Are you intelligent enough to know when you’re not?
I had an epiphany when I was in undergrad working on my bachelors in psychology. I believe the course was a second tier course titled “applied psychology” with an emphasis on practical applications of psychological theory. Essentially less of a focus on “tell me about your mother or father” and more on, “how do you use the information to improve your life…. Starting now”. The topic we started talking about was how there were different types of intelligence. What?! Isn’t there only one type of intelligence? I mean, you’re either smart or not right? It turns out the answer to that is a bold NO.
– We all suck at something
“Wow, you do suck at math”, “just look at it, it’s obvious”, “how couldn’t you see that those words would be hurtful?” “It’s easy, just put some effort into it, it’s just balance”, “its official, you’re the least coordinated person I’ve ever met.”
Ever had anyone say or imply one of these things to you? I have. I do suck at math! They’re right… My logical-mathematical intelligence is right through the floor. For a long time, I hid that from people for fear I would be labeled as dumb or not putting in the effort. Truth be told, I was putting in the effort, but instead of the effort being focused on understanding calculus, it was instead focused on making people BELIEVE I understood it… You see, as a teenager and young adult male, society makes you feel dumb and inadequate if you don’t understand something or have a hard time learning it, but makes you feel just fine if you don’t care to learn something. I often passed off my lack of mathematical intelligence as “I just need to pass the course; I’m not going to be an accountant or a physicist after-all.” I felt like I did a good job conveying to people that my C’s in math courses were due to my lack of effort, not ability. However, the reality was that I would spend countless hours studying, with incredible frustration… I just had to work twice as hard as my peers who got A’s so I could get a C or B.
So am I dumb?… I don’t think so… I think I realized in my early 20’s that we all have things we suck at, and most of those things lead back to a type of intelligence you don’t have a very high capacity for.
What are some categories you either excel at or suck at?
Here are some types of intelligence, and where you might recognize people with high intelligence in those areas in our society:
Logical-Mathematical- Quantifying things, being able to test out hypothesis, and general math skills…. Our researchers, folks working at NASA, in laboratories for companies you have never heard of, and engineers. If you suck at this, you probably are like me and don’t even want to attempt your own taxes.
Existential- The philosopher… We all know this person. They often want to debate the reason for the debate while simultaneously hashing out the purpose of life. They sometimes work in government making policy. If you suck at this you don’t discuss politics much, find yourself in these conversations saying in your head “who cares?” And fall asleep after being thoroughly confused when reading the most elementary philosophy.
Interpersonal- Sensing people’s emotions and motivations… Social workers, counselors, therapists, and “people-people” in general. Women are often much more intelligent at this…. Just ask any woman you know! If you suck at this consistently, you find that you often offend people without realizing it, have contentious interactions with people without trying, have a hard time figuring out what people in your life actually want, in both professional and personal life.
Body-Kinesthetic- Professional athletes, construction workers, arborists, craft workers, assembly line workers, military (from infantry to fighter pilots). If you suck at this, you never found a sport you were good at, smash your thumb with a hammer every time you swing it, and can’t chew bubble gum and walk without tripping.
Linguistic- Finding the words to adequately explain things. Professors, writers, arbitrators, lawyers, teachers, counselors, therapists, administrative staff, policy writers. If you have terrible linguistic intelligence people are constantly asking you to clarify things you say, and you constantly find that you don’t have the words to express your feelings or desires. (People who excel at this are annoyed by my excessive use of repetitive words like “suck” in this blog and would themselves having written it, used their internal thesaurus to change things in each prompt).
Intra-personal- Having a good grasp on what you want, how you feel, general understanding of oneself. This one doesn’t necessarily directly correlate to a career, but tends to help lead to efficiently navigating life in general, happiness in relationships and career, and living a life that is congruent with your values. People who suck at intrapersonal skills “have no direction” and float through life with difficulty choosing careers and sticking with relationships, not due to their being problems with those careers or other people, but the individual’s own difficulty in knowing their values and goals. Essentially, the foundation of anything they try to build upon crumbles eventually due to this.
Spatial- Artists, civil engineers, mechanics, and hardware store employees (had to throw that one in there because I’m always amazed when I bring a random bolt or other part to them, having no idea its size, and the first hardware drawer they open has the corresponding piece I need… If I don’t ask, I spend hours looking in every drawer trying to inconspicuously make pieces fit).
Naturalist- Farmers, biologists, wildlife experts, botanists, hunters, veterinarians, animal behavior specialists (dog and horse whisperers…) People with a high intelligence in this area seemingly can look at animal or plant behavior and know how to troubleshoot problems, people often refer to them as having a “green thumb” or “an animal person” the rest of us can read all the books in the world, but don’t have the ability for those skills to come naturally. If you suck at this, you are dumbfounded when your lawn dies due to lack of water, you can’t grow a tomato to save your life, and you clean up a lot of dog doo-doo because of your poor reading of their behavior telling you “Take me out now, or suffer the consequences!”
Musical- Musicians, recording workers, communications people, music instructors. People like me with no musical ability are fascinated by people like my sister who can hear a note, pitch, or tone in any voice or instrument and replicate it. Impressive to the tone deaf. If you suck at this you pretend to sing “happy birthday” at parties, lip-syncing like Brittany Spears. Suffice to say, your plan to be a rapper due to your poor intrapersonal intelligence will probably fall flat like your tone and rhythm.
-So did any of those strike a chord with you?
What do you do about all this?… I’ll tell you by giving you an assignment I give a lot of people:
1) Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle of it.
2) Write “Strengths” on the top of the left column, and “Weakness” on the right.
3) Go down the list of the above types of intelligences and categorize them on this piece of paper.
What did you find? When I do it I find that there are some categories I’m terrible at, some I think I’m great at, and some I am neither, but can’t decide either way.
It is clear to me looking at that list that it’s obvious how I stumbled into what I am doing in life. A farmer-counselor entrepreneur hybrid… Weird right? Not so much if you know me enough to know where I’m intelligent and where I am not… It’s pretty obvious why I’m not an engineer, teacher, physicist, musician, athlete, or philosopher.
Like most things in counseling, I like to get past the “why” and “what” of a problem as quickly as possible and get to “what are you going to do with the information?” Part… Solution-Based therapy/counseling. Take a good hard look at what you are good at, and what you are not, it helps guide your path in life more than you know. For you existentially minded folks, “Socratic Ignorance” speaks to knowing when you don’t know… And if you don’t know, you better figure it out…. And quick…. Life becomes much easier and enjoyable when you do know… Plain and simple.
So what about you? Where are your strengths and weaknesses? What did you find? How did you end up where you are in life now? Did you find out what you were not intelligent at the hard way? Did you discover early in life you excelled at certain intelligences? Or did you stumble on them? Do you have advice for people just starting the process of figuring out who they are and what they are good at?
Rory K. McLaughlin, CEO
Rory! This beautifully written. I’m sure all of the guys can benefit greatly from this exercise! Your passion and insight for the work you do is amazing!
~Thanks Nancy, Like most things, the thoughts I write about are inspired by real-life and current things going on, so are essentially real-time processing of those events and discussions. Thanks for commenting