My musings on...

Don't call people intelligent

In the tapestry of my life, through my teenage years & early adulthood, authority figures consistently painted me with labels like 'smart', 'bright' or 'intelligent'. While such accolades may seem harmless, I've come to realize the potential harm in consistently telling an impressionable person that they are inherently intelligent.

During my formative years in primary and secondary education, success seemed to follow me effortlessly. I had to put in very little effort to learn & achieve. As long as I paid attention during classes & asked questions I was interested in, I was able to achieve top grades without breaking a sweat. When it came time to revise, study or do other dedicated learning work I had to do nothing & as a result I put no effort into doing these things.

This continued into my twenties, but at this stage of my life, it became a double-edged sword. I was now in University studying Physics & was no longer able to achieve just by being present & attentive. Suddenly, my accustomed approach of simply being present and attentive no longer sufficed. I stumbled, fell behind, and ultimately graduated with a 2.2 (50-60% mark equivalent), a stark deviation from my high-achieving past. By my terms this was undoubtedly a failure as throughout my entire life until this point I was always a high achiever & someone to whom education & learning came easily.

By my own admission, I was lazy & unable to accept help from others, because to accept help from others would be an admission that I wasn't 'the smart, intelligent one' & would go against everything I had been told in my life until this point. I had developed a complex.

It took many years of self-discovery, psychedelics, depression & therapy for me to appreciate this & to start to self-mend this complex. For much of my early adulthood, I avoided challenges or anything that hinted at potential failure, stifling my personal growth and clouding my enjoyment of life.

I found myself imprisoned by societal expectations, driven by ambition but living in stern unhappiness and anger.

It was much easier for me to stick in my comfort zone of only doing things that I knew or assumed I would be good at. This did not include socialising, making friends or otherwise being a social creature & I'd say that I can still be socially awkward today as a result.

Gradually, and with much personal effort, I began to look at the world in a different way. I was able to appreciate the little things in life & was no longer so hell-bent on achieving my definition of success, which involved career success, lots of money & an early retirement. I could enjoy the way wheat flows together as a strong wind blows through it, marvel at the myriad species of fungi that inhabit this earth, turning dead, rotting wood & undergrowth into new life & appreciate the nuances in the differences of the personalities in the people around me.

It's intriguing, at least to me, that I 'perform' well in structured social environments such as team-building exercises or presentations because I have a defined goal to work towards or something I have to convince or share with others. However, if you put me in an unstructured environment like a typical networking get-together or similar, I don't know what to do or say & I get in my head. This emerged from a pattern of avoiding what I wasn't naturally adept at or where failure was a possibility.

Reflecting on my life journey now, I'm grateful that I struggled so much at university. If success had come easily, I might have entered my career with a mindset that required unraveling later in life.

I propose a shift in the way we praise those we care about. Rather than hinging compliments on terms like 'smart' or 'intelligent,' let's celebrate hard work, determination, and resilience. It's through these qualities that we can truly recognize achievements and instill a robust value system for the future.

As I anticipate the arrival of my first child, I'm committed to reframing praise. I won't label them as 'smart' or 'beautiful,' but I'll cherish and commend their conscientiousness and hard work. This, I believe, will pave the way for a fulfilling and resilient life ahead.

I'd like to acknowledge my companion while creating this article, ChatGPT. While the content of this story is true to my life as I remember it, ChatGPT helped me in crafting it into an engaging text that I hope you enjoy.