archives, wisdom

You Can’t Show How Smart You Are to Anyone, Not Even to Yourself.


You may have been told that you ought to keep quiet about your intelligence and your achievements.

You may have been told that others will feel bad if you express enthusiasm for something that you know. You may have been called a show-off, a geek, a brainiac, or a know-it-all.

So, you hide. You stay small. You dumb down.

Why? Because, you say (pick one or more):

1. It’s not cool to be too smart.
2. Other people will feel bad about themselves.
3. I’ll be lonely.
4. I’ll be ridiculed.
5. I’ll take up too much space.
6. I’ll overshadow others.
7. I’ll become egocentric, arrogant and self-absorbed.
8. My mother was brilliant and she was also abusive. I can’t be like her.
9. It’s dangerous.
10. I’ll outshine my parents and my teachers, and I can’t do that.
11. I don’t want to be like my father, who used his intellect to be manipulative.
12. I know how much I don’t know.
13. I won’t be able to sustain it, and then I’ll disappoint everyone.
14. It’s way too much pressure.
15. I’ll embarrass myself.
16. I’ll overwhelm people. They won’t be able to handle me.
17. I’ve fooled everyone. I’m not actually all that smart. I just test well.
18. If I reveal myself and then I fail, it would be devastating.
19. I’m not the smart one.
20. Change is scary, and I’m comfortable in my discomfort.
21. I’m used to my habits and routines. Why rock the boat?
22. Did I mention that I’m not really all that smart?

Okay then, I hear you.

But the world needs you to stop hiding.

You know I’m right.

Of course, I don’t want you to do anything that feels too unsafe. But I do want you to realize that all beings will benefit if you express yourself and show us what you’ve got, and if you tap that wellspring of intellect, creativity and sensitivity. Your children and grandchildren, and your neighbors’ children and grandchildren, will reap the benefits. Your ancestors will be grateful. The planet will thank you. Really.

Here is a way to think about it.

Get clearer about who you really are and the deeper reasons for your hiding tendencies.

For example, you might have a rainforest mind.

What is that, you ask?

We know people who are like meadows. Gentle, sweet, flowery. We know people who are like volcanoes. Ready to erupt at any moment. We know people who are like oceans. Deep, vast, mysterious, salty. You? Like the jungle. Or, more politely, rainforest. Extremely intense, complex, sensitive, smart, creative, colorful, expressive, empathetic, and misunderstood. With the ability to contribute to creating a better world, as long as you’re allowed to be yourself.

Having a rainforest mind can be tricky though. You may have been super-curious and talkative when you were younger. Your questions and sensitivities may have overwhelmed the adults in your life. Other children may have bullied you because of your love of the thesaurus and your need to correct their spelling.

As you got older, it didn’t get easier. Even though you loved learning, school may have become tedious because you already knew what they were teaching. They didn’t know what to do with you. You may have been told that you were too sensitive, too emotional, too curious, and too smart. Too much.

And now you feel pressure. Lots of pressure. If you were told how smart you were, over and over, and everyone expected you to achieve greatness, you may feel like a failure if you haven’t won a Nobel prize, or if you haven’t figured out what career path to follow so you’ve had several different unsatisfying jobs over the past few years.

What happened to your great potential? If you’re so smart, why aren’t you a rocket scientist?

And you have high standards and expectations for yourself. With each achievement, you keep raising the bar. Even if others are impressed with your accomplishments, you aren’t. You see all of your mistakes. And you are frustrated with your coworkers who take forever to understand the problems that you solve while everyone else is still eating their morning donuts.

So, you’ve learned that it’s not okay to be smart. To be sensitive, empathetic, and curious. It’s safer to hide. Better to stay small rather than expand into all of your rainforest-y intensity and radiance.

I hear you.

But, the world needs you now. More than ever. You know this. It’s been on your mind for a long time.

And it’s a little scary. And lonely.

I get it.

So, start here:

Understand the complexity of your rainforest mind. Learn the reasons for your reluctance. Be kind to yourself.

Then, love your thesaurus anyway.

Show yourself. To yourself. And to the rest of us.

We’re ready for you.


Paula Prober is a licensed counselor, consultant, author, blogger, and tango dancer in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. She’s spent over 30 years working with gifted youth and adults. She consults internationally with rainforest-minded adults and parents of gifted children. Her book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016. She blogs at Your Rainforest Mind, a blog in support of the excessively curious, creative, smart and sensitive.


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