Free Advice: How smart is smart?

Free Advice is a periodic feature in which I answer anonymous letters sent to markbialczak.com. Today’s reader asks for my opinion about the relationship between academic degrees and everyday intelligence. At least that’s how I interpret it.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Dear Mark,

I went to a very good college and have a high IQ, according to standardized tests. Nevertheless, when I make a mistake, I still tell myself “You’re an idiot!”

What should I do?

Sincerely,

Anxious in America

Dear Anxious,

Thanks for writing. And I’d like to start off by saying that was an extremely smart move, taking a step to remedy a situation that has apparently been a thorn in your side for some time. I get that from your carefully chosen use of the word “still” when you describe how your go-to mechanism is to beat yourself up when you make a mistake with some internal name-calling.

Repeat after me. You are not an idiot. You are not an idiot. You are not an idiot.

You are a human being.

I, too, went to a fairly good college. In fact, in just the last year, the Universty of Maryland at College Park became an even better college, moving from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten, a far more prestigious collection of institutes of higher learning, I believe. I now can tell people I graduated from a Big Ten university. How about that!

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

And if I recall correctly, my IQ was said to have demolished the three-digit barrier when my friend’s older sister talked my parents into using me as a guineau pig, er, subject, for her university project, when I was in junior high school. Everybody had to agree to not tell me the exact number. Idiots! But enough about me.

No more name calling, OK? It’s not needed, it’s not necessary, and it is not accurate.

Everybody makes mistakes, all the time. This simply does not have anything to do with how smart you are. Why just yesterday, I … No, I don’t want to share that one. Last week, I … Nah. There was that time last year when … Just kidding. Humor is important in dealing with life, always. Since I was laid off from my newroom job two years ago, I fear that perhaps I have not always made the proper choices while charting the path that has taken me to where I am today. But I’m happy nevertheless. Everybody makes mistakes, all the time, and there’s simply no need to beat one’s self up about it.

Now about that anxiety in your salutation. Relax! Let it go! You attended a good college, have a high IQ, live a life equipped with the wherewithall to read my blog and send me an email question, and your grammar and spelling were both flawless. So not only are the standarized tests a good indication of your intelligence, but so is your letter to me. Take a deep breath. Put life into perspective. You have so much going for you. Pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain … Or the little voice screaming at you from inside your head.

Have a good day.

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Free Advice is a periodic feature. Send questions to markbialczak@gmail.com. Anonymity is assured.

My qualifications: 57 years of open eyes and ears but no stalking charges. One dear wife Karen, one terrific daughter Elisabeth and her wonderful boyfriend George, one sensational stepson Daryl, one pet Ellie B aka Dogamous Pyle and various other family members of scattered location and adjectives. Four decades of writing in public about people, places and things.

Satisfaction is the goal, but is by no means guaranteed.

65 thoughts on “Free Advice: How smart is smart?

  1. I too graduated from a Big Ten school. Indiana University. Of course I don’t know how they can still call it Big Ten with 14 members. As for Anxious in American I think he is just trolling for compliments.

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    • Indiana U. Great school, Benson. I don’t think our Big Ten should change the name even with 14 members, because of tradition. Are we in 10 states, perhaps? I’d have to count. Two in Michigan … Two in Indiana … Two in Illinois. Nope, 11 states. Dagnabbit. Anyway, I did my best to boost Anxious’ confidence and relieve the anxiety. It’s all good. No

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well ol’ buddy I just Googled Pac10 and it is now the Pac12, after adding Oregon State and Utah. Speaking of the Big 10 I am glad Maryland joined.It brings more talent and maybe IU can get its revenge.

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    • Yes, the Pac 10 expanded and changed it’s name. I think the Big Ten’s reluctance to change stems from the fact that there is another Big conference, the Big 12. Before adding Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten couldn’t switch to the Big 12. Already taken! Now, Big 14 … Too much confusion. Stick with the brand! And yes, now your IU has a chance to avenge my Maryland beating you in that 2002 national championship basketball game. Of course, you’ll never be able to take that great memory away, as it’s the only one for us, and your team has multiple titles thanks to Bobby Knight.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Why did U of Chicago leave the Big Ten, Barb? (I’m better with your history than the conference’s history, my friend.) I think the fact that you live in a U.K. castle trumps all of this university talk anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The U of C was a Big Ten founding member, and in addition to several national championships, produced Jay Berwanger, first winner of what later became the Heisman trophy. Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg coached winning teams for about 40 seasons. But in 1933 University President Robert Hutchins (who famously—and perhaps apocryphally—said, “When I feel like exercising I just lie down until the feeling goes away.”) forced Stagg out and announced that the Big Ten football program would be abolished, which (in 1939) did occur. He felt strongly that the “life of the mind” should not be influenced by athletic heroes.

        What I remember the most is that even decades later, my grandfather was still furious with the University of Chicago. It had taken a LOT for him (a Notre Dame grad) to embrace the school when he moved his family to the south side of Chicago. But just as soon as he’d bought those lifetime season tickets, the program was abolished. He never got over it, so it’s probably just as well he never knew his own granddaughter had turned traitor and entered the Big Ten-less U of C.

        Liked by 1 person

      • For what it’s worth… this is the “University of Chicago Cheer” —

        Themistocles, Thucydides,
        The Peloponnesian War,
        X squared, Y squared,
        H2SO4.
        Who for? What for?
        What the hell are we cheering for?
        GO, MAROONS!
        Kant, Kant, Kant, Kant….

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    • With a cheer like that, U of C needs to be competing in the Ivy League, Barb! Of course that hallowed collection would never let another institution inside the ivy-covered halls of the imagination. Dang, what a boneheaded move from the president thinking smart people couldn’t also be athletic. Your grandpa sounds like he was both.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this smart and helpful answer, Mark! I hope the guy who is trolling for compliments (if Benson is correct about that) or whoever wrote you that email is happy with your response. I know I am.

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  3. What a great feature, Mark! I remember you telling me about this at the beginning of the year.
    I MUST think of a question…or, even better…find a way to feature you in my Friday Freestyle series. Hmmm….let me think on this – feel free to brainstorm right along.
    As for the answer for Anxious in America…I feel like I’m looking at the very next Dear Abby – but, much sweeter!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My husband graduated from Cornell with a degree in engineering and works as a rocket scientist (Subject Matter Expert) for Lockheed, but he can’t cook. He can’t even boil water without help. He has no street smarts. Just a few months ago he let a man drive off with our $9200. boat and did not get the money nor a receipt for the money. It caused all sorts of grief for three months. College degrees are overrated.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mark I think we learn the most from our mistakes, if we actually choose to learn from them. I wonder if Anxious in America knows that most of us feel like an idiot when we make a mistake. Maybe foolish is a better word. The funny thing is, at least for me, I would never call someone else an idiot for making the same mistake I’m yelling at myself for… What is that about? ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • A saying that is very popular is, we are our own harshest judge. Or critic. I’ve heard it both ways. That’s what that is all about, Diana. I like your premises about learning, always. Thanks for adding your sense to this conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Mark,

    I went to a very good college and have a high IQ, according to standardized tests. Nevertheless, when I make a mistake…oh wait, I never make a mistake.

    Never mind.

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  7. great response,mark. and you have great life advice credentials, too ) congrats on your win yesterday, the wolverines definitely got outplayed. my advice to them, ‘play better.’

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  8. Let’s not confuse higher education with intelligence. The two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Anyway, just to elevate the tone of the conversation here, I prefer to quote Bugs Bunny to myself when I do something particularly dumb: “What a ma-roon! Nyuck, nyuck.”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I am sometimes laughing at people who are very smart, yet don’t have common sense. Then, there are those who are very talented and a genius in many ways, who never pursued a college or trade school education. I would tell anyone to try not to kick yourself, which ever direction the person who wrote this letter or if there were a friend who asked this question, was heading. No one should call themselves an idiot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly, Robin. Nobody should every feel so badly about themselves that they call themselves an idiot. They can be frustrated or angry at a particular situatiion, but not at their core selves. Thanks for chipping in here, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My favorite part?
    We all are smart!

    I like the way you equate high intelligence with choosing to read your blog. Now that I am reading more posts, I can actually feel the dendrites and axons stretching and my IQ elevating. Gee, thanks, Mark!
    (Hey, fellow smarty-smart readers: Let’s form a club, and try to take over the world!)

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  11. sage advice, Mark. Wonder how old this question writer is. At some point, it’s good to learn to completely shut down the “you’re an idiot!” voice. While there may be times when that’s true, it does no good to rub it in. We know when we goofed and might as well move onward and upwards instead of getting stuck or falling down rabbit holes. And best as I can tell, the school a person gradutates from has almost zero to do with intelligence. It’s more about how a person handles what comes at them. My humble opinion.

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  12. I graduated from a mid-ranking university in the UK – never even thought about the ranking when I chose the course and never worried about when going for a job. I found, as comments suggest, that my attitude had much more influence than the name on the degree certificate.

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  13. I graduated from a very good high school Mark, looked at the math requirements for college, and decided I had already had all the math my brain could handle, so just took the courses I knew I would be interested in. Have the hours, but not the requirements, but also have the smarts (exception being math) necessary for living a well rounded life. You gave a good answer to a strange question, and if you want my opinion, I would be glad to share it, but you will have to ask for it. I will then quote a price for all my standard answers, and prices for other not so standard answers that you can save for future use if you need them>

    Seriously, I enjoy this blog, and hope to see more of it.

    Like

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