A Garden of Delights

Creating the Perfect Underachiever

Posted on: May 9, 2011

What makes someone an underachiever?

It’s not as simple as throwing a few descriptive terms into the pot and stirring; I know that much. In this recipe everyone has his or her own specialty, a seasoning blend that stands out, marking one as a true “master of the craft”.

Problem is…it gives everyone who tries it indigestion.

This is the first in what may be a series of posts on paths: the ones we choose and the ones we end up on despite all our intentions.  Nothing here is meant as a criticism to those who were involved in deciding my own path and/or helped direct me to where I am now.  If anything, it’s a living testimony that the things that often seem so very terrible when they occur are the exact things we need.

And it’s my own odd way of thanking my parents and others for pissing me off enough, for loving me enough–for being there–when I needed them whether I wanted them there or not.

This week I’ll start in the most general terms about one of my favorite pastimes: procrastination.  But first a little introduction to the inspiration behind this post:

I have a friend, dear to me, who is presently going through a difficult situation. Out of respect for him, I’ll call him X. Last week X and I had some time to talk about what has been happening. Most things fell in the “not good” range, he did mention meeting someone that he’d been able to connect with on a personal level. I was glad for this as I’m an incurable romantic who wants everyone I care about happily involved with the person or passion that fulfills them best. I was NOT so happy with his little tease of “And she’s smart—smarter than you.”

Ah, the Rabid Beast of Ego rises and ravages all it see.  (Hopefully by making these posts I am able to quell its fury AND inspire with some methods to put it in its place.)

I don’t like feeling stupid.  I was raised to believe that unless I was “THE SMART ONE” then there was something wrong with me.  Now I’m mature enough to know that a LOT of kids hear those infamous words from their parents:

“What’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be smarter than that.”

“Why I am wasting my energy on your idiocy?

“I refuse to listen to someone so stupid.”

As for X’s teasing… It made me realize that old wounds I’d believed  healed were still festering under the surface, the biggest being the belief that I should be at minimum as “smart” as almost everyone., if not smarter.  (After all, I had all the test scores, I had the early academics and literacy…I even had the social awkwardness because I would rather read the encyclopedia than play with kids my age.*) It’s more insidious than one might realize. And I suspect it also causes more people to give up and stop trying to achieve the impossible standards of others than any other factor.

*[If I were a kid now I’d probably be diagnosed as having Asperger’s, since those tests they use for screening potential Autism Spectrum Disorder patients always place me in the spectrum. But at 41 years old, I don’t see the purpose in getting a real diagnosis. It can’t undo the past, and I don’t see how it can affect the future much.]

TL:DR – I don’t take well to being called “average”, but I should have been sooner…far sooner.

I think I handled the initial incident with grace–for me. I shrugged and said something along the lines of “Possibly, but just because she has more degrees only means she’s better educated, not necessarily smarter.”

Later I pounced–the old wound burned (and I haven’t enough discipline to ignore a threat tothe very basis of my self-image). Inspired by an article that debated the actual value of a college education posted by another long time friend on her Facebook page, I:

  • did a half-hearted search for a definition of “smart” which mostly included looking up the Wikipedia entry on Intelligence Quotient (not to be confused with this awesome band)
  • pointed out that, despite my lack of a  university degree, I was happily married to an amazing man, that I had a great family, and was doing things I truly loved with my life
  • that a lot of “smarter” [read: better educated] people were simply more ambitious (and more likely to have huge debts and ulcers, though I didn’t say that)
  • and that at the time college was an “option” for me (it wasn’t…it was a requirement enforced with the same vehemence as The Draft was in World War I England—but that is fodder for another post someday) I was neither emotionally mature nor financially capable of benefiting from the experience

And I flung all that at my poor friend’s inbox when I really should have been working on Swan Song. It wasn’t a complete loss of course. In this cathartic bout of procrastination, I also found, in addition to learning the details about the Flynn effect on IQ (something I’d known of but hadn’t fully read up on), what differentiated Taylorism from Fordism (which concept was which isn’t vital for the story I was working on, but the distinctions were interesting), and finished looking up information on a book, a huge disappointment called The Intellectual Devotional: American History, I had idly picked up in Barnes and Noble the day I was meeting with X.

Really, having someone poke a stick in your sore spots is a procrastinator’s dream. It offers just the right amount of:

  • passion (”I’ll show them!”),
  • curiosity (”How can I show them?”),
  • healing (”Ah, I FOUND IT!”),
  • relaxation (”Because I am choosing to do this, it isn’t work.”),
  • and ire (”Great, I HAVE to deal with this now before it continues…and I have so many other things to do, I’m damned well going to fix this now and forever.” caveat: that doesn’t work, btw, as witnessed by this post, because I wouldn’t be writing this if it was. However this post is also proof that I have finally chosen to Use It as this article suggests.)

In the end, it is what it is.  I I didn’t get any real work done on my manuscript due to X’s teasing, so I would call this one of the better ingredients in the recipe for underachievement.

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