Love, Life Stories

I let others write me off as “smart” and lazy until I finally fought back

If you're smart, you don't need to put in the effort. You can pull through - because you're smart. But the real world doesn't work like that.

In high school, my defining characteristic was being smart.

If you asked someone about me, they would say I was smart. That’s partially because I was, and still am, a know-it-all. But I was by no means a slouch in high school – I took AP and honors-level classes. It was challenging, but never so much that I couldn’t handle it. I skated through high school on the fact that I was “smart” enough to bullshit my way through whatever I needed to do.

[bctt tweet=”I skated through high school on the fact that I was ‘smart’ enough. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

This isn’t to say that I didn’t try; I did. But I always waited until the deadline, scrambling to finish things because I never felt the inspiration to work. Only a combination of fear and procrastination motivated me to get things done. After being told that I was smart for most of my life, it certainly made me feel like I was smart enough to get away with anything. Being told that boosted my ego, so I believed it. I coasted on my innate ability to figure out school and moved forward.

And this also isn’t to say I never dedicated myself to finishing something. I became Bar Mitzvah when I was 12, and I got my black belt in karate that same year. During high school, I wrote and directed a couple one act plays, and I am still really proud of them. I knew how to work hard at the things I wanted to achieve, but the everyday things I needed to accomplish? I had to fight my own brain tooth and nail to get stuff done.

Now, as someone approaching true adulthood, I can see what being told I was “smart” did to my self-worth. It inflated my ego to the point where I thought that I was above putting in the real, honest-to-goodness hard work. It made me lazy, because I could get away with putting in minimal effort and still succeed. But after reflection, I want to change. I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m fighting against this mentality every day. Being in university helps, because I have to work harder than I ever had to before. But when the times get rough, I fall right back into the patterns I’ve been trying to break.

A lot of the people that I talk to who procrastinate also describe themselves as perfectionists. It’s a dangerous combination. We wait until the last second to do something because then we can blame time and other external influences if the work isn’t to the best of our perceived ability.

[bctt tweet=”It’s better to not produce my best work than to be judged on my actual abilities.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If we wait, and it’s bad, it’s that we didn’t have enough time, not that we didn’t put in enough effort. If we put in all the effort and took days and days and it’s still bad, it’s crushing. It’s better to procrastinate and not produce my best work than to be judged on what my actual abilities can produce. If everything can be blamed on an outside factor, then my self-worth doesn’t take the hit, because it wasn’t my fault. At least, that’s how I’ve rationalized this behavior.

And I can blame part of that rationalization on being the “smart” kid my whole life, and I know there are others who agree. Having that label ascribed to you gives you a free pass on effort. If you are smart, you don’t need to study for exams, or make a schedule when writing papers, or put the effort into presentations. You can pull through – because you’re smart.

[bctt tweet=”Being smart will never be as fulfilling as creating success for myself.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But the real world doesn’t work like that. My life doesn’t work like that. I left a small high school as the smart kid and went on to a small college full of other very smart kids. I’m doing well here, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have been doing better if I hadn’t left the toxic idea of being “smart” behind earlier.

The minute I realized I couldn’t scrape by on little-to-no effort anymore, just because I was smart, was the best day of my life. It opened up my eyes to the fact that I could be so much more if I actually tried. Working hard and producing my best work possible at school has done more for my self-worth than making up excuses ever could. Being smart will never be as fulfilling as creating success for myself.

My new goal is to be motivated. To be driven. To be dedicated. All these characteristics are so much better for my self-worth than smart. I can never go back and change the past, but I can move forward on a different path. I’ll always be that smart kid from high school.

But now I know there are so many other, better things to be than “smart.”

  • Jennelle Barosin

    Jennelle is a Writing and Classical Civilizations major at Loyola University Maryland. When she isn't writing, you can find her concocting a new recipe in the kitchen, watching documentaries on Netflix, and talking to people about mental health and sexuality education.