For the longest time, I believed that people were either smart or not smart. Either you could easily figure out how to do something or it just wasn’t meant for you. Now, to some extent, that’s true, as some people find certain things easier than others naturally. But one of the things I’ve come to appreciate in life today is that intellect only gets you so far – it’s tenacity that gets you the other however many miles you need to go. But everyone can get there as long you try hard enough.
It has been interesting getting to know my friend better over the last year as he has been preparing for a major exam for graduate school. The amount of focused studying, both self-study and via outside tutors, he put into the exam, showed me how even for a very smart person, the amount of practice required to get a great score takes a lot of work. In fact, even after taking the exam once and scoring very well, but apparently not quite as high as he wanted, he went back to the books, studied even harder, and walked away with one of the best scores you can get on his second try.
Most of my anxiety stems from not knowing how to handle being challenged. When I was a young child, I loved math, doing multiplication workbooks over dinners out waiting for the food to be served in first grade and probably kindergarten. I loved it when it came easy. Then it got harder and I gave up too quickly. My father would get frustrated at me for not understanding things fast enough. I grew distracted and antsy and sad that I couldn’t just get everything as easily as I once did. I gave up way too soon. I gave up because I figured most things in school were irrelevant to my life.
Fast forward X # of years and – I’m still that person who gives up too easily. Who freaks out over every minor imperfection. I’ve never actually witnessed the work it takes to succeed at the highest levels of intellectual performance. And for everyone, even the most intelligent people out there, it takes work. But it’s the work, and the efficiency of that work, that defines their intellect. Focus (to keep attention on one problem until it is solved, even if it has multiple steps), creativity (the ability to think outside the box for answers to problems that are trick questions or don’t have obvious answers), processing power (how fast do you compute?) and memory (how well do you store and receive information) and determination (how quickly do you give up when it gets hard?) are the five core tenants of intellect, IMO. As a person with ADHD I struggle with all except creativity. Every person can become smart is they can fix those four tenants of themselves. Not everyone will be Einstein but we can all get good scores on exams, or be loved by our colleagues for the work we produce, if we try hard enough.
I’m thankful for being able to get to know this friend better over the past year, as his refusal to give up on what he wants, and ultimately walking away with a major victory en-route to the prize, has shown me the truth about being the best person you can be. In 2015, I want to be the best person I can be. I feel inspired. And I know this is going to be a trying but great year.