“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — Albert Einstein
First of all, thank you to the creators at zen pencils for this amazing poster. That fish has the perfect expression of self doubt and despair on its tiny cartoon face.
Sometimes we feel like that fish. We feel like we can’t possibly be as smart as other people or that we somehow tricked our way into getting our position. When I got into grad school I was convinced that I didn’t deserve it, that I had misrepresented myself. I’ll ever forget the reality check my friend gave me when I was freaking out about it. He said, “So you think you fooled the admissions board then? You outsmarted them at their own game? Wouldn’t that just prove that you’re a genius?” Well played, life-coach-friend, well played.
But the fact is we doubt our abilities all the time. If we hear someone at work cleverly debating politics, we wonder why we can’t be smart enough to follow current events. If we are asked rapid-fire questions about what kind of loan we want, we feel dumb for not being able to do calculate interest rates in our heads. If our friend says something inspirational, we wish we were more intuitive and smart about saying the right thing at the right time.
We are naturally competitive creatures, we can’t help it. I used to think I wasn’t, because I didn’t care who won or lost at board games and trivia night. But I’ve come to realize I’m competitive about other things, like who can get a laugh in the workroom or whether or not I can look effortlessly edgy. Often I’m just competing with myself or imaginary adversaries, but the stress is still there.
And hey, sometimes competition is healthy. Usain Bolt constantly tries to best himself by running even faster times. But when we compare ourselves to others and focus on where we fall short, we ignore our greatest qualities and don’t give ourselves enough credit. Einstein reminds us to measure ourselves right. You have your own talents, your own genius gifts. But measuring them against someone else or using someone else’s ruler is nonsense.
Don’t believe me? Imagine Usain Bolt timing himself in a 100 dash swimming and feeling like a loser for not making better time than Michael Phelps. Imagine Einstein feeling like a moron for being a bad cook. How about Oprah getting down on herself for doing poorly in algebra? Or Bear Grylls being upset that he isn’t more artsy. Sounds absurd, right?
One of my friends in high school got a very low score on the verbal section of the SAT. I mean, like, really low. And when he tried to take the AP English test, he wrote his essay about how Old Man and the Sea was the most boring book ever on fishing. But he got a perfect 800 on the math section and he aced AP Physics. He went to MIT with a full ride, where they continue to fund his engineering innovations to this day. He’s a genius fish, but I guess English tests were his trees. What’s important is that he didn’t let himself doubt his true abilities or give up what he enjoyed doing, and neither should you. If you’re amazing at scrapbooking, public speaking, Madea impersonations, or making tamales, own that. Take pride in your tennis backhand or ability to avoid drama. Whatever your genius us – Give yourself some freaking credit.