The Trouble with “Smart”

Tell me if this resonates with you.

I’ve been called ‘smart’ my whole life.

I hate it.

“You’re so smart” discounts any effort I make about educating myself, learning things, questioning assumptions.  It narrows it down to merely a trait, over which we have very little conscious control.

“You have brown hair” … “You’re so smart”.

It can be intended as a compliment, or a communication of disappointment.  “You’re so smart, why did you do this dumb thing?”

It raises expectations and makes failure a lot more perilous, because its becomes less about trying something lightly and moving on if it doesn’t work and more about (say it with me now, those of you who’ve ever had a report card) “Not living up their potential”

Great. So if I try something and I’m not good at it right off the bat, I disappoint those who care about me, who have high expectations of me (including myself)? Well then, I’d better not do things that I don’t already know that I’d be good at.

And the world becomes small.

It turns out this is an actual thing amongst kids praised for their smarts rather than their effort, and not just me being crazy.

But I think there’s a secret to this whole “smart” thing.

The thing I’ve noticed about others who are perceived as smart is this: It’s not about knowing stuff.  It’s about being able to connect seemingly unrelated things at speed.

“Smart” is all about pattern matching.

And the best way to learn how to see the connections between otherwise unrelated parts of the world is to be curious.

But I’ve done plenty of writing about curiosity already.

So maybe I’m not Smart.

Maybe I’ve trained myself to see connections.

Thats a much more interesting thing to be, and do, and a conscious choice.

It gives one credit for their own brain.