Underachieving Smart People – Understanding Their Struggles To Succeed

“If you’re so smart, how come making it in the real world is so hard for you?” Only a few would ever say that out loud, of course – but a lot of people think it.

We’re not all agreed on what “very smart” even means, but we do know more than ever that the term “intelligence” gets at something that is real, a big part of which is biological, and efforts to measure it are getting ever more sophisticated – despite how elusive its essence might be.

We’ve all learned that intelligence isn’t the only asset that counts toward success, but it’s also just as obvious that an awful lot of successful people are very smart. What’s harder to make sense of is the existence of that small, yet persistent, group of people out there: very smart people who don’t seem to be going anywhere.

What can be so maddening is that the lack of intelligence can be such an obvious impediment, while it’s not clear at all why high intelligence should ever be an obstacle. So, just what is it in the mind of a very smart person that causes problems?

One thread may simply be that some of those very smart folks simply enjoy the way their mind works to the point that they don’t much notice or care that they haven’t landed in some sort of lucrative economic position. They’re oblivious.

More common, I’m afraid, are the very smart people who, far from oblivious, still fail to connect with something solid and suffer, to a greater or lesser degree, because of it. The question remains, How does this happen? Why hasn’t high intelligence resulted, finally, in at least minimal connection to the grid?

Fear of failure is the obvious one, because failure will puncture their iron grip on a version of themselves they hold so dear – the misunderstood, undiscovered genius/artist – and possibly expose them to judgment and embarrassment at the hands of mere mortals.

Fear of success is another thread, and gets at the disruption of the “now” that might come when finally required to focus and function, produce a work product on someone else’s timetable, and possibly become the very person you’ve promised yourself never to become. It’s a hassle, man.

Some very smart people are selectively smart about inanimate or abstract things, which can also render them clueless about the real world out there – how to behave, show awareness of feelings, social intelligence, etc.

On the other hand, some are actually pretty clued-in (even acutely so sometimes), know a great deal about feelings (theirs as well as others’), yet are still laid low, paralyzed, easily hurt, and become isolated either by their own volition, the rejection of others, or a combination of both.

Still others are not so loveable and are even more isolated. They brood at home, smoke a lot of weed, hold marginal jobs, and are chronically un- or under-employed. They just don’t connect to people in ways that sustain relationships.

Some very smart people do have loving parents, but very often the parents have their own version of the same problems, and turn out to not have been much help guiding their children through the modern world up to now.

Functioning normally involves an integration of cognition and “emotion management” that we tend to take for granted – unless we don’t have it. It boils down to that implacable truth of the human condition (even the “very smart” human condition): it’s really all about our feelings, and the illusions we invest in, and cling to so stubbornly in order to see ourselves the way we think we need to.

Sure, the narrative about the social clique rejecting the nice but slightly quirky outsider is a cliché, but it’s true often enough to need to be taken very seriously. The hurt from feeling like a weird outsider is real and destructive.

And some turn that rejection around, of course, and lock into insisting to themselves they’re choosing failure, rejecting the world and success because their special-ness is not recognized. Many people make themselves very sick by giving in to that one. It can be so sad.

If the individual in question is willing to get help, that’s a real leg up. Psychotherapy can be just what’s needed, but so many have not connected with that process.  There’s also personal Coaching or consulting, or a stimulating Adult Ed class, or something like an Outward Bound trip. You never know, but action can’t be underestimated.

But if they still resist all suggestions and urgings, then it’s the loved ones who need, and shouldn’t hesitate to get,  help:  help with managing conflict, help keeping channels open and hope alive, and – very importantly – help with permission to  have their own lives.

Shaun’s note: This is my most commented upon post – see those comments below. I’ve also written about this topic here.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle

I have to say, of all the comments, the one that has me rolling with laughter is definitely Andy’s. Your hypothesis is hysterical, although
You may not have intended it to be, I also find it amazing!

You would be happy, maybe, to know, that I am one of those individuals whose DNA was encoded with EWEB…I GET IT…My pursuits and interests are of NO use in the corporate world, or for that matter, any endeavor that would require a business minded pursuit! In other words I have HATED, with a passion, any work that has required me to become involved with mainstream bullshit. I am NOT wired like most! I am not proud of this in any way, it has, for the most part, left me feeling very inadequate, I just never felt like I have ever fit into that mold.
I am by NO mean an intellectual genius, but I am above average in intelligence, however, considered more creative than academic. I was a nurse out of necessity to eat and feed my daughter, as her sole provider, but hated every minute of it! I also have a BS in social work, and my degrees are hanging on my bathroom wall.
I am currently employed in the care of my mother, who has dementia, and I am happy to say, I would rather clean her ass, than ever have to deal with another soulless employer and fellow employee! My passion is food, cooking, art, and writing…hahahahah, hence my personality trait toward EWEB , has significantly diminished my ability to ever succeed in the great big grown up world of financial success.
If you are ever looking for subjects to test your hypothesis on…I am available!!! Hehehe

CitizenScholar

I posted an answer before that was about smartness not being enough because social networking counts for more than individual ability, but I really like the EWEB answer. That’s just awesome. Basically, most smart people are deep enough to realize that life is about more than just material gain? Whereas dumb people buy into all the capitalist propaganda. 🙂 Haha.

You might be interested to learn that high IQ in the gifted range is only associated with between 6 and 18k dollars more per year in increased median income, and for some reason high IQ people are big spenders. So there’s no correlation or even perhaps a negative correlation between high IQ and net worth. Beyond this, the correlation between IQ and income is really pretty weak, at .297. The correlation between IQ and income is about as strong as the correlation between parental income and child income, which also isn’t very strong.

https://statistics.laerd.com/statistical-guides/img/pearson-2.png
(Here’s an image that shows you what that means.)

References:

Do you have to be smart to be rich? The impact of IQ on wealth,
income and financial distress
Jay L. Zagorsky
Center for Human Resource Research, The Ohio State University, 921 Chatham Lane, Suite 100, Columbus, OH 43221, USA
Received 1 August 2006; received in revised form 8 February 2007; accepted 17 February 2007
Available online 28 March 2007

http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2014/01/how-much-inequality-does-parental.html

Fletch

Wow, the first comment here was May 7, 2012 and the one before this one was February 24, 2014. I read the first couple of comments and thought about commenting to Jonathan and I still will though I suspect he has long forgotten about this post and comments.

I’m an expert on this underachieving intelligence thing. (humor alert I have a very dry sense of humor) My story is not unlike many here of conflict between intelligence and failure. Unfortunately I didn’t know about the intelligence part till about 8 months ago when I found out I have a high IQ through testing I wasn’t aware would test my IQ. I’m 62. Imagine finding out at 62. Now I’m trying to figure out what this means in my life since there are similarities but all people with a high IQ tend to be rather different from each other. I’ve got the failure part and depression part down to an established life style. The good part is I am more optimistic about whatever lies ahead if I can ever figure out what having an IQ means for me.

Now to Jonathan, No great words of wisdom, just that I could follow if not understand your comment. I won’t claim to understand all of what you said about your life. I’m not quite that arrogant (yet). I just want to say you aren’t alone and most of the advice is worth less than the good intentions that prompt it. I think you can harvest a few nuggets that will fit with your life though.

I’ll have to take some more time to read through the rest of the comments here. I got distracted when I got curious if people were still commenting after such a long time. Glad to see people are still being helped by this post.

I would like everyone here with challenges with being different to know you aren’t alone. For nearly 2 years we intelligent types (whatever that means) keep finding this and we bare our souls and share out lives to strangers. I feel there is some value to this, but it will be different for each of us. We are all different after all.

Fletch

Fletch

Now I notice “Citizen Scholar” has links to statistics and Greg Mankiw. I don’t know anyone, but me who does either. Most people don’t get the statistics, but Greg Mankiw who is the Chairman of the Economics Department at Harvard is very readable by real people (not just econ types who like to show off talking econ jargon). I’m not saying I agree with everything he says, but he is reasonable and thoughtful and thought provoking in a good way.

I’m impressed Citizen Scholar, a tip of the hat to you.

Fletch

Thomas

Well Jonathan it seems to me we are both in the same predicament. Unlike most on here though I don’t have a answer and if I did i highly doubt it would be god. What a easy answer religion is. I’m sorry, but to “find god” seems like such a cop out. Life’s a bitch and very few if any one will understand you unless your a delusional sheep that joins the cult that is religion. We are all misunderstood to some degree and people know this and take advantage of it everyday. Grow some balls and talk to some real people out there, you will be amazed at how many feel the same way despite their intellectual level. Look, you are lazy like most of us. Problem is finding something worth putting the effort into and religion isn’t one of those things. Unless you would rather be a zombie than a dis allusioned loner. Me I choose loner.

Rubster

I would like to add to your article.

Some very smart people are convinced that no matter what you do, want to do, wish to achieve, desire will not be the answer for happiness, ignorance is a bless and this world have reached a very disappointing state where humanity is in question. What is the point, make load of money, be famous, even be loved is pointless.. labels, labels and uninteresting brainwashed world system..#
I will now go back to my natural mind comforter, smart enough to know weed is hypnotizing and hibernating to ones existence but once again.. so what ? the world is not waiting for me to change it.

Tsholofelo

I have always passed my modules until this year, I study so hard and yet I still fail. This has made me so emotional, I cry most of the time. I spend most of my time alone, I feel so lonely sometimes, feel like no one cares about me. I’ve even become suicidal, one minute I tell myself it’s still early and I can make sure I pass my upcoming tests but the next minute I just feel like there’s no use ’cause “I’m going to fail anyway.” I’m so desperate for help, this isn’t me at all…

Bullfrog

Wow. What astounding life this thread has. When I began reading it at 2:30am last night I assumed it would be long dead in real time, but not so! I haven’t read half of it yet, but I have skimmed all of it.

I certainly fit the bill, yet my story is quite different from any of yours and I don’t know that I want to tell my whole story, as we are all probably too lazy and self-entered to want to read it, but you will be interested in what I have to say. And I would like to summarize the things I want to offer you briefly here and perhaps go into more detail in a later post. I don’t want to waste my time. I have a lot to do.

1) what is achievement? I have a Ph.D. from famous school, I speak many languages, I have studied more than a few disciplines to an advanced level, I have spent most of my adult life as a professor, I have written about a 1000 pages of ground-breaking research which remains never submitted for publication, and I am prolific composer, but at 45 yo I have never had more than a few thousand dollars in my bank account, I am un-married and childless (which is not what I want), I have few friends, and I am now about to choose unemployment again in the effort to find a job and place I can be happy in. So, again, what is achievement?

2) I would wager that many of the people who have posted on this blog are para-autistic, if not very autistic. Autism is a developmental disorder, which means that it becomes less detectable as one grows older, and it may easily be masked by high intelligence, especially in the eyes of parents and teachers who are awed and intimidated by high IQ children.

3) We must learn to differentiate between the intelligence of our whole brain-minds, and the stupidity of our conscious personalities. Most human beings are like retarded monkeys piloting super-intelligent robot vehicles. Highly self-aware people a little less so. But all of us have the problem that our conscious minds are dominated by bad programming. Luckily human beings have the astounding, and perhaps unique among terrestrial creatures, ability to change our programming. Which I am currently working on, for myself.

4) Weed can make you feel good and inspire you, but it will also have negative repercussions in the long run. It does make you lazy and anti-social, and if you already have mood disorder, it can make it much worse. Much worse. Trust me.

5) There can be absolutely no doubt that each one of us posting on this blog has the potential to achieve greatness in whatever terms we define that. however it will require a great deal of self-evolution (re-programming being at least a big part of that), original problem solving, and hard work. I will not say it is a choice because if your programming is bad enough you may be practically unable to make the choice to work that way. However you are not stuck because you are not alone. Perhaps even reading one person’s words can be enough to give you the psychological edge you have needed to begin changing in positive ways.

I could probably write 1000 pages right now on these issues! But, as I said I have a lot to do, so I’m going to leave it at that for the moment. I prefer conversations to monologues.

Shaun Kieran

Thank you, Bullfrog, for your kind words and sage comments. This thread has been a surprise from its inception.

Amat

We are all simply RIGHT brained.

Felix

Really interesting reading all your comments, and very comforting I share a lot of the same views/problems as all of you. I am only 24 but have this constant feeling I am under achieving I cant seem to get away from, I had a child very young and didn’t go to university, however that didn’t stop me getting a good job, even though its paid reasonably well I too feel like I am making absolutely no difference to society. The Big question for me is WHAT to do, I have lots of hobbies and interests some of which I have tried to pursue for a time to see if there is a career in it for me, but whenever I start to get somewhere I get lazy and lose interest I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Both my parents are incredibly successful business people I didn’t spend a lot of time with them growing up I had a nanny, this made me very independent from an early age and I was really well travelled so I was acutely aware of what was out there beyond my home reality. I don’t know if its the same for some of you but I always get called ”personable” I have always been able to get what I want out of people and manipulate situations to my benefit very easily, my teachers at school said I was astonishingly arrogant, I can meet someone for the first time and very quickly find some common ground we share and get them on side. I don’t really fit myself into any particular ”class bracket” I have friends who other people would consider to be the dregs of society, friends who are football hooligans and thugs, and then I have friends who are bankers and earn 6 figure salaries I am absolutely comfortable with either sets. Again another point made I completely understand is this non-acceptance of how society works that I am supposed to go through this routine of working 5 days a week until I retire, this could not sound any more unappealing to me. I love my son more than I can explain but I have always wanted to travel, and by travel I mean just leave, go around see absolutely everything, but because I have him I cant leave and feel anchored. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, it was useful just to write it all down though, and see there are other people out there with the same sort of thoughts. Cheers.

Gmonk

My intelligence lies in knowing that, in the end, competing with ego-driven idiots is simply a waste of time.

With a roof over my head, enough to eat and a loving partner and family I know I have all that’s needed for a happy life.

Jo

Id like to start by saying that im aware that spelling and grammar arnt my strong points and obviously alot of people who have commented are on my level when it comes to not wanting to sound big headed. Im not going to try and dress up my post with big words to try and prove my intelligence because i feel quite comfortable writing this, having read a few of the comments ( planning on reading the rest this evening) i think that alot of you have a simular mindset to me, so im quite comfortable. I think interacting with eachother, maybe even having some sort of forum would benefit alot of us.
i think i lack consistant motivation and mental stimulation, also the weed has had a hold on me, as a form of escape (which i have concluded on after hours upon nights upon weeks upon years of deep hard thought into the matter) how can i be intelligent if i do something so stupid? the solutions are all there, but why solve anything? what really is the point. i’ve even thought into why i dont care about where the solutions will take me, and its because iv given up on fullfillment. I feel empty. I know i am fully capable of getting a competitive job and working my way to the top, and i feel like im the best at most things most the time *cringe* having said that, im also aware that theres not much competition for me most of the time and i am not ignorant enough to feel like the most intelligent person in the room if i were amongst, how do i put it, people in a higher iq world. I feel alot of it is comman sense , i find the world frustrating and stressfull. i have perfect social skills 80% of the time which have been perfected by over analyzing every situation and constantly being on guard of what im saying by considering all possible negative outcomes, i found smiling to be a fantastic shield, people like confident happy harmlessly dim people, they dont like in depth, lazy know it all failures. the other 20% of the time im a social mess. i let the real me slip out for a second, and although i know what im saying is right, usually who i talking to isnt intelligant enough for it to make sense to, and i can tell they think im wierd. i think i have a natural talent for reading peoples body language, in fact i think i have a naturaly talent for most things which iv decided is the result of my curse of over analyzing everything, if iv thought about something, iv thought about it for a very long time, maybe its a an obsession to figure things out i have. i was always very good at maths even though i spent more time entertaining people at school than i ever did reading textbooks, i could work things out myself and i can honestly say i never did a piece of homework, which i have decided is because i am intelligent enough to get out of most things. the things i got away with at school were impressive, maybe thats what links intelligence to laziness. we can get away with it from an early age, and the earlier the easier, age is an advantage with intelligence. so we do. then what do we learn? what path of mindset are we sending ourselves down from children. anyways i could go on for hours, i think as we’ve all learned from commenting, it really does help to talk about it, well with people who understand and dont just think your weird and i cant explain how refreshing it would be to talk to people who get it, and this is as close as iv gotten so thanks!

Max

Most smart under-achievers are enlightened. Most smart over-achievers have not reached Enlightenment yet 🙂
There is not just intellectual and emotional intelligence, there is also spiritual intelligence, and spiritually smart people know the spiritual consequences and backlash from participating in a soulless system.
Like probably most people here, I have no problem with success, monetary or otherwise, but I have a huge problem with corrupt systems. Most smart under-achievers I know fail on purpose to flip off and rebel against the corrupt system. They rather die or be homeless, than to be part of a corrupt, enslaving and destructive system.

“Sapere aude”! – Dare to be wise!

” What Is Enlightenment? – Kant answers the question in the first sentence of the essay: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” He argues that the immaturity is self-inflicted not from a lack of understanding, but from the lack of courage to use one’s reason, intellect, and wisdom without the guidance of another. He exclaims that the motto of enlightenment is “Sapere aude”! – Dare to be wise!

The German word “Unmündigkeit” means not having attained age of majority or legal adulthood. “Unmündig” also means “dependent” or “unfree”, and another translation is “tutelage” or “nonage” (the condition of “not [being] of age”). Kant, whose moral philosophy is centred around the concept of autonomy, here distinguishes between a person who is intellectually autonomous and one who keeps him/herself in an intellectually heteronomous, i.e., dependent and immature status.

Kant understands the majority of people to be content to follow the guiding institutions of society, such as the Church and the Monarchy, and unable to throw off the yoke of their immaturity due to a lack of resolution to be autonomous. It is difficult for individuals to work their way out of this immature, cowardly life because we are so uncomfortable with the idea of thinking for ourselves. Kant says that even if we did throw off the spoon-fed dogma and formulas we have absorbed, we would still be stuck, because we have never “cultivated our minds.”

The key to throwing off these chains of mental immaturity is reason. There is hope that the entire public could become a force of free thinking individuals if they are free to do so. Why? There will always be a few people, even among the institutional “guardians,” who think for themselves. They will help the rest of us to “cultivate our minds.” Kant shows himself a man of his times when he observes that “a revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism . . . or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking.” The recently completed American Revolution had made a great impression in Europe; Kant cautions that new prejudice will replace the old and become a new leash to control the “great unthinking masses.” ”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Answering_the_Question:_What_is_Enlightenment%3F

Darrell G Wolfe (@DarrellWolfe)

WOW! This is me in a nutshell! I’ve actually told my wife “I sometimes wish I’d been born with down-syndrome instead, those kids seem so much happier than I’ve ever been!” I know it’s a lie of the Devil, but it’s how I’ve felt at times in life. Only in the last few years am I learning to grip with the fact: Just because I see everything around me, doesn’t mean I’m DOING the things needed to succeed! Thanks for the article. Maybe we should all form some kind of High IQ Recovery Support Group?! DarrellWolfe.Com

Thomas

All of these comments have been very inlighiting to say the least but i would also like to add some of my life experience . To begin I’m extremely dyslexic(so sorry for the and spelling or grammar errors), this to me is not excuse but just a hurdler in the long line of shit that is life. This whole being dyslexic is important to note because of that fact that I wasn’t able to read well to age of 12. But as soon as i was able to read i just stared consuming mass amounts of articles. I read about every thing from politics to steam cell reacher. this was very odd for a this age. Also at the same time i was reading many, shitty family thing occurred in my life. This harder me to the real world and secluded me to my self and my own thoughts. An being an only child only further my ability to withdraw my self form having a true social intrection. sure my last years of Middle school and my First year of high school i was social but it was very pseudo. I had to hold by my realistic views of the world form my piers. They don’t care about world issues or sciences news, they only care about justin briber or one direction. So soon i realized that i was much better at having a conversations with adults and gravitated to them when i was seeking and intellectual conversation. When ever i had these conversations they would all ways go well and i would inquire there thoughts and wisdom about politics. they all ways told i was very intelligent or told my mother this, and than she told me. This made me complacent and demotivated in school. Im the worlds largest underachiever when it comes to academics. I am in high school witch for me is almost prison like. I can’t find any reason to motivate my self nor give a shit about unit circle or polynomials, but as soon as you put me in to a class like AP macroeconomics i devour it and get an A in it with out lifting a finger. theres just no motivation to do things that i deem unnecessary or irrelevant to my future. One thought that always scampers across my mind is the I’m not intelligent. when i have taken an IQ test i scored 129 witch for being 17 is good but i believe an IQ test is inaccurate way to measure intelligence. It is to narrow mined when it comes to the mind. Its very liner test with not much room to express other mental attributes. To get back to the point of the conversation i would love to be blindly motivated like the kids around me at high school. The girls is most of my advanced class are driven by the parents and not them self. I resent that about them. they will do 4 hours of home work a night a get 4.o but as soon as you try to have an intellectual conversation they will have no idea or care of what your talking about. they don’t have enoff time to reacher or watch the new there just doing hours of home work to pleas there preants. My softmore year i went out with one of the “try hard Girls” She had a 4.0 but her straight A’s couldn’t give her personality tho. I soon realized she was to busy to develop one. I don’t know witch is better to be ittelgent and demotivated but just constant learning what we want to or to be unittelgent but try super hard and learn what your told to.

I’m really sorry again for the grammar and spelling errors righting isn’t my strong suit.

Perazzini

This matter has pretty much defining my life, it has been intense and painful.
I ‘ve wondered for many time why being intelligent above the average in some way has actually turn me so disfunction in my life, so how to fins a sense in having a especial ability turns to make me less functional?
so I sometimes though that could have something to do at least at my case which I spend a lot of time in philosophic thoughts that it could bring me some very tough conclusion to handle along the life as for so many times what was on my mind as I analysing the society, its value, its feature and how to get in it was kind of ” Im so disappointed with its value and features that I don’t even wanted to adapte myself to it, so even for many time I might be seen as a loser or so for my results I know who the losers really are for have missed the real purpose of life and the things”.
Hoever it has been hugely painful living in this way, I on my 25 still cant find a way to live in society and still puzzle myself in how can I be so above the average in so many things while I can’t still deal with simple things that everybody does in their daily life.
I don’t have this answer yet, but I just hope that one day no longer have this questioning my mind
depression has always make present.

Ben

I can identify a little with the content here. I scored highly in an IQ test when I was about 17 . I was accepted into Mensa in fact, (I doubt I could do it now that I am 42).
It fed my complacency about studying for exams and trying to get good grades. I also chose a college degree course in Mechanical Engineering that I simply couldn’t engage with. I managed to barely pass it despite bad personal circumstances in my final year, but to tell the truth, I hadn’t been putting in the work before that point either.
Oddly I have been working as an engineer since, and often quite enjoyed it, as being an engineer in the real world is often drastically different to the mathematically based academic engineering world (that made me feel quite dim witted actually).
Is it common for so called high IQ people to perform badly at college this way?
And also, how would I go about finding out what type of further education subjects would suit the way my brain is wired?

Kathleen

Thank you for this post. I have teachers and employers, and other people tell me that I am extremely intelligent. I have suffered socially being accepted into the popular cliques, but spit out. Not connecting to friends for the long-haul in deep, rich continual friendships. This includes healthy relationships with a man; they are typically not completely healthy. Careers and continued development of my talents and skill-sets are challenging in that I do not completely succeed. I am tenacious and have been persistent and a hard-worker in pursuing and building/cultivating relationships; but they are few, or not deeply fulfilling like I observe other people my age involved in relationships. I have had pieces of experiences with relationships; but overall I have experienced more rejection, not being accepted and lonely.

Mavis

As an “underachieving smart person” I’m glad to see I’m not alone. I started out in life as an “early bloomer” (my parents tell me I learned to talk, read etc earlier than most kids). In elementary school I was tested for genius and had an above-average IQ. I also got bored easily, and had trouble paying attention in class. I loved to daydream, make up stories, and tune everyone else out. Over the years this became a pattern and though I got almost all A’s in elementary school, by high school I was barely passing some subjects. I knew I was smart enough to do minimal effort and “coast by” (and still get into college eventually) so I became lazy and unmotivated. I also got bullied a lot in junior high, which led me to withdraw further. I always had a few friends and usually hung out with the “geeks,” but never fit into the mainstream crowd. Fast forward 15 years: I’m now in my 30s and am barely making ends meet. Since graduating from high school, I have taken several college courses (and finally finished a diploma program at age 28), done some travelling, and worked in several temporary, part-time jobs. The longest I’ve held a job is 2 years. I always quit or get fired after a few months. I’ve also had some health problems which made work more difficult. Just as in high school, I have a few close friends but I feel lonely most of the time. I’ve never been married or had any children, though I’ve always wanted to. For years I have struggled with depression and what I believe is avoidant personality disorder. I had a good childhood/home life, so I can’t blame it on my shitty upbringing. I feel like life is passing me by. I started out in life with so much potential and it seems as though I am wasting it. I feel like my adult life has mostly been a string of failures: failed jobs, career attempts and relationships. And it’s embarrassing when it appears that my former classmates and relatives (many of them much younger) are growing up, getting married, having kids and careers and basically getting their shit together. The only explanation I can give people is that I’m “just lazy,” but I’m not sure exactly why that is. Negative thinking, “flight” response and bad patterns, maybe.

Maria

There is also this possibility. The smart person might have a passion for something that unfortunately has no readily accessible job market (such as art, music, humanities, history or archaeology), yet they know they still have to eat, pay rent, student loans, etc so they take that mundane “underachieving” job because they want the time and energy for what truly interests them. I know of many an “independent scholar” who has a day job. Nothing wrong with that, and people shouldn’t judge.

valerie

Thank you for this article. I recently watched “The Avengers”, and Tony Starks character sums me right up. When they ask him how long he’s been a genius on thermonuclear dynamics, and he states “since last night”. Yup, that’s me. Standardized IQ tests place me in the 130’s range. When in elementary school, I studied astronomy texts at the local library. Finally, when 11 I wrote to the JPL about my theory on black holes. They wrote me back. Shocked that I was only 11, encouraging me to study astronomy and offering to keep a dialogue for further talks. Advanced history and english. A love for Greek mythology and Steven King (haha) at an elementary age. I was gifted, and still am. My parents never cared, never encouraged, never even noticed. I signed myself up for all advanced classes. I never connected with classmates, and I preferred to spend my days reading and reading. Research, study, learn, experiment. It’s what I did. My mother finally grew tired of it, and kicked me out one day and locked the door. “Go find friends” she said. I was in middle school at this time. Life for me was lonely. I was lost. I am still lost. I struggle at finding suitable employment. I work menial labor, and once I have mastered it (in a few weeks) I grow bored and move on. I never feel challenged. My lovely husband is the same. We grew up together, yet he was the popular kid. The football player, the soccer player, the awesome guy. Never in my life would I have imagined that he struggled like I, the difference? He is an extrovert, and I am an introvert. His IQ is higher than mine, and it still blows me away. I never knew. He hid it so well. I have found a goal though. Homesteading. Yes, it’s different; but, there is something about taking care of yourself the old way. No technology, no judging from others. I did this, I grow my own food, heat my own home, built my own home, and all of the other wonderful old world skills that are quickly becoming lost. I have found more challenge in learning how to do things the old way, than any new computer program out there. Here is a neat one 🙂 I had my eye on cattails (the swamp plant). I said, “Hmmmm…..why aren’t cattail “fluffs” used to make down pillows or blankets?” My lovely husband indulged me and helped me pick about 100 of them and defluff them. I then taught myself to sew, and I created a cattail fluff filled pillow for our son. He has had it for two years now and it’s great. I did research, and come to find out, cattail fluff was used during WWII to make life jackets, and used extensively by early Indian tribes for blankets, mattresses and other things. I could only find TWO publications on this information. Finally, I feel challenged. Learning to sew, cook from scratch, tend honeybee’s, heat from wood, raise animals, be responsible for my own being. Have pride in my own hard work and tenacity. I suggest that you beautiful, overlooked geniuses look into it. Try learning to sew; how do you grow a garden? How do you can peaches? How do you raise a pig? How do you butcher a pig? What is involved in true, from scratch baking (oh, the science). The learning curve is huge and the rewards are great.

lisa

This is fascinating. I was an early reader, writer but hated school and most authority so I was unmotivated and did what i liked which was reading and writing. Failed many subjects and barely scraped by but could talk my way out of anything. Many years later, im told im terribly smart but did terribly working for the man. Now I’m at home with a small child, looking back and wondering what I’ll do when I work again. Hoping I can motivate myself into doing something I love.

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