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How to deal with being a Smart Kid

By April 13, 2016 No Comments

If you’re reading this, chances are that you are quite a bit smarter than the average bear. Your first reaction to this headline was probably “What do you mean ‘deal with’? Being smart is a good thing, why would I have to ‘deal with’ it??”  But as I realized a while ago– after alienating and pissing off a lot of people with my lack of self-awareness– being smart is a double-edged sword.

Yes, being smart is a gift. But if you’re not careful it can also end up being a shitty curse. On one hand, solutions to tricky problems likely come easier to you than they do to 99% of the population. On the other hand, dealing with people is probably not so easy for you and you may have already shot yourself in the foot a few times by being a little too smart for your own good (god knows I have, a million times).

A couple things I want to stress up front here so people don’t take this the wrong way

  • Being smart doesn’t make you better than anyone. It’s largely a gift like athleticism or inheriting a bunch of money, and it makes no sense to feel superior about something that was given to you.
  • I don’t actually think being smart is even that important or valuable. Having good people skills is far more important to getting things done, and much more likely to make you a happy person

With the above caveats, here’s some things you’re probably going to run into as a “smart kid,” and how I suggest you deal with them:

YOU WILL OFTEN BE UNDERUTILIZED AND BORED AT WORK
You’re probably going to find yourself in jobs where you feel antsy and restless because you’re not challenged and you feel like your skills aren’t being used– like you could being doing way more, if only the bosses would let you. And you’re probably right about that– you probably COULD be doing more.

But you CANNOT LET IT GET TO YOU! Frustration is the kiss of death for many smart people’s careers, turning them into disgruntled employees who alienate themselves from everyone else. The single worst possible thing you could ever do for your career is to get a rep as being that guy/girl who thinks their too good for their job.

You can and should ask for more responsibility at work (always framing it in terms of how it will help the company, not in terms of “I’m bored”), but you should also learn how to shut up and go with the flow.

Oftentimes your best move is to do no more and no less than you’re asked to do. I know this sounds crazy to a lot of smart kids, but it’s the truth: the low-maintenance people who just get their shit done are extremely valuable and tend to be the ones that get promoted.

Learn how to quiet that nagging voice inside that says “They don’t know how valuable you are! You should be doing so much more!!!” That voice is NOT your friend, and in most cases if you quit your job you’ll only run into the same problem somewhere else so your only real move is to learn how to deal with it.

YOU WILL USUALLY BE RIGHT, BUT NOBODY WILL CARE
Another voice that you need to shut down is the one that says “Why won’t any of these idiots listen to me?! I’m trying to help them but these morons won’t listen! Fuck these guys.”

Because you’re smart, you will usually see the solution to a problem earlier than everyone else. And no matter how hard you try to explain it to them, they’re probably not going to listen. Deal with it. Getting heated about it will only make people dig in their heels even further, so just let it go. GENTLY state your opinion- “Hey guys, one thing we may want to consider here is [your two cents],” then let it go.

Also, learn when to recognize the times where you AREN’T right. These are likely to be situations that rely on high emotional intelligence like sales pitches. Emotional intelligence is a completely different beast, and it’s likely that you are lower than average in that department. So learn to listen to the people who ARE gifted with emotional intelligence.

As my mom used to say, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Pick one.”

PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU’RE AN ARROGANT DICK EVEN THOUGH YOU AREN’T
I found this one out the hard way many times in my career. What it comes down to is that people REALLY do not like feeling stupid, and it’s easy to inadvertently make people feel dumb. There are a couple ways to avoid it:

Think very carefully before sharing an opinion, especially when that opinion is pointing out a flaw in someone else’s reasoning/plan/idea. Is this is a make-or-break situation, where the project will go down in flames if you don’t point out the issue? If not, it might be better just to keep your mouth shut. You don’t want people to think you’re a petty nitpicker who enjoys pointing out others’ mistakes.

Do you REALLY need to say something? If not, don’t.

When you do share your opinions or point out a potential problem with someone’s plan/idea/whatever, make a conscious effort to do it as mildly as possible. A funny thing happens where opinions are perceived much more strongly than we think they are– so if you are expressing something at what you think is a 2/10 intensity, it will come across as 4/10 intensity.

IN SUMMARY

  • Being a smart kid has just as many downsides as it does upsides, maybe more
  • Don’t listen to those internal voices that want you to be frustrated!
  • Think twice before sharing your opinions
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re right, it only matters whether people like you

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