What is it like to have an extremely high IQ?
Pretty much everyone responding to this question on a popular Quora thread agreed that it can be difficult, as geniuses and near-geniuses may have difficulty relating to other people and lack the motivation necessary to succeed.
One of the most interesting answers came from Christian Ritchie, an innovation analyst at PepsiCo, who explained how he struggled with having a high IQ before realising he had to work hard.
His answer is published with permission below:
I have what most would consider a high IQ. I test in the top 1% in almost all testing I’ve done throughout most of my life. I would assume for those who have used and engaged it, it has been rewarding. It has been my best friend and my worst enemy at alternating times in my life. I have, for the most part, done very little with mine, which has been a source of frustration, depression, and, at some points, marital strife.
Academics were my first out, with a mediocre academic career that featured little work on my part, always perfect test scores, and an ongoing army of teachers who felt they were doing me a favour by passing me because I knew the material, rather than failing me for my work ethic. It helped that I attended a new school nearly every year due to my military upbringing, so teachers felt sorry for me rather than recognising my self-destructive pattern of behaviour.
I will admit that my IQ isolated me quite a bit. I was too smart to fit with the “popular” kids, and my being the perpetual new kid didn’t help. I was also the least accomplished and laziest of my intellectual peers, so didn’t fit in that group either. Mostly, I ended up with the people who didn’t care…the stoners one year, skateboarders another, emo kids another year, and always a small group of friends to play D&D with. I never had a set group identity.
Oddly enough, be it friends or professional contacts, I have never found it too difficult to relate to other people strictly based on IQ. I’m much more likely to find issues with people who are married to specific ideologies. I have always ascribed to the Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” My background in customer service (see below) helped, But I also realised that while I can, for instance, take apart your computer at a near circuit level, I can’t work on an engine, fly a plane, design a building, or paint the Mona Lisa. Everyone has talents, and IQ is just one of many that people can possess. It is certainly one of the most advantageous in modern society, but its not the only one that is worthwhile.
After high school (I never went to college for more than half a semester until recently), I found I simply lacked motivation to excel. There was always a high-minded philosophical basis for my stagnation: buddhist ideas against the accumulation of material possessions, a smug sense of escaping from the consumerist ideology that consumed American culture, etc. As long as my job paid for my hobbies, I was content to maintain a job that offered and expected very little from me. With my love for technology, I ended up at multiple help desk jobs of varying positions for over 10 years.
At some point, before I began to understand my own culpability in the direction of my life, my intellect became poisonous. I started thinking about moving forward in my career, but never in terms of what *I* needed to do, but in the self-pitying belief that others simply failed to recognise my gifts and give me what I was DUE, either because they felt threatened or because they were unable to recognise and relate to my intelligence. Everyone always said the same thing, “You’re so smart/talented, I’m surprised you’re still doing this”, and so was I, though I shouldn’t have been. I believed my intelligence entitled me to opportunity, and it soured me on my professional relationships for a long time.
I’m not sure at what point I came to the realisation that it is the outcome of the sum of your talents, and not the talents themselves, that define you as a person. Probably around the time I met my wife, and became a father. It wasn’t just about SUPPORTING my children, or accumulating money, because there are plenty of starving artists raising amazing children. But I have no gift for art or music. My intellect is really all I have, so I knew that if I was going to teach my children self-worth, to make the most of the talents and opportunity they had, I would have to stop making excuses and do it myself.
The last few years have paid off. My success has grown, in professional circles inside and outside my work. I’ve moved from doing things I *know* to doing things I *love*, paying my dues along the way, and not taking shortcuts. I hope that I’m showing my children that simply having a gift isn’t enough.
That being said…
I wish I could say I’ve “fixed” everything about me that my high IQ has “broken”, but that isn’t the case. I spend a lot of time, far more than I should, inside my own head, or working on problems that interest me, time that should be spent with family. I let my children spend too much time steering their own destiny, with little or no limitation, and they mostly choose to spend it glued to a computer playing video games. It is difficult for me still to find balance between everything that needs to done at home, and the things that I feel I need to do for myself. I’m not getting any younger, and I wasted a great deal of the opportunity of my youth. However, my constant NEED to better myself combined with the fact that I still struggle against poor habits, easy distraction, and severe disorganization cause my wife no end of frustration as I pursue whatever the “next thing” that consumes me might be. She is an angel for putting up with it, but her grace doesn’t excuse me from my obligation to find a better balance. At the same time, I have to work harder to make sure I don’t miss the opportunity of my sons’ youth as well. Children seldom care about your work ethic if you’re not around the rest of the time. It’s a work in progress, but never one you should give up on.
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