The curse of being smart
Despite what the title of this blog might lead you to think, I’m actually a pretty modest guy. Mostly because I’m constantly humbled by the sheer volume of stuff that I don’t know, can’t explain, and am not very good at.
However, for this post I’m going to abandon modesty and make the assertion that I am, in fact, pretty smart. Relative to most of the population anyway.
Here’s the thing though: I wish I wasn’t.
Let’s start from the beginning. These days, being a nerd is pretty cool, because we fix people’s computers. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, it was still a stigma. And given that I was (usually) the youngest kid in my class as well as being the smartest, I had the added bonus of being smaller for most of grade school as well as lagging a few months behind most of my classmates as far as development goes (by which I mostly mean puberty, but also things like getting into real music, non-kid TV shows, etc). This basically defined the first 18 years of my life.
Schoolwork itself, meanwhile, was easy. Too easy. Easy enough that I was bored, a lot. Easy enough that I never paid attention in class but still got straight A’s, because I knew it all. Easy enough that I never had to study. Easy enough such that when it stopped being easy (let’s say the 10th grade, or thereabouts), I didn’t have the study habits and discipline necessary to tackle it properly. To this day I don’t really know how to study something. It’s a miracle I got through college.
I was smarter than most of my teachers. This didn’t make much of a difference in grade school, because they could still beat me at general knowledge. But by the time I got to High School, I had closed that gap. I had three teachers the whole time I would qualify as smarter than me. The rest simply couldn’t engage me to take enough interest in what they were teaching for me to learn it. So my grades tanked in High School, except for those few classes with the smarter teachers who I developed good relationships with.
I’m smart enough that I could see right through illegitimate authority. Principals, teachers, and lunchroom rent-a-cops actually have very little. “Because I said so” never flew with me, nor did I go along with society’s rules and expectations “just because”. I questioned everything and never did anything unless I was given a damn good reason why I should. On principle I think that’s a good thing, and this has led me to explore and experience many things that I wouldn’t have otherwise, as well as find many better ways to do things. But in terms of social adjustment? It doesn’t exactly endear me to people, and it put me even further out onto social fringes than I already was.
I’m smart enough to seek answers and not find them. I look out into the furthest reaches of the cosmos and wonder what’s beyond. Where it all came from. What came before. Why it’s here, what its nature is. I marvel at the incredible complexity of the world around me, and try to comprehend how things so beautiful can emerge from processes which are at their root so simple – it’s elegant and beautiful and wonderful and I can’t help to want to understand it. The thing is, as smart as I am that I ask such questions, I’m also smart enough to realize a cop out answer when I see one. I don’t take any comfort in the empty platitudes of religion. But lacking any other answers, that’s a part of me that’s left frustrated and unfulfilled.
I’m smart enough that I don’t have much in common with “normal people” (for lack of a better descriptor). I don’t give a shit about Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, or the weather. I find sports marginally entertaining at best. Everyone likes to think they know something about politics, the reality is most are grossly ignorant of political theory, current events, and history. Reality TV annoys me. Meanwhile, I like to read, I like science, I like computers, and I mostly entertain myself by finding interesting things on the web. So, the intersection of interests between me and the average joe that I meet? Pretty slim. My social life? Pretty limited as well.
I’m smart enough to be pretty unhappy. I overanalyze everything. I have trouble with people because I have to think about what I’m going to say and analyze what’s said back to me. It took me a good long while before I could get to a point in my life where an impromptu conversation felt natural.
So what’s the benefit to being smart? Not much, I say. Being smart sucks.
I’m thankful I’m genuinely not genius caliber, because I have to imagine that’d be f’in miserable.