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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

4 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Smart People


People have actually asked me what it was like to be smart before. Like... smart enough to have actually been labeled "gifted" when you were young, to have had people compare you to Einstein, and the whole shebang. "Is it totally awesome? I bet it's rad to understand everything. I bet you never feel insecure or worry about whether or not you're good enough at things. Do you just walk around thinking amazing smart thoughts all day long?"

It actually kind of baffles me that that's actually how smart people are seen. It also really amuses me, because that hasn't really been my personal experience as a smart or "gifted" person by any stretch of the imagination. That said, I'm reminded of this personal essay I wrote once about what the experience of growing up under the gifted label was really like, as I don't see my particular point of view represented very often. 

I no longer have a copy of it, as I discontinued the website it was hosted on years ago, so people can consider this a replacement resource -- my take on the most common things people get wrong about those that are labeled "smart" by society at large for one reason or another.

1. Smart people walk around feeling like they're smart.

Have you ever noticed how genuinely stupid or ignorant people don't seem to be aware of it? They really do think of themselves as being just like everyone else and it's not because they're too stupid to know any better either. It's because everyone is pretty much their own control sample as far as what "average" or "normal" is until life somehow teaches them otherwise. It's no different for smart people. Until someone or something really shows us otherwise, we don't think we're smart. We think we're average.

The problem there though is that the "actually-average" a smart person deals with on a daily basis probably seems insufferably stupid. Seriously, that's been my reality. It isn't: "Wow, I'm so smart. This is awesome." It's more like: "God damn, why is this world so full of idiots? This is horrible." You're constantly frustrated because people can't keep up with you and you get tired of having to dumb yourself down all the time. It makes it hard to form bonds with other people, up to and including your immediate family, because you don't feel like it's OK to actually be yourself. And you're positive that things are that way not because you're smart, but because everybody else is stupid.

2. Being smart means you're good at every subject in school.

Most people don't seem to actually realize how intelligence actually works, including a disturbing number of the teachers and parents out there. Sure, some so-called smart people are lucky enough to be exceptionally good at English and philosophy, as well as math and science, but many aren't. It's because those are two very, very different types of intelligence you're talking about there.

I was first labeled "smart" because I showed a very high proficiency in English from the time I was really young. I was capable of reading and comprehending books that were well beyond the expected reading level for someone my age almost from the time I first learned to read. I'm a whiz with words, and language, and written expression and I always have been. I am also really good at creative subjects like art or music. What I am not good at is math, physics, or anything else along those lines.

My teachers were sure that I was just being a little asshole when I insisted that I couldn't grasp a lot of the concepts involved in math or physical science. Because obviously every smart person with thus-and-so IQ is automatically as good at math and science as they are English and creative writing (or vice versa). In actuality, there are many, many different ways a person can be intelligent. 

The Gardner model is the closest thing I've seen to a theory that actually explains how intelligence really works, but that wasn't anything like how educators approached things back when I was in school. No idea if things are any different now. I would hope so, but I don't have much faith that it is.

3. Smart people are destined for success.

A lot of people think of intelligence as some kind of golden ticket that's going to open the world right up for anyone that happens to have it. In actuality, intelligence is more like a tool you have at your disposal -- just like money or connections. You certainly can use it to get ahead in life, but it's not necessarily going to guarantee you a great job or an easy life the way people think it will. Honestly, some of the smartest people I've ever met in my life were in their 50's and working at the mall at the point where we crossed paths. It wasn't because they weren't trying to find ways to apply their intelligence either.

Being smart isn't enough all by itself. No one's going to come looking for you so that they can throw money and job offers at you just because you're smart. You still have to be willing and able to seek out, recognize, and pursue relevant opportunities. When it comes to certain fields, you have to somehow manage to pay for and obtain adequate schooling and whatnot, which is difficult to impossible if you don't have anyone willing to help you. Most importantly of all, the world has to actually value the particular way in which you're smart enough to want to pay you a living wage for it.

Yes, I'm apparently very smart, but I'm not really successful. Some of that has to do with the fact that I'm really not all that ambitious, but a lot of it doesn't. As I mentioned, I'm not rocket scientist smart or Einstein smart. (Einstein and I ironically share a birthday, but that's about it.) I'm best at art, and reading, and creative writing. Society doesn't place a particularly high value on the things that I'm good at, so I just barely get by. The starving artist stereotype exists for a reason. People love consuming other people's creative work, but they don't love paying very much for it. 

4. Smart people are liked and treated well by everyone.

For all I know, there are people out there that get their asses kissed by everyone they know because they're smart. That certainly isn't true in my reality though. Yeah, there are people that want to be my friend because I'm smart or talented, but it's mostly because they figure I'll be useful to them someday. Beyond that, being smart has caused more problems than it's solved when it comes to my social life.

To begin with, there's the point I touched on above -- the one about how it's hard for a smart person to connect with average people. The average person winds up feeling jealous and resentful because they don't grasp certain things as quickly as their gifted friend. The smart person winds up feeling like they can't really be themselves because they constantly have to worry about stepping on the other person's toes and "making them feel stupid". 

There's also the fact that when you're smart, parents and authority figures can have expectations of you that are way too high for comfort. For instance, most people assume that I must be the apple of my parents' eyes because of my intelligence and some of my ideas. In actuality, while I'm sure they love me in their own way, they're also deeply disappointed because I didn't grow up to be a rocket scientist, or a CEO, or a surgeon. They got stuck with the free spirited, broke, independent artist that no parent really wants to raise instead.

........

I'm hardly trying to give people the impression that it sucks to be smart. While it's true that I didn't like being considered gifted or being held to higher expectations than other people when I was younger, I've come to really appreciate my mind as an adult. While it kind of made it harder to assimilate into traditional workplace environments, being smart has definitely come in handy as far as running my own business goes. I have uniquely sharp approaches to what I do that not just anyone could bring to the table, so it's actually been possible to make a modest living as a freelance writer. I'm well aware of how difficult that is to do.

I've also learned that I can channel my intelligence into qualities that do help me make friends and connect with people. I'm witty and insightful. I'm good at making people laugh and at exposing them to insights they ultimately appreciate and find interesting. I've been told by many friends that they love how visiting my blogs or my Facebook page actually teaches them something every once in a while, because I love information and am always posting about little tidbits I found interesting.

There's definitely a downside though and a lot of it has to do with having to deal with other people's misconceptions about who you are and what you're all about. Like anything else in life, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On the Impossible Dream of Ikigai

This little graphic found its way into my Facebook feed this morning and I think it perfectly describes what most of us would call our life's purpose. I'm still trying to discover my potential source of ikigai. I'm also increasingly skeptical of the notion that I even have one. Finding things that I'm good at has never been the problem, as I've always had multiple talents. Finding people that appreciate those talents and see a way they could put them to work in exchange for money has likewise not been much of a problem. 

My problem is and always has been finding a way to earn a living that I actually enjoy for its own sake -- something I would theoretically still love to do even if I weren't being paid to do it. Most of the things I like to do instantly cease to be enjoyable once I successfully translate them into a way to earn a living. I've always coped by minimizing the amount of time, effort, and energy I actually have to spend on work, but it would be far better to earn a living doing something that doesn't fill me with dread in the first place.

Sometimes I think it's less that I hate to work and more that I hate being part of a team. Bosses/clients and I can never agree on what my role should be. I always want to do simple, creative, mentally rewarding tasks I enjoy and that don't make me want to slit my wrists at the end of the day. They always want me to do the tough, challenging tasks that everyone else is apparently too incompetent to do. Those two things are never the same task. Never. 

I think I need the professional equivalent of my relationship. A situation where the space to be filled is already Cat-shaped -- where the qualities they're looking for are exactly the same qualities that I'm actually looking to contribute to their company. None of this "I know we hired you to do A, but we think we're going to start having you do B and C instead" nonsense. I'm tired of being the person that gets stuck with all the tasks no one else wants or is equipped to perform. It reminds me of my childhood and not in a good way. 

I want some ikigai, dammit. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

On BlogHer's Writing Lab, Writing Prompts, and Connecting with Fellow Writers

So I'm doing a thing over on my main/personal blog, The Curious Cat. (Or I suppose I should say I'm trying a thing before I go jinxing myself as I do.) To be more specific, I've decided to participate in BlogHer's ongoing writing lab. There are daily prompts each weekday, as well as a Facebook community to join if you feel like sharing what you write or checking out posts from other participants.

I've been trying to get more motivated when it comes to my personal blogging in particular and I've always done really well with prompts. Having other people to share with has also been a great motivator, as I remember very well from my early days on LiveJournal.

As I've touched on in some of my more recent posts here though, I've been frustrated by an ongoing lack of creative friends I can actually relate to. Far too many members of my fiction writing crowd on Facebook are especially bad. If they're not churning out amateur fan fiction by the mile, they're on this whole self-publishing bandwagon, which I legitimately hate with the fire of a thousand suns. 


........

Self-publishing would be one thing if the people I'm thinking of were any good at what they do or if they were humble creative types just looking to get their stuff out there without the hassle of going through gatekeepers. This doesn't seem to be the case with the great majority of them though. They're pumping out terribly written books that are barely long enough to qualify as novellas, self-publishing on Amazon, and then morphing into insufferable narcissists. A lot of them also develop this staggering sense of entitlement, thinking their friends somehow owe them sales, free services, or free press in support of their projects.

It's more than I can stomach -- people littering the world with positively awful writing and then having the nut sack to compare themselves to masters like Stephen King or Anne Rice. Obviously people can do whatever they want and I'm not the boss of them, but truth be told, I have very little respect these days for most people that self-publish. They seem to be doing it not as a way to preserve their unique way of telling a story, but as an excuse to call themselves "published authors" without truly earning the right to do so. Most of them aren't even editing their material properly, nor do they seem to care about the quality of the characters or the plotlines. It's all very painful to watch. Like... I want to die from secondhand embarrassment when I watch some of these people brag about themselves.

And it feels like a huge slap in the face to those of us that take more pride in our work than that. I would never, ever expect someone to pay me actual money for written material that didn't adhere to the highest possible standards. That's how I feel about the work I do for my clients and it's absolutely how I feel about any fiction I'd even dream of expecting people to pay for.

........

The whole hate-on for how pompous a lot of these self-publishing enthusiasts can be is honestly a big part of why I feel like I've outgrown events like NaNoWriMo. I still love the idea of just writing for the hell of it and of challenging myself to complete a certain amount of fiction over the course of a single month. What I don't love is the fact that fiction writing in that kind of environment attracts so many of the hacks out there that it takes the fun out of the whole community dynamic I used to like so much. I just want to write for the fun of it with other people that have some sense of humility about what they're doing. I don't want to listen to a bunch of narcissists brag about talent they don't have or put up with people that are only there to try to make sales or get their next book cover designed for free.

That said, I had my reservations about joining another writing group or participating in another writing related event. I'm glad I did though, because I'd forgotten about the way bloggers approach writing, as compared to those that primarily consider themselves to be "independent novelists". Bloggers tend to be interesting, low-key folks that are doing what they're doing for the fun of it, as opposed to because they think it will make them rich or famous one day. They appreciate the rhythm of everyday life, as well as the little things that make life worth living. Most of all, they love expressing all of that in writing. 

So far I've responded to both prompts for December with my own posts to my personal blog. And people actually read them and went to the effort to talk to me about what I wrote. They didn't just do the thing where they post links to their own things, but don't even bother to look at anyone else's. I liked that. It was nice for a change. It also really helped me feel encouraged when it comes to even bothering to post my own things or make new attempts to connect with other writers. I guess at the end of the day, bloggers are my people. They've always been my people.