“How can I be in the top 1%? I don't study that much. I mean, are the kids in Michigan schools that stupid?”
– Lindsay Weir, Freaks & Geeks episode 18, “Discos & Dragons”
“You're a good student, right? Do you ever think how powerful you could be if you never watched TV?”
– My friend Tyler
I always thought that one day someone would find me out. Surely my final high school exams would reveal the truth. University had to unmask me. At grad school they'd see right through me.
I'm starting to think they never will.
For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me I'm brainy. I vividly recall the other kids in kindergarten saying I should skip first grade (as it turned out, I skipped what would have been second grade). I topped the class throughout school, and over the years I've amassed a not inconsiderable collection of scholarships and academic prizes.
And the whole time I've been waiting, just waiting, for someone to point out the emperor's nudity. For me to max out my academic prowess. For my grades to reflect the amount of work I put in, not the vast ability to intellectually BS I was apparently born with.
I'm starting to think it will never happen.
I haven't always carried the guilt of the lazy A-student. As a prepubescent, I actually did work jolly hard. I consider my 13+ Common Entrance exams (which I took at 12, yada yada) to be the pinnacle of my academic career, because I studied hard and reaped my just reward. Everything since has felt unearned.
And yet the A grades and the accolades have kept coming, even as I've coasted through on the minimum of effort. I've mastered the art of working just hard enough to make people think I am very smart, and no harder. It does make me wonder, as Tyler said, what I could have accomplished if I'd kept on working as hard as I did when I was a preteen.
But I didn't; and actually TV's not to blame (I didn't start watching it until a few years later). The correlation I can pinpoint – the major factor that changed in my life at the same time that I started to coast academically – is that I started having friends.
Contrary to my prep school math teacher's predictions, I am never going to win the Nobel Prize for mathematics. But I am going to spend my leisure time with other humans who enjoy my company. My younger self might have been disappointed with my current self for making that choice, but I'd say it's a pretty fair tradeoff.
Of course, seeking validation through academic achievement is such a deeply ingrained part of my personality that if the tradeoff were, say, having friends but getting Bs, I'd be significantly more hesitant. But as long as the choice is Nobel Prizes or friends, I absolutely and without regret choose friends.
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Having said all of which, grad school has just opened up a serious can of whoop on my ass, so if things are a little slow here at GCG over the next couple weeks, please bear with me. I'll be back on top of stuff just as soon as I can.