Why Smart People Struggle to Succeed

By AAwosika07 | Uncategorized

Jan 22

“You’re an enigma,” he told me.

I was sitting in the office with one of my marketing professors in college, trying to convince him to let me pass his class with a C. We made a deal that if I did well on the last group assignment for the year, he’d let me pass.

He also purposefully put me with students who were doing poorly in the class. He said this was my chance to be a leader and use the intelligence I clearly had.

“I don’t understand you. You’re one of the brightest students I’ve ever had. When you’re in class, you love to participate in discussions, but you don’t do any of your homework or the assigned quizzes.”

I’ve had similar conversations with other teachers and authority figures throughout my life. My marketing advisor, when looking at my abysmal grades, knowing I could easily pass my classes once asked me, “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

I had “potential syndrome.” I’ll explain that in a bit, but the point is that having a high intellect doesn’t correlate with success at all. And it can even be a trap.

So the point of this article is to help “smart” people who struggle with success and also to show people who aren’t “smart” that a high intellect doesn’t guarantee anything.

Either way, you’ll come to the conclusion that some of the most important factors to success have nothing to do with your mind’s processing power.

I Don’t Like the Word Smart At All

Why? I don’t know how to quantify it. I don’t necessarily buy into IQ. But smart people tend to process and synthesize information quickly. They’re sharp. Things come to them faster than others.

And I’m talking about the word smart in the narrowest, dumbest, and useless lens on purpose. These people tend to be book smart. And as you’ll find out soon, book smarts don’t necessarily help you succeed.

That’s where you come in.

Chances are if you clicked on this post, you’re probably one of the smart people I’m talking about. And I know your frustrations when it comes to getting what you want in this life. On the one hand, your logical mind works quite well, but it doesn’t translate directly to getting results.

This bothers you because you know you’re smart. If you’re so smart, though, why can’t you get what you want? How come you see people who aren’t as intelligent as you winning? It’s a strange curse of a feeling to know that you have all the potential in the world yet you’re not doing all that much with it.

Sometimes you might wish you were a little bit “dumber” because at least you wouldn’t have the self-awareness to even know you’re living below your potential. But, you can see the whole chessboard and it annoys you that you aren’t making the right moves. There are a number of different types of smart people and reasons why they struggle. Let’s talk about them.

Smart People Have Too Much Awareness of What Can Go Wrong

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” – Charles Bukowski

Oftentimes, it’s the people who might not be as book smart but have the street smarts and confidence to pull off their dreams. It doesn’t necessarily cross their minds that they’ll fail. They’re not dumb. They just don’t spend a ton of time constantly in their head like ‘smart’ people do.

Smart people tend to suffer from analysis paralysis. They need to know every single variable beforehand. And because they’re aware, they can see more variables than the average person, especially the variables that can lead to failure.

This is the type who thinks to themselves statements like “90 percent of all businesses fail.” Or, sometimes it’s not even the logical things they’re afraid of like statistics for success or failure. They suffer because they’re also acutely aware of the emotional downsides to pursuing a road less traveled.

They have a heightened sense of rejection, embarrassment, and the potential for lowered social status that comes with putting yourself out there and failing. It’s no coincidence that people with higher IQs tend to be quirky and socially awkward. They’re too aware.

So, how do you combat this? How can you be aware of the downsides and still proceed anyway:

  • Flip the variables on their head – Since you think so damn much, think about what your life will be like if you fail to take action. Put that vision of the future in HD instead of the one where you try and fail.
  • Make friends with people who take action – Connect with people who know how to execute. In fact, this person would make a great business partner for someone like you.
  • Find a way to paint yourself into a corner – Make decisions that have a high social cost for reversing, e.g., when I was scared to pitch my idea for a TEDx talk, I hastily filled out the form, got accepted, and told all of the members of my speech club. No backing out.

Smart People Can Suffer From “Smart Kid Syndrome”

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” – Carol Dweck

I’m not the type to make excuses. This is something you can escape from and it’s something I escaped from. But it does have an effect on you.

I’ve been labeled the bright kid since I was a toddler. My parents, teachers, everybody would tell me how bright I was. People still tell me how bright I am even to this day. They can just tell by being around me they say.

All that praise can turn into this weird identity complex where you don’t want to do anything that contradicts your identity as the bright person.

This can cause you to shy away from things that require effort and discipline. I still struggle with it to this day. As much hard work as I’ve put in to build a writing career, I took to writing itself with little effort.

I had to go through periods of real discipline to turn my writing into a business. Things like spending a year on a book, doing lengthy marketing campaigns, understanding tech, etc. And I still bump into this problem whenever I try to reach a new challenging level.

Some things that have helped me are:

  • I’ve come to this understanding – In the real world, results matter. Not being the bright person. It’s a dumb badge to wear in the first place. I started to care more about results than this image of a bright person who got little to no results in life.
  • Anything can be learned – This is where the idea of the growth mindset comes in. I had an identity as a coaster, but that didn’t mean I had to stay one for the rest of my life. Neither do you. Your personality is malleable and you can learn the skills you need to enhance your intelligence like the ability to follow through.
  • Earned = better – Processing power, I.Q., intellect, whatever you want to call it, isn’t something you earn, so it’s not worth hanging your hat on. And in the long run, its effects tend to fade. If you don’t use your brainpower to earn results in the real world, your intelligence is useless.

Smart People Are Great At Lying to Themselves

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

Everybody has heard of confirmation bias. You form beliefs first and then you make up explanations for your beliefs second — ‘reasons.’ Everybody understands confirmation bias, but they see it as a problem other people have, not them.

And since smart people tend to believe in their thinking capabilities the most, they suffer from confirmation bias worse than anyone. They’re the easiest types of people to fool and brainwash because they’ll create the most elaborate explanations.

Also, they’re great at coming up with stories about why they’re not successful. We use them to cope with our day to day existence. You choose to be willfully ignorant of the hard truths that stare you in the face and you have a ton of amazing sounding excuses that have no basis in objective reality.

But, since you believe them, they might as well be scientific law. I see this happening in our society today where a ton of really smart and high intellect people are creating this coddled mindset zeitgeist that’s undermining everyone’s success. And they truly think they’re doing the right thing. Sure, I could be suffering from bias myself and I’m sure I am, but I’m pretty sure I’m right about this specific topic.

As a whole, the world is getting smarter but our minds are getting weaker. We have all these complex reasons for why people aren’t succeeding in life and we’ve forgotten about basic principles like hard work, discipline, delayed gratification, networking, social skills, savvy, creating thinking, you know, the things that help you get ahead in life.

In your case, here are some ideas you can use to understand when you’re lying to yourself:

  • Try to judge how your opinions map with reality – This is hard. But you have to try to look at your own beliefs objectively. Is this massive and elaborate set of reasons for why you’re not successful actually true?
  • Start thinking of beliefs this way – Instead of thinking in terms of “right” or “wrong” start to think in terms of useful and not useful.
  • Let go of your need to be a know it all – You’re suffering because you think you understand how the world works. You’re too sure of your reality. Let that feeling of mental superiority go so you can learn to admit when you’re wrong and pivot in a better direction.

Final Thoughts

Get out of your head.

Live your life in the real world. Until you go out there and explore you’re going to stay stuck in the same position you’re in right now. Constantly thinking, wondering, pondering, explaining, but never actually doing anything.

The good news? The more you get out of your head the easier it is to stay out of it. Then, you can actually start to use that brainpower to your advantage since you’re no longer restrained by it.

I know that energy you feel. That pent-up, repressed, stifled energy you’re desperately wanting to release. I can’t give you the perfect formula for releasing it, but I can tell you that it’ll feel good once you do.

When you face your fears, you’ll feel euphoric after. When you finish a task or project, you’ll look back with pride. And when you overhaul your entire personality from smart bench warmer to active player, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to get started in this first place.


About the Author

Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.