The word “proficient” seems optimistic. It appears to be a hopeful adjective, focusing on the good capabilities of an individual, a team or a program. However, to me it has a rather disappointing connotation.
Proficient does not necessarily mean good. Proficient also does not even necessarily mean adequate. Proficient is basically the equivalent of saying that you have just enough knowledge that you are not entirely ignorant, but you don’t have much else. And often, the perfect combination of self-doubt, imposter syndrome and fear of failure all combine to form this unfortunate malady where you suddenly find yourself losing trust in your abilities.
I must say that the University has not exactly helped with this issue of mine. When I first came to Charlottesville, I soon learned that I was with a lot of people who were, say, proficient in many things — just like me. And generally their level of proficiency seemed to be significantly higher than mine.
Pre-matriculation, I was proud of this identity I had made for myself of being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. While at the University, though, I began to struggle with only being proficient. I wanted to be great at at least one of the many things I had dipped my toes into. But the truth is, I am just proficient. I am not great. Yet the difference before entering the University was that proficiency was viewed as a positive thing.
Here, I have felt like proficiency is synonymous with lacking. I think this school does not do the greatest job at assuring students that a proficient level of knowledge or experience is perfectly OK as long as the effort is there. Since I grew up with sports, I typically subscribe to the notion that competition improves a player, even if it doesn’t seem to at first. Except for when competition runs you dry and proficient is all you are slated to be.
I’m not saying that we should be in the business of giving out participation trophies in college, but there is something to be said in regards to feeling some sense of affirmation for at least trying to put yourself out there.
I don’t know how this problem can be fixed which, I know, is not helpful, especially because the pretentious reputation that the University gets from outsiders is not completely unfounded. On some level, most students here think we are the best school in the country and that we have the best students in the nation. While this may very well be true, I think this school can also be very harsh. Acceptance is not our strongest suit, and this becomes most apparent when looking at our selectivity for enrollment in our undergraduate and graduate schools, various majors, certain clubs and so on.
It seeps into the culture, too. When you are accepted by a group, you feel like you really deserved it — your level of proficiency was acceptable. When you get that letter of rejection, you feel as though your level of proficiency was obviously inadequate, and you start wondering what you could’ve done to try harder. This clearly breeds contention between people in the in-group versus those in the out-group. Many times this resolves after the selections take place and people learn how to live with their designation as either proficient or not proficient. Yet, it is still difficult to grasp in the moment.
Fierce competition is a relatively common occurrence in most colleges, though it is often reserved to the academic and athletic spheres — not to the social lives of their students. It is amazing to me how many clubs at the University require an application, or how many cuts are made in our club sports. This selective attitude that is key to this institution permeates into the larger culture. Failure is just another part of life, yes, but it shouldn’t be so omnipresent here.
What is ironic is that we are also told to just rest on our laurels. How many times have you been told that you’ll be fine to get a job no matter your major because you are coming out with a degree from the University of Virginia? We are dealt all of these failures and then are told to just trust that, in the real world, we will at least be proficient in comparison to everyone else. I don’t know what to trust anymore. Have I struggled enough times in college that the law of averages will randomly kick in and I will be given a few wins post-graduation?
I truly don’t know. I hope that someone at some point will take a chance on me, on my levels of proficiency and on my effort. There must be some relief down the line where I feel like “I made it.” And I know just behind that sigh of relief will be another roadblock, but at least I tried, right?
I know many people at this University feel inadequate in one way or another. A place that is so concentrated with greatness will do that to you. But proficiency does not equate to inadequacy. Know that although you may not be excellent at everything you do, you may still be an excellent person, an excellent friend, an excellent supporter — or all three. There are so many more talents that you cannot quantify with a grade or with statistics. I hope you will remember this — being proficient means you showed up, you tried and you wanted it. And showing up, even with minimal knowledge or experience, beats not trying at all any day of the week.
Lucie Drahozal is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.