Being smart is not something you are, it’s something you do.

I came up with this today and I’m posting it for prosperity.

I’ve often found most people assume that intelligence is a talent. That one is stuck being however smart they are (or however smart they think they are) and there is nothing they can do about it. Like intelligence is some crazy set amount, like a pile of rocks, and no matter what you do you can’t add or subtract from that pile.

The problem with this idea is it flies in the face of experience. All of us have met highly intelligent people who have done tremendously stupid things. Just like most of us have met  the intellectually challenged person who does some things very smartly.

So what gives? How can a smart person also do dumb things, and vice-versa? Well the short answer is intelligence is really a mark of potential, within a very narrow range. Its like a child born to very tall parents. Odds are when that child becomes an adult they will be tall as well, but its not a requirement. They can receive only short genes from their parents, they can experience a disease which reduces their height, there are all kinds of ways that they can be short. The point being great height, like great intelligence, is not set in stone.

But there’s another thing at play here, and that is the idea of doing as opposed to being. And that is the crux. What you do can be intelligent (or not) completely independent of how smart you are. Stepping in front of a speeding train is dumb (unless you happen to be Superman) while investing in your retirement is smart. You don’t need a PhD, or a certified membership in Mensa to know not to step in front of a train, likewise there’s no reason why an intellectually challenged person couldn’t put money into a retirement account.

But even more importantly, doing smart things offers a clear value to your life, whereas being smart only adds value when it’s applied. Doing smart is like investing early in your retirement, or not stepping in front of a train. Being smart is like being cute, or ugly, to tall, or short, or a redhead. In other words, it adds nothing to your life unless you’re around people who appreciate it.

Best of all, doing smart is something everyone can learn, and do. There is no limit to how smart you can do. You can go to school, learn another language, study patterns in nature (or people), create art, etc.  Doing smart only requires paying attention and asking smart questions. In contrast, there is a a very concrete and finite limit to how intelligent you are, and no amount of education or experience can change this. Being smart it turns out, is much more limiting.

When you make a mistake, and learn from it so you don’t do it again; that is doing smart. If you have a PhD and don’t learn from your mistakes, that is being smart. See the difference?