13 February 2022
Not Smart Enough
It’s time to write this. My greatest insecurity, by far.
Am I even smart enough?
When did this insecurit
y begin? Paradigm. Or was it earlier?
In ninth grade, as we (I) returned from Germany and began at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, MD, the idea was, knowing I was not a total dumb-dumb, to enroll me in the gifted program. At Kennedy, the gifted program was called the Leadership Training Institute (LTI). Or something like that – perhaps it as actually considered a magnet program, but the idea is the same: the brightest of the bright kids in the school entered that program at ninth grade and moved through it to graduation.
I sat in on LTI for just one day. That day, the instructor wrote the word paradigm on the board, and the ent
ire lecture centered upon that concept.
The problem was, at the time, I’d never encountered the word. I don’t even recall being confused about its meaning – although perhaps there was some of that – so much as I was intimidated the entire class knew the word, where I did not.
And I was definitely afraid to fail.
Ooooh man here’s another trauma response, isn’t it? Fear of failure, so I didn’t take the chance. Did it begin so young? Even younger, perhaps?
In any case, I quit LTI after
that day. I told everyone and anyone who asked it was because it was too “cliquish” and the students were all druggies. For sure, both were true…but all this was just some fluff to make myself feel superior when in I was intellectually insecure and afraid to fail.
Later, and this one is written in my personal journal, at the age of 19, it was my coworker and fellow intern at the CIA, Jeff, that made me feel inferior – but this time the result was different. Jeff was working on his master’s (or PhD?) while completing his undergrad. He was brilliant, but that brilliance took its toll: he was an arrogant asshole. With his greasy black hair so long it flopped at the sides of his forehead like wings, the grotesquely pleated khakis that accentuated his rotund derriere, and his bouncing, eccentric gait, he became the embodiment of the word pompous in my mind. Yet his cerebral pride prevented him from being kind. Or, perhaps because I was pretty (something I can only admit now), perhaps because I represented something tangible he lacked, he felt he needed to boast his superiority in the form of intelligence.
Jeff’s treatment of me, belittling of me (did he do this, or am I remembering wrong? did he simply exist and that was belittling enough?), lit a fire under my ass. I started reading literature in earnest. I’d previously picked up and put down Jane Eyre, deeming it beyond my capabilities; but once Jeff made me feel small, I attacked the book with a new fe
rvor. I would never let someone make me feel intellectually inferior again. And I would never deem a text beyond my capabilities again, even if it meant reading more slowly and diligently. If Jeff could pile book upon book upon book, so could I! That summer, I must’ve read twenty books and simultaneously dove into my own mind with the excitement of a scuba diver over a sunken ship. What treasures existed within? What could introspection reveal? I read and I wrote – and I emulated my favorite writers and now, I believe that perhaps it is thanks to Jeff, and my bitter jealousy of his intelligence, that I found the courage necessary to improve upon myself and my lot.
Yet that intellectual insecurity persists today alongside my fears of failure.
I read books like Nightbitch and The Elegance of the Hedgehog and think, I’m simply not smart enough to accomplish something this great.
Not smart enough, not smart enough…this mantra reverberates through my head like churchbells in a stone tower, yet the toller won’t stop after twelve. On and on and on it goes, and I cannot make it cease.
Am I really not smart enough to accomplish this?
What of creativity? What of persistence? What of courage?
…and at moments, my fear of failure steps up and whispers between the bell tolls: “You have none of these. You can’t succeed. So why even try?” Or is that my mother’s voice I’m hearing?
Funny. I began writing this thinking its ending would be hopeful, its message would uplift. That there is something in there worthy of pressing me forward despite insecurity. But at this moment, I’ve lost it.
Yet there is something to be said for individuality of the mind, isn’t there?
Perhaps Yoder and Barbery are smarter, or perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are simply different in the ways their minds work. Different from mine. Perhaps, even, they are just further along on their writing journeys than I am. Perhaps they had parents who encouraged them young and reiterated that their worth was disentangled from their failures. Perhaps they had teachers who spoke up, prodded. Perhaps, in the end, intelligence is less important than courage and persistence.
Perhaps this is my hope and uplift: my story is unique, and I can be courageous and persistent. Perhaps I can face failure without dejection and defeat.
Perhaps I am enough.