Indelible Blue Pen

Jason C. McDonald (CodeMouse92)

January 24, 2014

8 Myths About Genius

einsteinI’m coming right out with it: yes, I am “genius.” I don’t remember my exact IQ score, but it is up there. At last check, I’m right around the threshold for Mensa, which I have no actual interest in joining.

Truth be told, however, I don’t like telling people. I generally just tell people I have a “high intellectual metabolism.” When I say “genius” or “high IQ,” they get weird ideas in their head about me and what I’m capable of.

So let me set a few things straight…

Myth #1: Geniuses excel at everything.

AAAARGH! I get this a lot. I know a lot of my genius friends do as well. News Flash: We have to struggle through things, too, sometimes.

Case and point, I struggled through high-school chemistry. A lot of it finally clicked when I found a series of lectures from UC Berkley’s Heino Nitsche, in which the instructor spent the first class blowing things up. But even then, it was a struggle. I haven’t approached it since, so we’ll see in a few years.

Another example: I really am not a talented artist when it comes to drawing and painting. I won’t lie, I’m okay, but that’s only due to a TON of practice over the years. I’m not a natural. It is important to my line of work, so I’ll continue doing it, but I’ll never excel at it.

(Side note: I will set the record straight on an urban legend that I thought was true for the longest time: Einstein did NOT fail grade school math.)

Myth #2: Learning is easy for a genius.

Ha! Read #1.

Seriously, though, we have to fight for it, too. I hate it when my tutees tell me that I have it easy, being a natural at math. Hmm, if I have it easy, then why was I pulling my hair out yesterday over a math lesson?

For the record, I absolutely detest trig proofs. I just about had a panic attack over those. I finally got decent at them, but only after a LOT of work.

Just because we generally learn fast doesn’t mean we learn easy. The main difference between “average” and “genius” in this area is this: the genius usually struggles as much as the average Joe does. He just packs it into a shorter period of time.

Myth #3: Geniuses are arrogant.

Okay, some totally are. I try hard not to be. It’s the other reason I avoid telling people I have a high IQ…they immediately think I’m being cocky.

That said, a lot of people are genius and say nothing at all. They keep working away quietly, trying not to get noticed (though that is hard to do when you keep finishing before everyone else, and getting an A anyway.)

Want to know what DOES irritate us? It’s when “normals” are whining about not getting it, and telling us we have it so easy. It is really hard not to punch people right about then, because we work HARD for our success. Which leads me to…

Myth #4: Geniuses have it easy.

*Ker-punch* Seriously, don’t EVER say this to a genius. EVER. We don’t have it easy.

Yes, I learn fast. Yes, I read at at a PhD level at over 800 WPM. Yes, I can pull from the massive encyclopedic store of knowledge strewn across my cerebral cortex. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: I still had to develop those skills! 

Geniuses are born with the capability to excel, nothing more. It was easy for me to learn HOW to read, but very hard to get to the proficiency I’m at. Actually, my reading speed doubled to its current speed in March 2011, when I was making my way through “You Must Set Forth at Dawn” by Wole Soyinka, purely because I had been pushing my reading abilities very hard since head injury, by choosing harder and harder texts each month.

Furthermore, imagine having a brain that goes at a million miles an hour without brakes. I am constantly thinking, learning, creating, analyzing. I take a Benadryl every night just to fall asleep. Speaking of which…

Myth #5: “Are you ADD/ADHD?”

Fact: Many, if not most, young geniuses are misdiagnosed as having an attention disorder. That’s primarily due to the fact that, since the genius mind goes so fast, we bore easily. We have to be learning, creating, and challenging ourselves constantly, or we go crazy. We cannot STAND review of something we’ve already learned.

How can you tell the difference between genius and ADHD? One simple thing: geniuses can multitask like nobody’s business, and do it well. People with ADHD cannot. Medications can really help some people with attention disorders – some of my best friends can attest to this. However, those same medications have detrimental effects on geniuses (Further complicating the issue, someone can be genius and have ADHD.)

This is another reason not to tell a genius that he/she has it easy. We walk into rooms and forget why we’re there. We get distracted easily by a thought, a question, a challenge. I will lose two or three hours a day to spur-of-the-moment Google searches on string theory, movie plots, programming techniques…you name it.

By the way, children with high IQs get into more trouble than anyone! Precocious is a web comic by Christopher J. Paulsen about a class of genius kids that find trouble wherever they go. I can personally vouch for the fact that this stuff actually happens. Most of the characters directly parallel my childhood friends, entirely by coincidence.

Myth #6: Geniuses have no social skills.

It depends on the genius. Many people who are Autism-spectrum have high IQs, quite possibly as a result of their unusual psychology. They usually have an area of interest, and they will rapidly acquire knowledge and expertise in that area, sometimes far beyond “normal” experts in that same field. Varying difficulty with social situations is a normal part of being Autism-spectrum.

However, not all geniuses are Autism-spectrum! There are quite a number of geniuses who naturally excel in social situations, and still more that have learned to be socially proficient. (I’m one of the latter, as social skills did not come easy to me.)

Myth #7: Geniuses love math.

There are different kinds of genius. Again, having a high IQ provides one natural advantage: the capability to excel above “normal” standards of intelligence. You could say, we’re born with the tools to be genius. However, it is largely up to us how we want to use those tools.

The math genius is only one variety. You have musical geniuses, art geniuses, engineering geniuses, logical geniuses, physics geniuses, medical geniuses, biology geniuses, chemistry geniuses, business geniuses, design geniuses, social geniuses…the list goes on and on.

Some of this is influenced by the specific set of tools the genius is born with. I came with the raw ability to read people within moments of meeting them, to manipulate complex mathematical and logical situations, to think in six dimensions, to analyze and develop complex musical patterns, and to accumulate an extensive vocabulary.

In other words, I came with a people-scanner, a scientific calculator, a 6D whiteboard, a huge, blank dictionary and a multi-armed metronome. I couldn’t really use any of this right away – I had to learn how to use each to its fullest capacity. I’m still learning.

Every genius has their own set of tools, and thus, their own unique capabilities and areas of expertise. I am NOT an engineer, my friend James is. I am not a masterful artist, my friend Bre is. I cannot yet compose a full-orchestra symphony, my friend Duncan can. I am not a physicist, my friend Joe is. I can’t wrap my brain around most of the philosophers, my friend Dave can. I am not a global-picture planner, my mother Anne is. I’m convinced that all of the above are geniuses – they have the signs – but they aren’t necessarily good at what I’m good at, and I’m not necessarily good at what they’re good at.

By the way, it is possible for a genius to be mediocre in academia, but brilliant at social situations or strategy. Some of the greatest business owners of the world fit that description.

Myth #8: Normals can never go as far as geniuses.

Sorry, folks, that’s a cop-out. We all have something we’re good at, and every person breathing is capable of going all the way with their talent, given the opportunity and the effort. For a “normal,” that may just take a bit longer.

I am convinced that, for the most part, everyone can gain the same level of expertise in any area…given unlimited time. The problem is, our time on earth is limited. Geniuses learn from and work alongside normals all the time. It isn’t unusual to find two people who have the same knowledge and expertise, and for one to have twice the IQ. The genius probably just took half the time to get there. That’s why I say that I have a “high intellectual metabolism.”

I won’t lie, being a genius has advantages! I can learn something one week, and be teaching it to others in the next. I can wrap my brain around enigmas that few people can. But, as I’ve shown, “genius” comes with its own disadvantages and challenges. God gave us the ability to handle having a jet engine for a brain. He didn’t make everyone with that capacity.

But I do envy non-geniuses in some ways. Normals can truly relax. They can shut off all the noise in their minds and just be. They don’t have to learn constantly to keep their brains from exploding. They can watch a movie or have a conversation without analyzing everything.

Would I trade in my “genius card”? Not for anything in the world. But whether you’re a “genius” or a “normal,” I hope you feel a little more comfortable with yourself.

Whoever you are, let me encourage you with this: Be content with your identity. God made you the way you are for a reason. If you’re a genius, then He knew you could handle the challenges that come with it, and that you could make the most of it. If you’re not, don’t envy those of us with high IQs. God never intended you to have this kind of brain, and He has a perfectly good reason for it. Find out what you’re good at and master it. While you’re at it, take a moment and enjoy the ability to turn off your mind. We geniuses envy that about you.



3 thoughts on “8 Myths About Genius

  1. 2 and 4 especially.

    So many things (from the outsiders perspective) look so easy, people think that these things are some kind of super ability or something like that. Perhaps the process comes quicker, but it is by no means easy. Nor does it mean that we don’t things wrong either….even the “smartest” of people need correction.

    There’s difficulty of expectation or various social situations. I know for myself that the real difficulty comes in being able to walk in society and be “normal.” My biggest pet peeve is “aren’t you that person….” after I affirm said statement, “insert laud and praise here” That is to say, I (nor do I really think any “genius” or those of us with super high intellectual capacity) like to be defined by our abilities and restricted as such. For example, when people say that I’m too good for (place of former employment…or wherever I happen to be), it really upsets me. It’s like I don’t come for the praise, or expectation, but for the love of what I do and the desire to see others succeed and love. It’s like don’t box us exalt us just because of x. Good post.

  2. Anne says:

    Nicely written. I had no idea about my high IQ until I hit my 30s. I just remember growing up feeling “different” than most folks around me, especially my nuclear family. My closest friends were the brainiacs who, like me, approached life with a “How can we figure this out?” mentality. I despised math (managing to be on speaking terms with numbers for tax and bill purposes–ONLY), but I do have unusual capabilities in several other areas.

    To me, IQ is just a number. What really matters is that people find out who they are, and embrace the gifts God gave them. It’s not worth it to try to compete with other people. Our only comparisons should be in whether we have grown since last week, last month, last year.

  3. Sheila Williams says:

    Just wanted to pass on this info in case you weren’t aware of this:

    in case you haven’t seen this article.


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