I remember sitting at my desk in school, looking at the exam questions, and wishing I was the smartest person in the world. I had this fantasy of never having to study, never having to do hours and hours of homework, and never having to turn down a social invitation because I had a project that was due.
But, alas and alack, I wasn’t the smartest person in the world and I had to study relentlessly if I wanted to get good grades. As for never having to turn down a social invitation because I had a project that was due, this was a twofold dilemma.
First of all, I spent so many hours in the library that, if they could have put a bed in there and charged me rent, they would have. And second of all, I was so shy that I didn’t have many social invitations.
What I did have, were classmates who wanted to study with me or who I wanted to study with, so that kind of made up for the lack of people who wanted to socialize with me.
My family thought I was popular because classmates were always at my house studying with me or I was at their houses. I don’t think it occurred to them that my study partners had a social life and I only had a study life.
What they saw was that I had several friends who were at the top of the class, were a good influence on me, and that I developed good study habits and didn’t get into trouble.
Well, at least not too much trouble other than standing in a high school picket line holding up placards demanding more pay for our overworked teachers. I was only able to join the other kids with their placards for a very brief time because my father made me cross the picket line and return to school.
When I got to college, suddenly my perspective changed.
I was in classes with brainiacs. They were so smart they made my head spin. It was intimidating. My old study partners were gone and I didn’t have new ones. I never wanted to speak up in class and certainly, never volunteered to do so.
I also refused to let other students see my completed assignments. I preferred to let them think I was dumb than to let them see what I was turning in. I went with the variation of it being better to remain silent, as well as not letting them see what I had written, and be thought stupid than to open my mouth or show them my work and remove all doubt.
And then one day something happened to let in a little sliver of understanding. One of the brainiacs asked me a question about a girl who he was interested in and asked me if I had any suggestions about how to go about asking her for a date.
At that precise moment I lost my shyness and my feelings about not being smart enough, and I gave him dating advice. I might also admit here that I didn’t have the expertise to give that kind of advice since I wasn’t allowed to go on dates until I was sixteen, and even that had to be in couples or in a group.
What I did have was an understanding of human nature which I assume was acquired as a result of being an observer of life rather than as a participant. What I also didn’t realize at the time was that this was going to be the foundation of my future career.
The brainiac did ask the girl for a date. He didn’t ask to be my study partner but he did come back for more advice. Little by little, other students came to me for advice for all sorts of things and that contributed to my further understanding that just because a person was brainy, that didn’t mean he could think.
What?? A brainiac not thinking?
As difficult as it is to imagine, I discovered that a person could be book smart without being street smart. He could have an encyclopedic memory but not know how to solve his own social problems. He could recite facts and figures but not know how to tap into the creative part of himself to come up with a Plan B or a Plan C. He could not strategize on a social level even if he could strategize military warfare.
Later in life, I heard a doctor say of a nurse he was interviewing, “I’d rather hire someone who had a B average than someone who had an A average.” When I asked him why he didn’t prefer the nurse who had an A average he said that in his experience it was the person with the B average who had to think faster and come up with creative solutions for taking care of patients and figuring out what they need and how to go about providing that care quickly and efficiently.
That was a “burning learning” for me. From that moment on, I started to gravitate toward people who had good thinking skills rather than toward people who knew a lot. It became more important to me to be around people who could figure out what to do in a crisis than to be around people who could recite textbooks of information.
To this day, I’m more impressed with people who can show me how they reached a conclusion rather than show me the conclusion they reached.