I’ve always felt weird, but I haven’t always felt smart. When I was younger, I knew that teachers and IQ tests considered me very smart, but I felt as thought there was some horrible mistake. Surely I was going to be discovered as a fraud. I didn’t feel smart. I felt pretty normal and mundane. I simply felt as though I was surrounded by idiots who couldn’t understand very simple things.
I came to associate being smart with being weird, especially when I found that the people I liked best — who were also very smart — seemed to also be weird by society’s standards, in one way or another. Is “weird” just another way for the majority to say, “Hey, you’re different from us”? I learned early that other kids who weren’t in the “smart club” didn’t appreciate us.
I read an article last week about why being intelligent is difficult. For a lot of people, that might sound like an absurd concept, but it made immediate sense to me. I’m betting that most of the people who read here will understand at least some of the things on this list, because I suspect most of us here are pretty bright.
Take five minutes to read this article about why being smart is difficult. It’s short and it’s just a list of 10 things. The list evoked a strong reaction from me. I remembered feeling those things growing up. I also remembered feeling those things in previous jobs and with most of my clients. And I strongly identify with the list in my life today. Go ahead and read it. Then come back. I’ll wait for you.
Do you think the list applies to all people with high intelligence? I’m honestly not sure about that. Do all smart people feel those ways? Or are those feelings of alienation reserved for those of us who are very intelligent and “weird” in some way, too?
Whatever it is, it even affects the people we’re attracted to romantically. At least, that’s been the case for me. I’ve always known that high intelligence in women was very attractive to me, but I’ve started understanding lately that it’s a specific type of intelligence that attracts me, not just generic brilliance.
The kind of intelligence that attracts me is the kind that comes with very high creative verbal ability combined with a high degree of emotional and intellectual complexity and curiosity. Intelligence outside those areas is interesting and impressive to me, but they’re not the things that make me inexplicably (and sometimes uncontrollably) attracted to a woman.
Now that I review my romantic history, this is obvious, but I somehow hadn’t put that together in the past. It goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve not been attracted to certain brilliant women who seemed on the surface to be perfect matches for me. And it explains why the women I’ve fallen hardest for have always been brilliant writers with interesting and original things to say.
The brilliant woman who I’m crazy about might score exactly the same on an IQ test as another brilliant woman who I’m not attracted to, but intelligence can be very different in different people.
Does the world appreciate intelligence or hate it? Sometimes I can’t tell. Schools give lip service to developing gifted students — and some actually do a decent job of it — but most of the attention goes to the people in the vast middle, those who are neither too smart nor too stupid. But those average people don’t really like bright people. They understand that they need the smart folks who invent things and become doctors and writers and engineers and such, but it seems to be a grudging acceptance. There can almost be a sense of resentment — and it’s considered almost impolite to acknowledge the brighter people, because that somehow offends the egalitarian impulse.
When I was young, being smart was my identity. I didn’t play sports or sing or do things that other people in school become known for. When I was young, we moved a lot because my father’s company transferred him every year or so. I was always the new kid in class. About the time I’d start really making friends, we’d move again. Being “the smart kid” was my only way to have an identity under those circumstances.
From my vantage point decades later, though, it seems like a pretty empty identity, but I’m not sure I’ve ever escaped it.
I know what IQ tests say about me. I know what other people have typically thought of me. But I still don’t feel smart. After all these years, I still feel like the awkward new kid who’s come to a new place and is going to be seen as the weird guy who doesn’t quite fit — the one who wants to talk about weird thoughts and ask strange questions and suggest odd possibilities.
The article about the difficulties of being highly intelligent is right. I feel weird. I feel misunderstood. But after all these years of identifying with it, I’m not sure I’d know how to give any of it up and live another way.