Succeed as a student by Passing on Passivity

By Jacob Guiler-Martinez

(Photo from Adobe Stock)

As students our job is to learn new skills, so we are constantly weighed down by fear of the unknown. It is easy to let this pressure build up to the point that you do not want to leave your comfort zone. The worst part is, there is a chance that you will make it all the way to graduation without ever leaving your comfort zone. The saying “c’s get degrees” comes from a place of truth, after all.

Is this what you want from your education? Not leaving your comfort zone is easy but it also means that you will never be in situation where you can learn. You will not be able to improve yourself personally and professionally.

I personally do not want to get up early every day for class, stay up late doing homework after getting home from a long day of school or work, and pay a small fortune to leave with only a piece of paper with my name on it. A degree is merely a participation trophy if that is all you leave with.

What does passivity look like?

Passivity comes in all shapes and sizes. The English Dictionary defines passivity as “acceptance of what happens, without active response or resistance.” What does this look like as a student? If you are inactive in your learning and accept the knowledge and skills you had before enrolling in college, that will result in not only a long four years, but nothing to show for it. Passivity as a student can also come in the form of having to use a program or tool that you aren’t familiar with. You can’t be a successful college without learning new skills and using new tools.

I have struggled with this form of passivity myself. In the IMC discipline we have the privilege of learning the design side of marketing and get to use tools such as Adobe Spark, Illustrator, Photoshop, and other design tools. Prior to my journey here at UNCW in the Communication Studies department, I had little experience with any design software. I played around in Paint in middle school during computer classes but did not bring anything else to the table. In my first IMC class I was very overwhelmed with the design assignments we had. I was not familiar with the programs, I was not confident in my design/creative skills, and worst of all, I accepted all of this.

(Photo from Order of Man)

This resulted in me doing poorly on every design assignment. Aside from finishing with a bad grade, I had wasted my time, my professor’s time, and an opportunity to gain an important new skill – a skill that would make me much more marketable as a candidate for any job in the IMC world. Passivity is a cushion or an enabler for laziness. I feared using programs I was unfamiliar with. I could have used the resources provided by my instructor to learn the design process and how to use design tools. I instead used my fear of the unknown as an excuse to not do well in the class. When the semester was over, I felt unaccomplished and unsure of my abilities.

Passivity can come in the form of no one taking the initiative in a group project and everyone waiting until the last minute only to turn in a mediocre project. It may look like you accepting that you do not completely understand what an assignment entails. You do not ask for help or clarification and procrastinate until you are forced to complete an assignment that you can not perform to your full potential on. How can you avoid passivity? How can you find the confidence to be the best you?

How to “pass” on passivity

If we look back at the definition of passivity, I mention in the beginning we can formulate a strategy to avoid it. We must not accept our shortcomings. Do not accept that you don’t have the skills necessary to do well on an assignment. No professor expects you to be an expert at anything you are doing. In every IMC class I have taken here at UNCW, the professors have supplied an extensive amount of content on any tools that you may use in the class. This content along with the free training opportunities sent to your email can turn anyone into an excellent candidate for a career in the field of IMC.

(Photo from

The second half of the definition, “without active response or resistance” warns us to be proactive. This does not mean you have to complete each assignment the day they become active. But at least look at the prompt to see if you understand what you are doing and are competent in the tools necessary to complete the assignment. If you do not understand an assignment, ask your teacher for clarification.

They will gladly welcome you during their office hours and provide you with the guidance needed. If you are competent using a certain program or tool needed to complete an assignment, look on Canvas to see the content your professor has supplied to explain how to use these tools. You can always take it a step further if you need extra help and search on YouTube for tutorials that will walk you through how to use any program you will come across as a student. You can also ask your professor for one-on-one help during their office hours. They are a great resource for any tool you will use in their class as they only expect you to use tools they are familiar with. There are many resources available to you as a student that will polish you into a candidate that any potential employer will want. It is up to you to be active and take advantage of these resources and opportunities. The only way to improve is to step outside of your comfort zone.