking out a purple fruit if it is going to give you stomach cramps. We added the ability to understand if unusual was useful. We learned how to understand if what we had seen was of any use to us.” 

Ah, so the unusual is put into context. That makes sense. 

Presumably, the truth matters now in order to establish the context. What might start off as amusing because it was different or odd becomes the subject of investigation in case there is something in it for us, an opportunity perhaps. 

If the truth is that there is nothing, it is actually just an idiot on a skateboard with more bravado than skill, then the laugh is enough. No problem, move on with a chuckle.

Russians killing themselves and innocents is more serious, especially if you live there.

Our biologist again. 

“What should happen is that we make an instinctive call as to how much attention to pay and when to engage in finding out more. We learn when to let curiosity be added to what we already know to explore the odd coloured fruit. There is a knowledge base we tap into and add to that keeps us safe.”

This seeking knowledge is critical. 

Around the world, people have lost sight of what actually made us humans in the first place, this ability to understand unusual things and put them into context. 

Current knowledge per individual is remarkably weak. 

Most people seem completely unaware of the realities of how life works. What delivers things to their doorstep how it comes about and the consequences of decisions that they make. 

Disengagement with the truth of matters is a problem. But not the only one .

Growing inabilities 

Inability to discern truth from fact. 

Inability to pay attention to anything other than what will fuel our need for drama or amusement. 

Inability to stay with something that requires more than 15 seconds of attention. 

Inability to give something some serious thought. 

It is time to do something about these inabilities because they play into the hands of people wanting authoritarian power rather than anything to do with our best interest. This is where the truth matters. When the democratic process is undermined. 

We still need to eat the odd coloured fruit and celebrate the wonderful weirdness of folk. 


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