12 November 2006

I R Smrt?

I am a smart guy. Relatively, I mean - certainly above average. Now, before people switch off and denounce this entry as me blowing my own trumpet: it is not. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It's always other people that tell me I'm clever, that I'm really sharp and well above averagely clever. And I just don't see it. I can accept above average - after all, I'm just completing a PhD, have a Masters with Distinction to my name, a good but unspectacular first degree and so on, as well as being relatively "with it" - versed in current events, politics et cetera well enough to discuss them beyond the depth of many (but shallow indeed compared to truly interested parties).

But other people I've worked with or known have generally held me to a higher standard than I'd ever hold myself. I don't get it. These thoughts were re-visited a night or few ago during a conversation with my mother that somehow ended up with us talking about my very early childhood. Apparently a lot of my behaviour at a young age was very odd, driven by frustration of not understanding or being understood by other kids my age and I was always ahead of the game. I was taken to a child psychologist at 4, apparently, and to hear my mother say it the verdict was something along the lines of my being more like an 8 year old in terms of mental capacity (I've asked her for copies if the reports if she can find them).

I coasted through school, but never felt smarter than anyone else. I coasted and got good, but not special, grades. Plenty of people did far better than me, plenty of people worked harder than me. Somewhere along the line my mother says I learnt to hide my ability in order to fit in; it makes sense in principle, as kids are cruel to those who are different, and the geek, the nerd or the precocious is not far from the top of that list. I was smart, reading ahead of my years and so forth but I don't remember being brilliant or overly tempering myself.

Nor do I have any recollection of tempering myself beyond primary school. Sure, I never worked hard, instead always doing just enough to scrape by and still (on the whole) do well. I guess this might have given the impression that I was too clever by half but lazy and nonchalant, but I never really heard much from anyone - or if I did I cannot recall it - positive or negative about my intelligence or lack thereof.

It was really the first year of university when it surfaced. I would end up running practicals for friends, being the one people turned to for explanations outside of lectures and things. I just continued coasting on, never overly exerting or stressing myself and getting things done. I've heard comments on my brightness since then from friends from those times and since, and each time it has just seemed to me that they were either seeing something that I don't see in myself, that they were just trying to build me up (I have perennial self-image and self-confidence issues) or, worse, doing themselves down by comparison.

None of this overly registered though... the odd comments here and there and people thinking more of my intelligence than I ever have is one thing. Then, a couple of months ago on the day of my PhD viva voce my industrial supervisor made a comment: that I was one of the brightest students he'd ever worked with. That just floored me; I'd hardly been the most applied student ever and now, at the sharp end of the wedge, just muddling by doesn't cut it. But clearly he saw something that gave that impression. I've considered the possibility he could have been humouring me on the day, but there was no real reason for him to do so, and I'd found him to be a "speak your mind" kind of a chap before so it doesn't really fit.

At the end of the day though I just don't get why people think I'm that bright, that clever or that intelligent. I don't see it, I never have. I wonder if somehow I blag it, subconsciously conning people into thinking I'm smart; I certainly don't hoodwink folk on that score deliberately. But I've never been a good bullshitter.

I'm not all that clever really. I'd just like to understand why people seem to think I am.


Garry G said...

I get this quite a bit as well and it's weird for me since I'm a dropout and a'hing. OTOH one of the people who's labelled me as 'smart' is you probably for many of the reasons I'd say the same of you. Then again I like smart peeps which is why I like you around and adore Rosa.

Saying that I admire truly intelligent gits like yourself. You do deserve your achievements mate and I hate it when self-doubt fucks you up. In other words you wind me up rotten ye wee glaikit git.

Graham said...


Yeah, I've worked for what I've got and deserve that - no arguments there. But that kind of smart isn't really what I refer to.

It's the stretch between that and "truly intelligent" that I don't get. In other words I don't think getting academic qualifications per se depicts or guaruntees one to be "truly intelligent."

And smart goes well beyond qualifications IMO. Common sense, awareness of the world around you and capacity to comprehend (if not know) are much more relevant IMO - and you have that in spades. Plus the "conventional" smarts to achieve the various qualifications if you wanted to ;)