3 min

I’m Not Smart

I’ve never considered myself smart. 

My parents labeled us pretty quickly as kids. Alexis was the sensitive, smart daughter. I was the outgoing, athletic one. 

But labels have power. My sister was smart and I wasn’t. 

Polina Marinova Pompliano elaborates:

“Sometimes, we voluntarily label ourselves, and sometimes society labels us. When we do it, labeling can act as a compass to our values. When someone else does it, a label can be a lifelong prison sentence.”

My parents never said, “You’re not smart,” but by labeling Alexis as smart and never explicitly telling me I was smart, it became deep-seated in my identity.

And we’re all at risk of continuing to pass along our baggage to the next generation. My friend Rick struggled through high school and barely graduated from community college. But Rick is an amazing storyteller and knows how to connect with people. He’s a natural salesman and has a lucrative career he loves. 

But now he’s overcompensating with his daughter. Every time we talk on the phone he tells me how smart she is. She’s 5.

Rick’s got her doing flashcards for math after school every day. He brags about how advanced she is. He does it right in front of her. 

Rick has told himself a story about what smart means. Just like I have told myself a story about what smart means. 

Neither of our stories are true. Nor are they serving us. And they’re certainly not serving our kids.

When kids identify as smart they think things should come easy to them. And when kids identify as not smart, they expect things to be too hard. No matter which side of the equation they’re on, it’s easy to give up. It’s easy to say, “Well I’m just not good at that so I’m not going to do it.”

My husband and I never want to tell our son he’s smart. We want him to think he can learn or achieve anything he puts his mind to. So that when he comes across a problem he can’t solve quickly or easily, he doesn’t think, “I’m not smart enough.” Instead he’ll think, “I need to ask more questions, spend more time with this, dig deeper.” 

I’ll never be proud of George for being smart. I’ll be proud of him for his effort. For trying. For focusing on the process. For sticking with it.