The Unwanted Side-Effects of Being Smart

Haris Mohammad

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“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” — Ernest Hemingway

The common perception is, intelligence makes life easy. Smart people do well at school, in their jobs, and even in business. They learn faster and just get things that others can’t, as least not as quickly.

No doubt there is some truth to it. Higher intelligence does correlate with higher success. But that doesn’t mean it’s all roses and sunshine for the gifted. Extraordinary intelligence comes with its own share of problems. It is a recognized risk factor for several mental health issues (as well as physical).

But even if we put those risks aside, being smart often means having to deal with a number of challenges in your day-to-day life.

The Tough Choice

Most people possess a herd mentality. They try to conform to the norm. As such, they fit into society and enjoy the approval of the people around them.

It’s not the same for you. You have an independent head with a strong voice of its own. You see things differently. Just as a bird wouldn’t want to spend its entire life on its legs, you don’t want to live an average life. You know it would suffocate you.

You must make the difficult choice and live with its consequences.

  • Follow the herd and hate your life — almost every single day.
  • Or take the road less traveled with all its risks and difficulties. Be prepared for a lonely journey without the comfort of social proof. And don’t be surprised when your decisions are frequently questioned by a society ready to pounce on the slightest failures that might come your way.


There are not many around you who share your interests.

You can see beyond the obvious. You love the extraordinary. You have an eye for beauty. The world stimulates you. There’s a poem you love or maybe a drama or a work of art. Or maybe, you feel strongly about social injustice.

You have so much you would love to talk about, but unless you enjoy staring at yawning faces, you’d better keep quiet.

Asocial Personality

Most social gatherings revolve around conversations, and as we saw earlier, you find it hard to have a good conversation with most people — unless the art of conversations is one of your gifts.

Besides, it’s so annoying to deal with people who think they are smart when, in fact, they are not.

So what choice do you have other than staying away? To be honest, your limited capacity to tolerate stupidity doesn’t help either.


Introvert? Extrovert? Doesn’t matter. You can easily get lost in your thoughts, forgetting completely that your significant other is sitting beside you.

I’ll let you ponder over the consequences.

The Burden of Expectations

Once you get labeled as “gifted”, life is never the same again. The label comes with a bag of unrealistic expectations. It’s not just others. You will do that to yourself too.

So you live with the constant fear or disappointment of not measuring up to them.

Besides, it’s often those expectations that become the greatest hurdle in your path. After all, it’s easy to get crushed under the weight of your own grand ambitions.

The Annoying Habit

  • Your curiosity forces you to look into things deeper than usual. Naturally, formulation and evolution of ideas take place, and you become opinionated.
  • Ever since your childhood, you were praised for your intelligence. In school, you were often right (demonstrably so) even when most of your friends got things wrong. In short, you are not used to being wrong.
  • As you grow up, you move from the predominantly objective nature of early education to the subjective nature of life.

Put these three factors together, and you’ll know why you frequently get involved in ugly arguments.

Overthinking and Analysis Paralysis

Now, this is arguably the biggest problem with being smart. It’s super easy to overthink.

It’s one of the reasons why talent doesn’t always lead to success. You over-analyze everything and end up talking yourself out of doing anything.

You want to learn a programming language, but you think — “looks like the language is one the decline and may go out of fashion in the next few years.”

You want to create a course, but then— “why would anyone buy my course when there is so much free stuff out there on youtube?” Or, “why would people trust me over the many others who are more qualified than me?”

You get the drift.

But it could even be worse as you come up with creative ideas to worry about or obsess over. I am not even that smart, and yet, I trapped myself into such a terrible loop of overthinking that I became sick, literally. It turned my life into an unbearable misery. Thankfully, I managed to get out of that hell.

Difficult Realizations

At some point, you start to realize that people don’t really care about logic or truth. Your facts and reasoning won’t convince anybody. It’s a game of emotions and conditioning. So being right won’t get others to agree with you, like you, or respect you. It might actually make them hate you.

Also, while intelligence gives you an edge, it’s doesn’t guarantee extraordinary success (or success at all). The real world is too complicated. You must accept that the superiority you may have enjoyed in a simple academic setting is not easy to replicate in life.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Your strengths — curiosity and ability to learn — can easily work against you.

When many different things make you feel excited, and when you know you could be good at almost anything you put your mind to, how do you make a choice and stick with it? It’s hard work guarding yourself against the shiny object syndrome.

Concluding Thoughts

So yeah, it’s not easy being smart. But it much better today than it may have been a few decades ago. The Internet has opened up great possibilities.

You don’t have to suffer through schools and colleges the same way as one had to in the past. You can learn at your own pace. All you need is a computer or smartphone and an internet connection. You can build great things without having to leave your room. You can connect with others like you no matter where they are on the planet.

Today, you can be nerdy, cool, and a billionaire — all at the same time. No pressure!

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Coach, Engineer, Writer.

Seattle, WA

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