Editors note: Since I published this, the comments have been coming in and are now far better than the blog post. I encourage you to read about the lives and struggles of those who have high IQ. Their stories are quite revealing.-> It’s in the comments, hint, hint, hint.
Authors disclosure: I won’t disclose where I am on the IQ chart, but I do have some in my family with very high IQ. My father had a gigantic IQ. Here are the stories of those with high IQ and their travails. See if you identify with any of them.
The blog post actually starts here. It is a compilation of individuals with their names mostly redacted who have written about the travails of a high IQ:
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – “The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything.”
Update: 10/3/16 from Alison Craig
It sounds like you are in the beginning stages of an existentialist crisis. I know the word “crisis” looks alarming, but it shouldn’t. In this case it just means you are examining the point of your own existence. Will I always be alone? Why am I here? Eventually you may even question all existence and come to the seemingly frightening conclusion that we’re all born alone and die alone and nothing in life has purpose.
“Well, that’s horrible! You’re depressing, why would you say such things?”
Again, I repeat- it is nothing to be alarmed about. Those things are true – to a degree. We are born alone and die alone, but we work to make connections with people who can support us, and that we can support in return. Intelligent or not, there will always be like minded people in the world somewhere and they are never easy to find for anyone. To me, making those connections is why I am here and is a large part of my purpose.
No matter how intelligent, wealthy or attractive a person is – it can always be difficult to find true connections so that all of the sharing and giving is not a one way street. Intelligent people may have stricter standards for making friends (in fashion or other), but so might a wealthy person, or a very attractive one. All people fear being used and some are just more cautious than others. An intelligent person can read books on understanding human nature (), body language and other psychology tools to assist them in making life long connections with other people.
From Shah Rukh Qasim on hiding your intelligence:
If you could generalize, the most common would be:
- You keep talking to a person, telling him something you think he doesn’t know. He keeps listening. Then he shares his insight which makes you think he has already known everything you told him. Smart people at often silent and active listeners.
Other signs will include:
- Good problem solvers. Not just mathematics problem. But even daily life problems. They’ll quickly find what’s wrong and take the best course of action to solve the problem.
- They’ll be different in views. And their views will always come with reason. A quote goes around: Small minds discuss people. Average mind discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.
- “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” – William Shakespeare
- They often look for reasons. It goes in four levels (worst to best):
It sucked when I was younger, but these days it’s just awesome.
There is a very common pattern among highly gifted people, namely:
- When you’re young it’s very isolating, and it feels like everyone else is just stupid
- As you grow older, you realize your gift. You also realize that raw intelligence isn’t everything, and that things like social skills matter a lot. Plus, you meet others like you.
- Your social life improves as you get older and learn to connect on things other than intelligence or go to elite institutions where you can meet other highly gifted people.
Honestly, at this point in my life I feel like there are literally no downsides to having a high IQ. It’s like being born good looking or with great physical health: it’s not a silver bullet to a happy life, but it makes a lot of things much easier.
I only found out I had a high IQ (161) because my professional life was such a mess I had to see a psychologist.
If I had to sum it up in a few sentences, I would say that the most aggravating thing about being very intelligent is that you quickly see and understand things at a level of depth that most people don’t (or can’t), and it is very frustrating. You want to move on, you want to be pushed, you don’t want to spend time explaining the details of things you have already grasped, but no one else is caught up yet, so you have to pause. It is particularly painful when dealing with complex topics where the mental models involve feedback loops and non-linearities.
But that said, I’ve learned there is much more to life than intelligence, and being successful is more about hard work and good communication skills than anything else.
“One of the indictments of civilizations is that happiness and intelligence are so rarely found in the same person.”
Working successfully in society and business is limited by some really important social choke points. One of them is that other people, even if they are intellectually slower, must be treated with respect. Another is that even if you are correct you will have difficulty getting people to act on your insights until they understand why you are correct. A third thing is that most important activities are done as a team and so taking action requires breaking down your insights into something that your slower peers and employees can understand. If you try to blow past these choke points you will destroy relationships and even if you are right, your career will languish. I try to remind myself that being successful is not well correlated to being right.
My career is going pretty well now that I’ve understood these constraints. It is possible to turn intelligence to practical life-advantage but our educational system doesn’t really give a blueprint for this. I left school thinking that it mattered that I understood things 5 minutes or 5 years before my classmates did. It doesn’t. Most people’s functioning adult lives are not spent solving tough problems. They are spent going through well established rituals and patterns of relating to each other punctuated by an occasional tough problem. In most cases, people can even skip the tough problems and still do okay in life. So how do you convert a parlor trick (like knowing the ending of a movie after 5 minutes) into something that will make you happier? Mostly, you don’t. Use it when it’s valuable and relax a little when it’s not.
There’s a great Dilbert where someone invites him to join the company’s Mensa chapter and Dilbert asks why people who are so smart continue to work at the company. The president of the Mensa chapter answers, “Intelligence has much less practical application than you’d think.”
In a word, I find it alienating.
Extremely so, in fact.
And I think this is not only because of what makes me “smart”, but also because of what my brain has to sacrifice to be “smart” in that way. (More on that in a sec.)
For the record, my IQ was measured (years ago) at 178. [ETA: Just looked up the percentile, and that’s about 1 in 2 million, for some perspective.] I have 3 advanced degrees and a solid career. But I’m still single and spend very little time around other people.
It took me some time as a young kid to figure out that the people around me weren’t interested in the same things I was. And that, often, to talk about the things I found interesting turned people away.
So I hid that.
When they announced that I was valedictorian of my high school, I was in 1st period art class, and one of my classmates refused to believe that they’d said my name.
But I never felt like I belonged anywhere, and I still don’t.
I don’t have kids, TV doesn’t interest me, I don’t follow celebrities or watch sports. My time is spent with my work, and researching the things that are important to me — astrophysics, particle physics, consciousness research, and although this might seem strange to some people, Biblical scholarship (tho I’m not a believer).
As a result, chit-chat is impossible for me, or else it’s so boring that it becomes impossible.
But like I said, the problem isn’t only that my brain is interested in things that most other brains aren’t. It’s also what my brain can’t do.
There’s only a certain amount of space in the brain, and if one area is eating up the real estate with more neural power, some other part of the brain is likely losing out.
For me, it’s some of the automatic social functioning which tells you, for example, what emotion another person is feeling based on their facial expression, or whether someone’s being sarcastic or not. (Sarcasm is a minefield for me, and meeting another person in a hallway is a nightmare — I cannot interpret when to look, or not, what to say, or not, etc.)
That said, I have an enormously rich life, and I’ve adjusted to it. When I stopped trying to fit in, things got better.
HOWEVER…..STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES
The smart can do stupid things such as:
- Ignoring the importance of design and style – When the iPod originally came out, technical people complained about its lack of features and perceived high price (“ooh, who cares about another MP3 player, I can go buy one at Best Buy for $50” http://forums.macrumors.com/show…). In the meantime, it was so cool and easy to use that normal people went out in droves to buy it.
- Using terrible tools, and taking pride in their awfulness – Especially common with programmers, who take pride in using programming languages and text editors that have been designed by programmers, not updated since the 1970s, and never touched by anyone with a modicum of design sense. They believe that mastering arcane, overcomplicated commands and processes are a mark of pride, rather than a waste of time. I will refrain from singling out specific programming languages and tools here, because smart people also like to get caught up in pointless flame wars about this sort of thing.
- Following the pack – Many smart people often seem to be followers, probably because they grow up spending so much time pleasing others via academic and extracurricular achievement that they never figure out what they really like to work on or try anything unique. Smart people from top schools tend to flock into the same few elite fields, as they try to keep on achieving what other people think they should achieve, rather than figuring out whatever it is they intrinsically want to do.
- Failing to develop social skills – Some smart people focus exclusively on their narrow area of interest and never realize that everything important in life is accomplished through other people. They never try to improve their social skills, learn to network, or self promote, and often denigrate people who excel in these areas. If you are already a good engineer you are going to get 10x the return on time spent improving how you relate to other people compared to learning the next cool tool.
- Focusing on being right above all else – Many smart people act as if being right trumps all else, and go around bluntly letting people know when they are wrong, as if this will somehow endear others to them. They also believe that they can change other people’s minds through argument and facts, ignoring how emotional and irrational people actually are when it comes to making decisions or adopting beliefs.
- Letting success in one area lead to overconfidence in others – Smart people sometimes think that just because they are expert in their field, they are automatically qualified in areas about which they know nothing. For instance, doctors have a reputation as being bad investors: http://medicaleconomics.modernme….
- Underrating effort and practice – For smart people, many things come easily without much effort. They’re constantly praised for “being smart” whenever they do anything well. The danger is that they become so reliant on feeling smart and having people praise them, that they avoid doing anything that they’re not immediately great at. They start to believe that if you’re not good at something from the beginning, you’re destined to always be terrible at it, and the thing isn’t worth doing. These smart people fail to further develop their natural talents and eventually fall behind others who, while less initially talented, weren’t as invested in “being smart” and instead spent more time practicing. http://nymag.com/news/features/2…
- Engaging in zero sum competitions with other smart people – Many smart people tend to flock to fields which are already saturated with other smart people. Only a limited number of people can become a top investment banker, law partner, Fortune 500 CEO, humanities professor, or Jeopardy champion. Yet smart people let themselves be funneled into these fields and relentlessly compete with each other for limited slots. They all but ignore other areas where they could be successful, and that are less overrun by super-smart people. Instead of thinking outside the box, smart people often think well within a box, a very competitive box that has been set up by other people and institutions to further someone else’s interests at the expense of the smart person.
- Excessively focusing on comparing their achievements with others – Smart people who have been raised in a typical achievement-focused family or school can get anxious about achievement to the point of ridiculousness. This leads to people earnestly asking questions like: Success: If I haven’t succeeded in my mid 20s, could I be successful in the rest of my life? and Are you a failure if you are not a billionaire by age 30? What about 40?
- Ignoring diminishing returns on information – Smart people are often voracious readers and can absorb huge quantities of information on any subject. They get caught up in reading every last bit of information on subjects that interest them, like investing, lifehacking, or tech specs of products they’re planning on buying. While some information is useful in making a decision, poring through the vast amount of information available online can be a waste of time. They end up spending a lot of time gathering information without taking action.
- Elitism – Smart people often use smartness as measure of the entire worth of a person. They fail to see the value in or even relate with people who are different. This is illustrated by the Yale professor who doesn’t have the slightest idea what to say to his plumber: http://www.theamericanscholar.or…. And questions like Am I an elitist to think that most people are stupid?