My entire life academics always came easily to me. I don’t know if it is because both of my parents were teachers, the fact that since I couldn’t be physical I focused on my mind, the increased brain activity associated with my disability, or some combination of all three, but school was never a challenge. As a result of this, growing up I constantly heard things like, “Scott is so smart.” and “You must be a genius.” Even though these statements were meant as compliments, they had the unintended effect of building too much confidence in my mental ability. I developed the arrogant belief that I was always the most intelligent person in the room, and I even thought of myself as somewhat superior to some degree because of it. Fortunately however, after I went off to college, got a taste of the real world, and matured a little bit, I was able to put things in perspective and rid myself of this arrogant demeanor.
The University of Notre Dame is one of the most academically competitive schools in the country outside of the Ivy League. When I arrived there in the Fall of 2005, I went from being the smartest person in my tiny town to just another student at Notre Dame. As impressive as my high school accomplishments were, I was now in a place where everyone had a 4.00 GPA and broke 1450 on their SAT. I quickly realized that this was a whole different ball game, and that I would no longer be able to get by on my natural academic ability. In my first semester, I actually had to drop my calculus class because I couldn’t keep up, and remember I was a mathematics major. I won’t lie, this knocked me down a peg or two. However, it also gave me the motivation to learn how to study for the first time and develop my work ethic. Although this was the first step in ridding me of my arrogance, it was not until I took a philosophy class 2 years later that I really made my metamorphosis.
I was taking a philosophy course on knowledge and learning to fulfill one of my university requirements when I first thought about the question, “What is intelligence?” As I thought about this interesting query, I decided that intelligence is not limited to academics or tests, as we typically think about it, or at least it shouldn’t be. Although you can technically only be a genius by having an IQ above 160, I believe you can also be a musical genius, an artistic genius, and even an athletic genius. Would anyone argue that individuals like Mozart, Renoir, and Gretzky were geniuses in their respective fields? This is similar to the theory of “multiple intelligences” that has been around in the fields of education and psychology for some time. I may be gifted in areas we typically think of as “intelligence,” like memory, logic, patterns, and spacial reasoning, but I can’t write you a song or dunk a basketball. Does that mean I am more “intelligent” than Bob Dylan or LeBron James? No, it does not. We just have intelligence in different areas.
This epiphany really caused me to rethink how I thought about and prioritized things in my life. I realized that as important and valuable as traditional intelligence is, other areas such as emotional, social, and creative intelligence are just as crucial in creating a fulfilling and successful society. It is not that any one type of intelligence is better than another, they are merely different. My intelligence would be utterly useless if you were trying to record a hit song for your new album, but if you were trying to forecast how your album sales will increase based upon the previous 6 months of market data, then I’m your man. It is all a matter of the situation you are in, as to what type of intelligence is the most valuable. This eye-opening revelation not only brought an end to my disgusting traits of arrogance and superiority, it also catalyzed some other positive changes in my life.
One of the biggest and most important changes that came out of this new way of thinking was that I appreciate people more. I no longer judge people by asking myself, “How intelligent is this person?” Instead, I now try to assess what type of genius they are, and then I try to learn as much as I can from them in their area of expertise. My attempt to learn about other areas of genius and to cultivate my intelligence in areas where I am weak is another major change that came out of this epiphany. For example, as I was starting to develop Roll Models and learn to be an effective speaker and blogger, I worked tirelessly to develop my social and emotional intelligence. I knew that I needed to become an expert in understanding and managing emotions, as well as learn to communicate as efficiently as possible. So, I read every book I could find written by geniuses in these areas, and watched dozens of TED talks to study great speakers. Today, I may still not be a genius in these fields by any means, and I still study constantly to improve my skills, but I am definitely much better than I was 6 months ago. Without this realization about how I think about intelligence, I never would have put in the time and effort to develop these skills, and Roll Models would not be the success that it is.
This change in how I see and think about my life and the people in it has had an enormous impact on me. I will admit that in terms of traditional “intelligence” I still feel like I am the smartest person in the room, but I no longer think that makes me superior or better than anyone else in a general sense. I no longer have that sense of arrogance about my “intelligence“, because I know that there are areas where I am less “intelligent” than others. I also now have this drive to increase my “intelligence” in as many areas as I can. I hope that as you were reading this that you put some thought into what areas your “intelligence” resides. The next time you think to yourself, “I am so stupid.” or “He must be a genius.” keep in mind that intelligence comes in many forms. Your area of genius may not be helpful in the situation you are in at that moment, but in the grand scheme of things your intelligence is just as valuable as anyone else’s.