A Little Known, Sad Truth About Smart People

I wrote a post on Quora not too long ago answering the question:

What is the saddest truth about smart people?

Although there were many, many answers, most of them tended to be the same.

Here are the top 3 answers that people tended to give

  1. Social Isolation/Loneliness
  2. Frustration
  3. Extreme Self-criticism
Sometimes the only way forward is to walk alone. (Photo taken by myself)

And, after reading what others had to say, I could agree with almost all their points. The thing is, no one seemed to point out one of the most obvious points that I really thought everyone faced. And since no one did, I decided to write, and well, here it is.

So, saddest truths about smart people?

Actually I have a couple I would like to point out, and, though they may not be the saddest truths, they are the two that bother me quite a lot.

Here they are:

  1. You have to constantly fight your own narcissistic instincts to not feel that you’re better than others, which sometimes leads you to, ironically, feel less than others.
  2. If you can recognize yourself as smart, or as others might put it, “above average” or even “greatly above average”, it’s almost as if you are forcibly pressured by society to be successful.

Now, these two points do relate in a sense, but I’d like to briefly expand on both of them.

So the first one.

Let me explain, and to start off, let’s preface with this statement. It takes somewhat of a slightly narcissistic individual to feel that they have the authority to answer the question “What are the saddest truths about smart people?” And why is that? Because by answering the question, especially using experiences from your own life, you sort of say “Hi, if you are reading my answer, then I have self proclaimed myself to be better than average, and am part of the elite group of intellectuals called ‘Smart people’.”

And okay, so you’re calling yourself better than average? No big deal, and there’s much worse things you can say or do. But here’s where the problem comes in….. I feel as if the smartest people do become so vastly diverse in the amount of knowledge they collect and learn because they can admit to themselves that they don’t know everything, and there’s a lot left to learn, no matter how much of an “expert” he or she might be. They are inherently humble in the way they approach life…..buuuuuuuuttt…. you might be seeing where the problem is coming in.

The problem?

Well here it is. If you are humble, you can and do recognize you are not better than anyone else, though in order to call yourself “smart”, you, in other words, are saying you’re better than others. That’s because the vast majority of people fall in the average range of intellectual capacity and you are saying you’re above that vast majority. It’s this internal struggle that you fight with yourself, and in order to admit their is a problem, you become the very thing you try to avoid being.

What makes it worse is when you try to explain the problem to other people who may not be as smart as you, (trying not to sound narcissistic here, really I am) they often will look at you and think you are just full of yourself and need to get off your high horse, and the problem you’re thinking of is just part of your own self-conceited imagination.

*face palm*

man old depressed headache

I guess, better to stay quiet then and deal with this problem silently by myself.

Now the second problem

The pressure to be successful. Don’t you hate it when other people call you smart? I mean, I do. I know it’s a well intended compliment, but when another individual calls me smart, it’s almost like he’s actually saying, “oh you have the capacity to do well in life, better than I have, and if you don’t do well, you’ve basically wasted your life with your intellectual gift.”

So what does this do? It makes me question. Everything. Every little part of my current, past, and future.

I will question why have I not amounted to what these people say I can amount to? I ask myself, have I been wasting my life so far since everyone keeps saying I’m this “smart” person? And finally, probably the worst of them all…. What if I never live up to the potential other people see in me?

Right now, I’m working an average job, making an average income, but people are saying I’m going to do so much more? When? How? Why are you pressuring me?

This one is hard. Really hard. What makes it even harder is when you bring in the first problem, that in order to admit yourself to being smart, you have to inherently admit you’re better than other people. It’s bad enough you have to fight your internal dialogue telling yourself you’re smart, but now you have to weigh in on the supporting statements that other people are telling you as well?

And then, at the end of the day, you wished you were average, oh but again that’s such a narcissistic thing to say isn’t it? Because what makes you think that you’re better than anyone else?

thanks for reading,

Cory von Seggern