The clearest sign that I was under pressure came with my dropping out of the pre-med program after five years. I caught a bad turn and failed yet a couple more subjects (Therapeutic Exercise in the program, my nth as a junior. I’d failed Applied Anatomy and Kinesiology three times in the past three years, and I was as disheartened as a solitary, disconsolate clump of cattails. I was 21 years old, and graduation was nowhere in plain sight. I’d wanted to be a doctor since I was a child, but it seemed that dream was getting farther and farther from my reach.
Prior to my junior year at uni, I’d always considered myself intelligent. My test scores and my grades showed it, and my parents and relatives affirmed it. I wasn’t receiving straight A’s, but my grades were good enough for me to be exempted from taking the final exams. But my junior year made me re-think that shaky assumption as I thought that perhaps I had been riding wave after wave of good fortune and cosmic favor until that elbow grease and luck had eventually run out. It was devastating. Being stripped of that smart tag was like losing an identity and realizing everything you’d believed had been a lie.
We live in a culture that celebrates intelligence. High IQ, intrinsic, didn’t-study-but-aced-the-exam kind of intelligence. Society has hard-wired us to measure intelligence as we do our own weight and height. Even amongst the youngest of pupils, excellent marks are interpreted as a sign of high intelligence (and less than stellar grades are proofs of stupidity).
Over the years, I’ve realized that intelligence comes in all forms and sizes. People have widely varying skill sets, talents and come from different education backgrounds (formal or otherwise). If I were placed with a room full of physicists, I’d feel like the biggest dunce and failure in the room. Put me in a room full of writers, however, and I’d feel right at home. Let me illustrate that with a personal anecdote: I currently work in an IT company. All day, I am surrounded by IT professionals, computer/electronic engineers and computer programmers. One day, I had to switch network domains (albeit a very simple task, but not for the likes of the technologically-challenged like me) and sought the help of one of my colleagues whom incidentally I was having a meeting with at that time. She was patiently walking me through the process of switching network domains as she was discussing some items in the agenda. At one point, I had to stop her mid-sentence to say, “I appreciate your multi-tasking, but I honestly can’t keep up because I am unable to multi-task when I am faced with a technical difficulty. I need all my wits about just following your instructions as you walk me through this.” Given that experience, it’s almost too easy to undervalue myself in that environment, but the readings on Successful Intelligence reiterated this: intelligence does not always present itself in the form of a prowess in a particular field. Rather, it is multifaceted and complex, which means that it applies to many more people than one might initially think.
Academic achievements only reflect a portion of one’s intelligence. Above all, the way one performs in school or university reflects mostly the efforts one was willing to invest for school and whether one implements these efforts effectively or wasted his/her time. The marks one achieves in school most likely shows one’s efforts and the time he/she invested to prepare himself/herself for the test, but not one’s level of intelligence. Looking back, I can’t beat myself up in the head for my failing marks in pre-med. I could attribute it to the assessments because the tests only measured memory recall, but that would only be half the truth. Truth be told, the field itself called for that type of intelligence; sadly my intelligence and passion lie elsewhere.
Intelligence is a comprehensive term for the ability of a human being to express himself verbally, finding solutions for severe problems, gaining knowledge and applying this effectively, getting an overview about complex facts and a lot more things like their perceptivity. It is a fact that the intelligence differs from person to person as well as everyone’s brainpower is pronounced to hundreds of different kinds of abilities like analytical and spatial thinking up to creativeness and linguistic abilities.
The levels of intelligence can’t get evaluated precisely, like our weight or the size of our bodies. Tests can be used to show us our approximate level of intelligence, but due to the fact that those tests concentrate on specific areas (math, spatial thinking, etc.) they aren’t able to provide us an overview of all our abilities.
Unfortunately we try to classify our own intellect far too quickly by getting influenced from extraneous factors such as grades and academic performance. All through my formative years and well into my high school days, I worked hard to maintain my GPAs in order to keep myself in the honor roll and in the hopes of obtaining those most-coveted medals. The terms “genius” and “achiever” have such positive connotations, while the term “try hard” is almost invariably used as an insult. OK, somebody puts a lot of effort into something they care about? Oooh, what else you got?
If there’s one thing that I am taking out of the Theory of Successful Intelligence, it’s that the brain can be trained like a muscle. This “muscle” is present from the moment of our birth, but it’s up to us whether we train, strengthen and expand this muscle to exploit its full benefits or if we decide not to use it at all. The level of our intelligence also depends on factors like the social environment we grow up, early childhood education, educational level of our parents, schools visited and the whole effort we invested to train and promote our intelligence.
Every person can achieve anything he/she puts his mind to with specific training, industriousness, diligence, interest and investment of time. Success is not limited to one’s level of intelligence. But one’s effort in terms of hard work and aspiration will have to be even greater the less you used to train your brain in the past. Perhaps with determination and more perseverance, I could have realised my dreams of becoming a doctor, but ultimately, it all boiled down to my subconscious not wanting to. I already had one foot out the door, and no superhuman effort and measure of countless sleepless nights could have made up for it.
The first definition of successful intelligence recognises that stupidity and dullness does not exist. As Forrest Gump once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” It doesn’t matter how intelligent you think you are or are supposed to be, if you consistently do dumb things, then that is being dumb. One’s behaviour may make one look ill-conceived or stupid but this doesn’t mean that he/she don’t have any kind of intellectual potential. People may be less talented, less skilled and less knowledgeable than others about different kind of topics but that doesn’t make one stupid.
I’m not a sports fanatic. I tried to be enthused with the likes of Magic Johnson, Stephen Curry, Reggie White or Tom Brady. But honestly, all these sports bore me to tears. I couldn’t even bear to follow the constant updates on my FB feed during NBA season. Call it mind conditioning or what have you, but athletic abilities were not exactly celebrated in the environment where I grew up. When I was a trainer, I belonged to a team consisting of 7 members, most of whom were girls and a gay guy. At that time, we were already starting to make our marks in the field and were well on our way to carving our niche and specialisations. Then from out of the blue, our manager hires a new male trainer who was green in the ears and had to no training background and experience whatsoever. He’d only been in the industry one year and was fresh off university before that. On the outside, it was obvious to anyone that he was not of the same calibre as everyone else. He was sat right next to me and we lived in the same area, so we started spending a lot of time together. He was a huge fan of basketball and devoured Marvel/DC comics. We had nothing in common. During our drives home, he’d tell me about the latest trades, the names of all current team members, managers, coaches and the hall of fame for his team. And this was not limited to the team he was supporting; he also knows the names of dozens of other players from other teams. He may not have been ‘traditionally’ intelligent as the rest of the team but he can’t be dismissed as being unintelligent. Those are a lot of facts that he’d managed to commit to memory, without having to learn them. Surely, a stupid or unintelligent person would not have been able to memorise that amount of data.
Every person simply just forms different interests and values that influence the development of their intelligence and the fact in what kind of areas of our lives we accumulate knowledge, whether it is in sports, TV series or even better in the educational and vocational environments. One of the differences between a successful person and others is that they don’t concentrate on absorbing knowledge about unnecessary facts like the content of various TV shows, but instead have focused on knowledge they can really adapt to be successful. A successfully intelligent person is a master in combining knowledge from different sources and issues and shows interest in a particular high amount of subjects. They are aware of and have accepted their strengths and weaknesses and are able to work through and despite their weaknesses for them to achieve their goals in life.
Often certain people are said to be stupid, but in fact, it’s only the disinterest and inability of these particular “stupid-persons” to gain knowledge about subjects that appear boring to them and to which they are facing difficulties to form positive feelings with. This could be the unloved subject math or history as well as a boring job, summarizing: all kinds of areas and subjects that people don’t really want to deal with, have no positive feelings about and where they are not showing the willingness to acquire profound knowledge about. I am reminded of Richard Branson who was perceived stupid in school by virtue of his dyslexia, which was undiagnosed at that time, yet later turned out to be a billionaire entrepreneur. I remember one interview of his where he says that he owes his success and fortune not to his innate intelligence and abilities, but to the fact that he’s able to leverage on the abilities of others in his company to compensate for his weaknesses.
On an individual level, society’s glorification of intelligence fosters a certain arrogance that often develops into complacency and a mindset of entitlement that results from repeatedly being regarded for one’s intelligence. Being intelligent goes beyond being omnipotent. Successfully Intelligent people are smart enough o know what they don’t know. Being successfully intelligent is not about being an island unto your own. Steve Jobs may be the genius behind Apple’s success, but he surrounded himself with the most talented people he could find.
Lastly, successful intelligence is about being resourceful. Intelligence is an evolutionary advantage, as they say. We didn’t evolve an enormous neocortex for no reason. Our ancestors survived because they learned to adapt and be creative in the ways they make use of their surroundings in order to achieve results. As I was reading about practical intelligence, the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, came to mind. I am not quite sure about his scholastic or academic abilities. I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I got my own dog, and I’ve always been amazed at how he’s been able to make a name for himself from working with different types of dogs and helping dog owners with pooch problems. From the countless seasons and episodes of the Dog Whisperer that I’ve watched, I gathered that he acquired these skills not from any kind of formal training or education. It came from being engaged in the trade on the account of the environment and community he grew up in. Coming to America, he decided to use that skill to help him earn a living. Growing up, I never would have thought of Cesar’s skills as a type of intelligence because it doesn’t fall neatly in any of the boxes, but he’s used that unique gift to turn himself from a poor immigrant with barely $10 in his pocket to celebrity of rock-star status whose skills are sought after all around the globe.
As children, society ingrains in us the belief that our success as adults is dependent on our academic performance. This experience can shape how we perceive learning, success and opportunities as adults. Differences of class, culture, personality, learning patterns, life experiences affect learning not only among adolescents, child learners and adults. The stipulations of successful intelligence challenges the ethnocentrism of the assumption of adult learning as a generic process synonymous with learning undertaken in university or continuing education classes afforded to middle-class adults. Failure to attend formal education owing to socioeconomic or cultural barriers does not disqualify one from being able to realise one’s goals. The great American dream is not exclusive to straight A students and geniuses. The great American dream is open to everyone regardless of race, educational background, and academic abilities. The only difference is how one plans to achieve the dream of a white picket fence and a golden retriever. That is the sign of a truly beautiful mind.
Sternberg, R. (2005). Succesorsful intelligence. Interamerican Journal of Psychology – 2005, Vol. 39, Num. 2 pp. 189-202. Available at http://www.psicorip.org/Resumos/PerP/RIP/RIP036a0/RIP03921.pdf