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How Students React To Uncertainty with Negative Emotions

How students in a business school go through a process of low self esteem and in trying to deal with it, react with fear, anger and depression. Getting a better understanding of such situations and the underlying reasons for it is the first step in overcoming low self esteem.

We join an MBA program in a business school with visions of “leading a team of dedicated professionals towards a pre-defined objective.” We hope to meet like-minded folks and pit our wits with them. We hope to meet professors who will reveal the arcane workings of the stock market, of marketing and of corporate strategy. We hope to discover our self-identity, our purpose in life and define our future.

Within one trimester, all these dreams come crashing down. We are not sure of our grades. The seniors abuse us and disabuse us of wishful thinking. We do not understand the subjects. Parents put pressure on our academics and the return on their investment. Everyone, professors, colleagues and seniors tell us we are nothing, we are idiots and we do not deserve to be MBAs.  Even in personal life, long distance relationships with girl/boy-friends become high maintenance. New relationships are created and broken in a jiffy. We wonder what is wrong with us.

All this creates low self esteem. We are unsure of ourselves and our ability to cope. We are afraid of failing in our eyes, and in our stakeholders’ eyes. We are depressed by the peer comparison and the feeling that there is no path to redemption. We also get angry – at ourselves, at parents, at relationships, at the lack of sensitivity in people, at professors, at seniors, at auto drivers, at bus drivers. We take refuge in alcohol, drugs; movies…anything that will make us forget the reality for a moment.

But reality creeps back in, smiling insanely, slipping the knife in and cruelly turning it, reopening old wounds. Life becomes a roller coaster ride of extreme mood-swings.

We learn to adjust sometime in the middle of the year and sort of accept and reconcile to the various pressures. Life looks predictable again.

Then comes the summer internship and now the external world joins the litany. “What do they teach you in the MBA course?”, “You are worthless, even a non MBA does better than this!” and the greatest responsibility-avoidance statement, “Why should we help you? You are an MBA, you should know, figure it out!!”

Our self esteem comes crashing down. We are unable to deliver. Life is uncertain once more. Depression, fear and anger return.

Then comes the second year. New professors, deeper levels of knowledge and professors who are doyens in the industry joining in the litany, “What did you learn in first year…were you sleeping in class?” “What, I have to teach you first year stuff and the second year stuff, all in one trimester?” “You are good for nothing, you will never get a job…!”

Self esteem takes another blow. Depression, fear anger….only solution is distraction – movies, drugs, alcohol, opposite gender.

In the meantime, old friends and relationships are broken, new ones are created. Parental pressure starts building up. Placement looms near and there is a sinking feeling that we are not ready for placement. We desperately try to study hard, brushing up first trimester courses, reading magazines and newspapers, having group discussions in corridors,  creating our black books (contacts who can get us jobs). In the meantime, there are assignments, presentations, long classes and there is a pressure of time and more uncertainty about grades and the future.

We feel incapable of handling all this. Our self confidence is low.

Placements. People who we never expected to get a job, get placed in good salaries. People who have got jobs outside are still competing within the college, depriving others of jobs. People who we thought were Gods are found to have feet of clay. The recruiters too join in the litany, “X amount worth of job…you must be joking! You do not even know the fundamentals!” “You don’t even know how to talk…you have no emotional intelligence, you have a bad attitude…”

There is depression, fear and anger once again.

One of the ways of raising self esteem is to compare ourselves with others and bring the others down so that we feel better than others. That is the reason why we belittle others, do backbiting and laugh at others’ misfortunes. We lash out at our juniors and our teachers. We rebel, because rebellion is one way of stating that we have control. It is a natural defense mechanism of people who have low self esteem. With the stress bottling up, the natural way is to get angry and verbally and physically abuse or bully anyone who can be bullied.

(Bear in mind that we have low self esteem because all our life our parents, teachers and other well-meaning influencers have compared us to others as a well-meaning method of making us do better!)

Another way is to disregard other people’s opinions, if they are contrary to ours. This is done so that we do not have to change our opinions and thoughts, which would imply that all that we have done in the past was useless and we had been wrong in the past. It is also a form of rebellion.

Putting it all together, if anyone hurts our self esteem, we will lash out and blame them for our problems. We need to keep ourselves blamelessScience Articles, so that we retain a high opinion of ourselves.

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Prof. Chandra Kant, is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and currently, a senior professor at Indus Business Academy, a leading B-School in India. He teaches, change management, business leadership and Self Management.

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