Problems smart people have
Let’s talk about the psychological oddities of smart people.
I love them…
…but sometimes I want to slap them.
They might be really good at their jobs and have gotten great grades, but being smart also leaves people with odd problems in different areas of life.
Thanks to my exposure to classmates at Stanford and some of my CEO friends, I’ve spent a lot of time around smart people…and today, like a freaking zoological study, I get to share their weird psychological curiosities with you.
This is gonna be fun.
So without further ado…let’s talk about SMART PEOPLE PROBLEMS.
SMART PEOPLE PROBLEM #1: THEY OVER INTELLECTUALIZE THINGS
Every so often, I speak to the military through a great organization called American Dream U.
A while back, they took us to Fort Bragg to fire M4s, ride around in a tank, and jump out of a 34-foot building (the one they use to train paratroopers).
I don’t love heights, but I thought I’d be fine. 34 feet isn’t that high, right?
As soon as I got to the top and looked over, everything in my body started screaming DON’T JUMP, RAMIT. Why? Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was the thought of being instantly crippled when I landed on the BARBED WIRE…maybe.
But of course I couldn’t say this out loud. I’m a big bad CEO, right?
So I started talking. A LOT. I started saying the procedures out loud to the guy.
“OK, first, fold my arms…neck down…NECK DOWN…keep the arms close…don’t twist…”
The guy looked at me, rolled his eyes, and sighed. As I kept talking, I could just imagine what he was thinking. ‘This goddamn civilian wasting my time when I could be sleeping, goddammit why did I get voluntold to lead these idiots around…’
I was still talking, btw.
Finally he looked at me and screamed “ENOUGH TALKING. TIME TO GO.” And out I went.
Playing paratrooper at Fort Bragg. This is a 34-foot tower I jumped out of (5-6 flights of stairs up). That’s the jump master telling me to stop talking and jump. I thought I would be a tough guy but standing on the ledge of a building and jumping out was pretty scary. Thanks @americandreamu for the opportunity to visit two bases and speak to hundreds of soldiers. It’s a huge honor.
A post shared by Ramit Sethi (@ramit) on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:28pm PDT
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Smart people tend to over-intellectualize things, sometimes to the point of analysis paralysis. Since they can see lots of angles — in fact, they’ve been rewarded for seeing multiple angles — they often can’t accept what’s in front of them. How could they? They were trained to see beyond the obvious.
This can be ideal when they’re considering complex strategies or life decisions. But when it comes to jumping out of a building, they should just shut up and jump.
SMART PEOPLE PROBLEM #2: THEY’RE PERFECTIONISTS
Welcome to Ramit’s Lesson #593 on Losers:
No/low standards = loser
High standards = awesome
Perfectionism = loser
It’s an odd backwards-bending curve, isn’t it?
No/low standards, and you take anything you can get. Think of the people you know in this category, people who have no boundaries or standards. Ugh.
On the other hand, high standards show you have selectivity and options. This is someone who sets boundaries, knows who they are, and is unapologetic about it.
…you have perfectionists.
Perfectionism can be crippling.
I’ve come to realize that it’s the smart person’s version of Fear of Failure.
When you’re surrounded by superstars who achieve amazing things, you don’t want to put crap out into the world. And you definitely don’t want to get a B (nor should you — take the hard class and get a fucking A).
I’ve seen this a lot from people who have highly successful careers. For example, a friend who works at Google earns over $220,000/year. They mentioned they’ve been thinking about starting a business, but:
“If it’s not going to earn 6 figures, why even bother?”
It’s kind of rational, when you think about it. If you make $220K+/year and have very limited time, earning a couple thousand dollars isn’t very compelling. It’s actually a drag on the limited time you have.
Yet you still have to do it.
SMART PEOPLE PROBLEM #3: THEY’RE AFRAID OF LOOKING STUPID
When I was trying to teach personal finance at Stanford, everyone seemed excited…until it came time to attend the class. (Which was free.)
I later discovered that people hate going to events about money because it makes them feel bad about themselves.
ESPECIALLY smart people.
“I’m smart. I should already know this. I don’t want to go and ask a stupid question. I should figure this out on my own.”
And this was in COLLEGE! How the hell were people supposed to know about personal finance back then?
Frankly, it would be better if someone kinda dumb decided to learn about money. At least they’d be honest that they don’t know personal finance (and why should they?). And they’d jump into learning with both feet.
“HEY KINDA DUMB PEOPLE. WANT TO LEARN ABOUT PERSONAL FINANCE?” I should have led with that.
SMART PEOPLE PROBLEM #4: THEY FORGET WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BEGINNER
Sometimes the very best are horrible teachers.
That’s because they just can’t remember what it’s like being a beginner!
Go talk to Mariah Carey and ask her how to break into the business. She doesn’t know! She’s been a diva for so long — she requires that her music is played when she enters a room — that she has no idea what it’s like to be a beginner.
Love you, Mariah.
Smart people have spent so many years working on something that they often forget what it’s like to be a beginner.
Like my computer science professor in college who once looked at my problem — which I was hopelessly stuck on — and he told me to “Harness the power of C.”
As you get more and more advanced in your career (or relationship or business or pretty much anything), it becomes harder and harder to relate to true beginners. That’s because you’ve built your skill on a series of increasing foundational blocks of knowledge — like building a skyscraper, first sketching it on paper, then with the concrete, then on and on.
If you’re a NYC real-estate developer and someone comes to you and asks what type of wood to use in their house, you’d stare at them blankly. ‘Wood? Who the hell knows? I want to talk about complex financing to get this thing built.’
That’s why not all smart people are great teachers. (But most great teachers are smart.)
SMART PEOPLE PROBLEM #5: THEY WANT TO SKIP THE BASICS.
Do you know how many people email me saying this?
Guy: “Hey Ramit, I really love your stuff but I already have a product. Got anything more advanced?”
Me (sigh): “Awesome! How big is your business?”
Guy: “The site has been up for 3 years and I’ve generated $460. I have 31 email subscribers.”
This guy thinks he’s too advanced at $460 OVER 3 YEARS. I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP.
Only follow me on Twitter if you want to laugh
Are you kidding me? Too many people think they’re too advanced to perfect the fundamentals.
You know who understands this?
Anyone who’s the best at their game.
Steph Curry, for example, practices thousands of shots every day.
Stop getting too advanced for your own good and stop trying to skip ahead. There’s joy in mastering the basics.
And once you get good, you’ll recognize that the very best earn the right to focus on the advanced stuff by becoming truly world-class at the fundamentals.
God. I love working with smart people, but this article makes me hate everybody.
If you have smart friends, share this article with them and see if they can tell it’s about them.