“I’m not smart,” she said, her eyes wide with pain.

I never get used to the heartbreaking words I often hear from the little brown couch in my counseling office. Labels can be difficult to peel off once they stick. We wear beliefs about ourselves like tattoos – messages about who we are that have become a part of our identity.

Intelligence is no exception. Somehow “smart” has become something that we either are or are not. It’s easy to understand how our perspective has been shaped the way it has. After all, most schools and many workplaces tend to measure and celebrate a very specific kind of intelligence. Not all of us have been given a safe place to display our particular brand of “smart.”

Scores and rankings fail to define a person. Who we are cannot be described with a number. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that we need a broader definition of what it means to be intelligent. Perhaps it’s time to stop asking ourselves if we are smart or not, and start asking what types of genius we see in others and ourselves.

We are wise to consider different types of intelligence in order to better appreciate one another for the people we are instead of how we perform. Some of us think easily in terms of numbers and reasoning. Others of us are skilled in understanding our own thoughts and feelings and how people interact with each other. Some of us are able to ponder deep questions about life’s meaning and others can understand space and organization. While still others are musically inclined and have an ear for pitch and others have unique body awareness and coordination.

When it comes to intelligence, it’s not a matter of “if.” It’s a matter of “how.” Intelligence isn’t about measuring people, it’s about appreciating people – noticing one another’s gifts.

 When it comes to intelligence, it’s not a matter of ‘if.’ It’s a matter of ‘how.’

Seeing one another for who we are and the unique talents that we have to contribute changes the way we interact with each other and ourselves in a variety of ways.

Resist Comparison

When we compare, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. When we think of intelligence in terms of measurement, we are forced to rank people according to their performance instead of noticing and appreciating the essence of who they are.

Embrace Community

No one possesses every kind of intelligence and everyone is intelligent in some way. While we don’t need anybody to complete us or make us more significant, acknowledging the different types of intelligence and understanding one another’s uniqueness allows us to be better and brighter together  than we might be on our own. We have the potential to miss valuable opportunities when we make the mistake of dismissing someone on the account of not being intelligent in one particular way.

Challenge One Another

When we consider intelligence to be a matter of “how” and not “if,” we resist the temptation to try to change one another and instead, we look for opportunities to challenge one another. Different kinds of intelligence foster different ways of thinking that have the potential to enlighten us if we give “different” a chance to teach. “Smart” is not something that you have to fight to be. You already are. The adventure begins when we feel confident that this is true.

You have nothing to prove. You already have everything you need to contribute to the world’s needs in a valuable way. Cease the striving and wondering about how you measure up. And let’s begin the practice of celebrating ourselves and others and appreciating the way we all think differently.

How would you describe the kind of intelligent you are?

Image via Auste Skrupskyte



  1. This reminds me of an old college roommate I had. A perfect example is when he decided to go swimming at the gyms pool with me and my buddy who was also another roommate. So to set things up my buddy had been a lifeguard in his younger days and thus was a fairly competent swimmer, I was alright and good enough to be comfortable in the water. We had started swimming regularly as part of an exercise routine and this roommate decided to join us one day which was fine since it was at the campuses gym and they had a fairly large pool. While we were heading to the pool the roommate was talking about how good a swimmer he was and how much he used to swim in high school and such. So when we arrived at the pool having been swimming for a while we choose lanes on the deep end of the pool, the roommate chooses the deepest lane there is and proceeds to do the most terrible freestyle swim I have ever seen so terrible in fact that one of the pools lifeguards came up and actually asked him to move to a shallow lane. Now neither my buddy or I would have cared at all if the roommate had decided to swim in a shallower lane because he hadn’t swam in a while, I had done exactly that for the first two weeks because I hadn’t swam in a while and wanted to regain my confidence and ability but he had to brag about skills he clearly didn’t have literally moments before going to a place where his proclaimed abilities would be tested.

  2. So very true, that is the way I think too! When they ask for an IQ test…that is so narrow minded! Intelligence is about so much more. And now I know I have more then one.

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