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.