You'll Always Be Good, But Never Great: 5 Signs You're An Underachiever

by Seth Borkowski

Before you continue, I want to make it very clear for whom this article is intended:

Have you always been ambitious, driven, hungry and hardworking? If so, stop reading. None of this will resonate with you. If you are a reasonably intelligent person, who sometimes struggles with laziness and internal motivation, this is for you.

One thing that amazes me when I look back on high school is how ready some people were for the future like they had it all worked out. In my AP World History class, students who were already young professionals surrounded me. They were determined, motivated and many of them had long-term career aspirations. One of my fellow classmates even had a briefcase — but that was kind of overkill.

I, on the other hand, salivated about the thought of sleeping late and fancied the idea of playing poker professionally. As senior year approached, accomplished students, who discussed the Ivy League colleges that had accepted them, surrounded me. Unfortunately, I could not participate in these conversations.

I had done reasonably well in high school, despite doing zero work. However, I was nowhere near being a spectacular student and the underlying feeling that I failed to give it my all filled me with shame. Rather than acknowledge that shame and strive toward change, I simply rationalized my way out of it. Sadly, this mindset followed me straight into college.

Below are five tenets, which I as well as thousands of underachieving, reasonably intelligent college students have displayed or are currently displaying. Overall, these tenets sum up the mindset we often cultivate to excuse our lack of effort while maintaining our egos and self-esteem. A mindset we need to stop in its tracks if we hope to succeed.

You never study, but still manage to get good grades.

This is the beginning of a self-destructive cycle. When people (like me) get good grades in spite of not trying, they are proud of it. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’re surrounded by people who study their asses off and you walk in, having not studied at all and nail a test, that’s a damn good feeling. Unfortunately, this reinforces the idea that you’re invincible and your intelligence will always help you prevail. Of course, that isn’t true at all.

You do just enough to get by.

This is a telltale sign you’re on a bad path because it sets the bar too low. Rather than reaching for a high goal, your focus is merely about staying afloat. When I was in college, I did the absolute minimum amount of work to sustain an acceptable grade point average. I felt that I was beating the system, but ultimately, I developed a bad habit of settling for mediocrity and that habit translated to all other aspects of my life.

You accept your shortcomings and call them your “best.”

I failed to realize that I could achieve more if I applied myself; I squandered the opportunity to do just that and now I feel guilty. In college, and even more so now, I noticed my peers advancing while I remained the same.

In high school, my fellow classmates were receiving scholarships to prestigious universities while I kind of just hung out. I knew the only reason I wasn’t experiencing success was because I hadn’t tried; however, I was certain that if I had applied myself, I would have not only succeeded, but I would have been the best version of myself.

This kind of thinking protects you from the pain of failure — the shameful feeling that you lacked the drive to put forth your best effort. Even worse, you are aware of what’s holding you back, so there’s a clear solution staring you in the face. Why not employ that solution? Why not try? Instead of accepting and learning from your shortcomings, you stay safe, stagnant and content as you convince yourself that you’re doing fine just the way you are.

You scoff at the idea of “learning a lesson.”

I was always told that when I got to college, I would learn a hard lesson. Perhaps the biggest “tragedy” of my college experience was that I never learned it. During my first semester of college, I earned a 3.0 GPA. While it was nothing special, it was impressive in that I never went to class and instead, played Super Smash Brothers like nobody's business. Not to mention, I fed my brain alcohol at least four times a week.

The worst part about getting a 3.0 GPA was that it only reaffirmed my deluded thinking. While everyone else was hitting the books, I was the lone wolf skating by on his "smarts." What I didn’t realize is I had set myself up for disaster — it only struck once I graduated from college.

I entered a saturated job market with no plan, no aspirations and a complete and utter lack of direction. You better believe I learned my lesson as the “real world,” which I never took seriously, was suddenly slapping me right across the face. So, all I could do was sit there and think, “Damn, now what?” Effortlessly smart me was suddenly dumbfounded.

You feel underappreciated, like a “diamond in the rough.”

Perhaps the most satisfying feeling of this entire mindset is thinking that you’re something of a “hidden genius.” I remember identifying with Matt Damon from “Good Will Hunting,” who worked as a janitor despite secretly being brilliant. Not only was I far from a genius, but I had absolutely no janitorial experience.

“Every man feels under appreciated.”

This is a loose version of a familiar quote and although it’s simple, it was the beginning of a major breakthrough. For so long, I held onto the notion that underneath my immature, careless demeanor, I possessed undervalued potential. No one could see it, but I was certain it existed.

The realization that every man feels underappreciated was stirring because I suddenly realized I was sharing these ideas with everyone. There was no big secret. I wasn’t harboring anything special. I was just an ordinary guy.

I realized I had been cheating myself from a fulfilling life and if I truly believed there was greatness within me, then what the hell was I waiting for? I changed my mindset, started believing in myself and in the power I possessed to change my path.

And with that, everything changed.

I started exercising five times a week and improved my nutrition. I got my heart broken, traveled the world, enrolled in an acting class, discovered my love for writing, began performing stand-up comedy and even got cast in a play. I started doing all the things I had been too scared to do and this immature attitude, that had always kept me safe, slowly withered away.

I’m not saying I’m a self-actualized guy who has it all figured out — I’m far from it. However, I did realize that not trying in one aspect of my life affected the entirety of my existence.

You can make a difference in your life. Don't wait — start now. Don't cheat yourself and your future. You really are capable of whatever you set your mind to do. You just have to have the drive to get there.

Photo via Blue Devil Tumblr