Your Low Ceiling is the Cause of Your Neck Cramps

Here is one of the most understandable and simultaneously strange experiences I have as a professor. A student comes to my office to discuss grad school options and, after a long conversation, they say something like … “well, I’d love to go to graduate school X but they have a really tough acceptance rate … they only accept 8 students in 150-200 applicants. So I won’t apply there.”

Wait, … what? You mean that you are not going to apply because the school is so good? No, you mean that you don’t want to apply to a school only to get rejected. That’s understandable.

I mean who wants to spend all that time and money only to get told ‘no, you didn’t make the cut.’ I suspect though that the real reason that people are not applying to that school is that they have a deeper ‘script’ or ‘schema’ (what many in my field refer to as a ‘pathogenic belief’ – literally a disease-causing belief) that they are inadequate for that graduate school – that they are not good enough to go there.

Here’s the thing though – you will never know. You will never know if you actually would have gotten in to that school. And one more thing – these pathogenic beliefs are the very real parts of our behavior that set our ceiling for us: what schools we apply for, what jobs we apply for, what friends we make, what romantic partners we ask out … in other words, the very real conditions for our quality of life, for the rest of our lives. These beliefs are our ceilings that we set. Yes, there is something to be said for luck (e.g., what family you were born into, unanticipated life events), talent, intelligence and the like, but these beliefs are huge in the realm of what you can control.

“I’m totally inadequate for University X” – that assessment is lowering your ceiling. If you don’t apply you will never know.

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2 Responses

  1. Andrea says:

    Thank you for this post! It is a good reminder to pay attention to our thought process and question why we make certain decisions. The way we think about school options can be a telling sign of how we perceive our abilities and ‘worthiness’, not just in school but in all aspect of our lives.

    • David Gard says:

      I think that’s true … a lot of things are related here – our careers, job choice, choice of a partner, etc. I mean we all want to avoid rejection, but when you step back it becomes clear that it is better to risk rejection (and maybe get what you want) then to avoid rejection and definitely get something less.