Growing up, I really valued being smart. My parents are smart, my sisters are smart, my friends are smart, and I was expected to be smart.
Looking back and breaking it down, I’m trying to figure out, well, what exactly does it mean to be smart, really? To my parents I think it meant good judgment, good work and making good decisions… doing the right things. As kids, that translated to getting top grades to get into a good university and then a stable and financially lucrative career. My high school friends were all clever, funny, successful and creative. They became successful businesspeople or high achieving entrepreneurs, maybe journalists, published authors, high level professionals in blue chip companies. They are highly regarded in their fields.
I can see now that we were a bit snobby about intelligence. We felt that being well read, informed about the world, multilingual, logical, progressive and urban were very important indicators of intelligence. And that intelligence somehow made us better human beings. We looked down on those who were not as smart, who did not have common sense and who could not keep up.
As an adult who is today celebrating my nearly half a century as a human being, I can see that the more I know, the more I know how little I know. Now, as I work with super smart people at work, I feel less smart. My arrogance as a young person has been replaced with humility as an older person.
Nothing is simple, everything is interlinked and problems can be very complicated. Plus… people can be smart differently and can contribute in the weirdest of ways.
Also… being smart does not necessarily translate into success or happiness. With mental health issues becoming more mainstream to discuss, I can see how my recent struggles with mental health are quite normal… to be expected even!
It’s about control (or lack there of). It’s about expectations versus reality. It’s about resilience and bouncing back from adversity. It’s about voices in our heads telling us what to believe about ourselves. It’s about finding joy and experiencing love. Being smart doesn’t always translate into being mentally healthy. In fact, thinking we are smart and expecting others to be smart in the same way causes stress and anxiety for them as well as for us.
When we knowingly wink and say ‘well, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer’, we are assuming that someone is a knife and that a knife should be sharp. C’mon. We all know that’s not true. There are so many other tools in that drawer and there are knives that are fabulous because they are not sharp.
The next time someone tells me that another person is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I’m going to respond: Maybe he’s a spoon. If you used him for his spoon properties, I’ll bet he could do a great job.
So let’s help people, including ourselves, figure out who they are and what they are meant to do, rather than all try to be the sharpest knife in that proverbial drawer.