Recently while filling out paperwork for some potential teaching assignments, I requested college and high school transcripts to send in with the applications. Looking through my academic record was a bit humbling in many respects.
Those Algebra II grades my junior year in high school were disturbingly low. I too well recall the horrid feeling of going into that class each day not knowing how to catch up with all the formulas I was supposed to know. I felt dumb and frankly lost in a fog of fear and dread. I failed the second semester.
Somehow that didn’t hold me back from graduating. There were other academic blunders as well. I received a D during sophomore year Spanish as well. Something about the way we were supposed to learn the language in that class left me numb. We sat in cubicles with earphones on our heads repeating whatever words we heard.
Earlier in school, I experienced many moments of feeling disconnected from the learning process. Either my head was in a fog of boredom or I didn’t care enough about the subject to apply myself and try. But if I found the class or teacher interesting I’d do quite well. A’s and Bs even.
That hot-and-cold learning pattern affected me in some sports as well. Learning an offense in basketball was never my favorite thing to do. Nor was picking up a full-court trap defense. During scholastic years I was more interested in the flow and excitement of the game than the subtleties of the pick-and-roll. Sometimes I felt stupid out there on the court.
Even in running, I made some dumb mistakes. Learning a cross country course in a ten minute tour was never my strong suit. I lost a race to a key conference rival because I failed to recall that we didn’t need to make trip around the far side of the track during the second loop. My two-hundred yard lead evaporated and I lost by mere steps at the end of the race. I felt really stupid after that.
My teammates recognized these traits in me. They’d nudge me to pay extra attention during the course tour. But with nerves and anxiety coursing through my brain, I’d still lose track and at times wind up frantically trying to recall which way to run. Were the yellow flags to go straight, or turn left? I could never remember.
Yet there were races where my “smarts” took over in other ways. During one invitational held on an old quarry property, the course cut through cattail ponds and up over humps of gravel piles. As a country kid used to climbing around that kind of landscape, I was in my element.
As the years went by I began to learn to compensate for the lack of attention and compensate for my seeming lack of smarts on diligent tasks. Those of us with forms of attention deficit disorder, I am told, often face the lifelong struggle of getting our minds to work on traditional fashion. It all comes down to “executive functions,” they say. Those traits that plug into corporate goal-setting and completion.
Ultimately I learned how to organize thoughts and chronicle paths from point A to Z. I conceptualized large-scale sponsorship programs centered around mutual benefits in collaboration with outside partners in the corporate and non-profit world. I grew especially proud of monetizing those efforts and getting a return on investment.
In some ways, I turned out far smarter than others in creating those opportunities. I still envy people who seem to be able to turn their skills into gold. I marvel at people making $350,000 a year when they don’t seem that much smarter than other folks I know. The corporate world organizes itself around those with talent for building teams, motivating people and accomplishing objective on-track and on-time.
So I still can’t answer the question as to whether I’m smart or not. But I wonder if anyone really can? It seems there is always someone a bit smarter than you waiting to snark on your Facebook post or cut to the quick on a Zoom call comment.
I’ve written this blog and others for 8-10 years and they’ve never really “blown up” as perhaps I’d hoped. Maybe I’m not smart enough to figure out how to make that happen. I do all the things the blog experts recommend. But there’s always something missing. Something other people know that I don’t. People are smarter than me.
What writing this blog and others has done is challenge my writing skills on a daily basis. That is an ability applicable on many fronts. Plus it’s been a form of therapy through the thick and thin of life. Some days I feel thick in the head. Other days I feel thin on insights about how to be a marvelous success in life. Most days I just pray for sanity, a coping mechanism for anxiety or depression, a hope for creativity and a love for productivity.
The thing I’ve always abided along the way is to keep on trying. All that running, riding and swimming is a reflection of that commitment. And…if that’s as smart as I ever get, that’s all I can ask for. These activities fuel creative thinking and help me solve problems. Not all of them, but most of them. That seems like a pretty smart way to live even if I never do thrill the world with my ideas.
But here’s my only little secret. I’ll never quit trying. And that’s smart.