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Family: The Dumb One

 

I am the middle of three brothers. Of the three of us, I am the dumb one.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not stupid. Based on my academic achievements, standardized test scores, and intellectual accomplishments, my IQ is somewhere in the 130s. That is smart. Whip smart. Smarter than 95% of people. Smart enough to be a rocket scientist. Or at least the space navigation software engineer I was for the better part of three decades. If most people are 40-watt bulbs, I am 75-watts.

It is not genius, though. Like both of my brothers. They are geniuses. My kid brother is your run-of-the-mill genius: IQ 145-146. Just high enough to qualify. Older brother though? Supergenius – IQ north of 165. How smart is that? So smart the IQ tests are pretty much meaningless.

Picture that – growing up smarter than 95 out of 100 people, but still a whole lot dumber than either of your brothers. Trust me – it is strange. The world may be mostly 40-watt bulbs, but the two closest to this 75-watt bulb are 100-watt bulbs.

I was two years younger than my older brother (call him Farmer), and two years older than my younger brother (Rock). For twelve years of school I would go into a classroom in September. The teacher would see my last name, and say “You’re Farmer’s younger brother aren’t you? We expect big things from you.”

Of course, I never delivered. What I did was above average, but it wasn’t genius – just bright. And two years later when Rock took that class? “Ah . . . Seawriter’s brother. He was a bit of a disappointment.” But Rock never was. He may not have turned in as good a performance as Farmer, but their expectations were filtered through me. At the end of the year it was “Yes, I can tell you are Farmer’s brother.” They earned academic excellence awards. I earned headshakes.

At home it was almost as bad. I had to work twice as hard to win at a game as they did. They figured out stuff in a glance, while I had to work to put the pieces together. Mind, I was smart enough that with the rest of my friends the roles were reversed. They would say, “how’d you figure that out?” But you don’t live with your friends.

It is not as if I resented my brothers. We were good friends growing up. Still are. We made a marvelous team. Farmer would get an idea, I would come up with a plan to execute it, and Rock would carry it out. (It matched our roles as adults. Farmer was the scientist, I was the engineer. Rock was salesman/installer/executor.) You cannot resent a brother because he is smarter than you any more than you might resent one because he always beats you in a foot race.

It was not until we became adults that I began to realize God might not have dealt me the worst hand. Remember what I said about working hard just to keep up with them? To shine as brightly as they did I had to focus my light. They could skim the textbook. I had to read it twice. I generally picked up and read a bunch of other stuff on the subject to get grades comparable to them. (I was not ready to concede I could not keep up with them. I usually did keep up. It just took a lot of hard work.)

I also had to plan. They could meander and get to the goal on time. I had to chart the best path and take that. And have a backup plan for when things went wrong. And another alternative if that went foul. It was not the tortoise and the hare, because I was not tortoise slow. Rather, it was the difference in speed between the hare and a hound. They loafed through twelve years of primary and secondary education. I always had a plan, and always worked hard.

Then came college and careers. By college I knew what I wanted to do. I went after it with the grim determination in the same way I had gone through high school. My high school counselors were focused on getting me into college. I was looking beyond that for what I wanted to do after college, with that education. I could not afford to make a mistake because I could not backtrack the way my smarter brothers could. I ignored counselors’ advice to take classes which would be easy for me. Instead I took harder classes which prepared me for what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Farmer and Rock approached college the way they had high school. It was going to be easy. It was for Farmer. He was so smart he drifted through four years of undergraduate work and a year of graduate work to get an advanced degree in physics. Except when he graduated, he discovered he did not like physics. He drifted into it because he was good at science. (After several years of making himself miserable, he finally chucked that career, went into a seminary and became a priest. He still drifts, but is a lot happier.)

Rock went to a liberal arts school to get a degree in political science and floundered. He was not smart enough to drift through college the way he had through high school. He dropped out after a year. Eventually he put together a career working with computers – as a tech at first, and then as a systems administrator. Today he is a data security expert. A really good one.

As for me? The first two years of college were a breeze. I even made the dean’s list once or twice. That surprised me because I was the dumb one. A lot of friends from those two years were bombing out. They had been valedictorian and salutatorian from the various small town high schools they attended. They were way smarter than I was, too. I could not figure it out.

College got harder in the final two years. I gutted out the junior and senior year of an engineering program. You call the lowest-ranking student who graduates from med school doctor. Similarly, that engineering degree was an engineering degree, despite a 2.9 GPA.

As a junior engineer I noticed the same thing happening. I passed contemporaries way smarter than me. I attacked work the way I had with classes – a lot of study, and pouring through reams of data. I also started with the assumption that I was wrong until I proved I was right. My delivered analyses were solid.

About ten years into my career I finally realized my brothers had done better for me than I had for them. I may not have had their smarts, but I learned to use what I had because that was the only way to keep up with them. Because I was not the sharpest blade in the box, I always kept the edge honed. A lot of people a lot smarter than me never learned the need for that.

Yeah. I am the dumb one. I would not trade that spot for anything.

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Members have made 18 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Seawriter: I was two years younger than my older brother (call him Farmer), and two years older than my younger brother (Rock).

    So, George and Peter, eh? 😀

    • #1
    • July 16, 2017 at 5:44 pm
    • Like3 likes
  2. Profile photo of Richard Finlay Member

    I came to a similar conclusion from the other end of things. In our small, rural school I could coast and excel. I never learned how to study, etc. When I got to college it was a major discontinuity. I dropped out and enlisted. While in the Army, I developed a career objective by listing things I wished I knew and comparing that to the college catalog. It took a while, but eventually I learned that doing the work is more valuable than knowing the answers, an attitude I tried very hard to instill in my kids.

    My IQ? Depends on how I’m feeling, apparently. Various tests ranged from high 120s to low 150s, so I give them no credence.

    • #2
    • July 16, 2017 at 5:45 pm
    • Like7 likes
  3. Profile photo of Richard Finlay Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Seawriter: I was two years younger than my older brother (call him Farmer), and two years older than my younger brother (Rock).

    So, George and Peter, eh? 😀

    Having grown up (sort of) on a farm, I chose to interpret Farmer as “Hard Place” which allowed me to chuckle a bit.

    • #3
    • July 16, 2017 at 5:48 pm
    • Like6 likes
  4. Profile photo of Bryan G. Stephens Reagan

    I now see my learning disability as a gift for some of the same reasons. Sounds like I need to make a post.

    • #4
    • July 16, 2017 at 5:51 pm
    • Like5 likes
  5. Profile photo of Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Seawriter: I was two years younger than my older brother (call him Farmer), and two years older than my younger brother (Rock).

    So, George and Peter, eh? 😀

    That would be telling.

    Seawriter

    • #5
    • July 16, 2017 at 5:51 pm
    • Like2 likes
  6. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    I’m sure my middle brother could sympathize. Other than the first and third reversed, we had a similar situation.

    • #6
    • July 16, 2017 at 5:51 pm
    • Like2 likes
  7. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    That would be telling.

    I thought you already had.

    • #7
    • July 16, 2017 at 5:53 pm
    • Like2 likes
  8. Profile photo of Matt Bartle Member

    See, I have two brothers as well, but I’m the smartest one.

    And since the others aren’t on Ricochet, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

    • #8
    • July 16, 2017 at 6:14 pm
    • Like12 likes
  9. Profile photo of PHCheese Member

    You and I are very similar. I call the hard work, the planing , the improvising keeping the wheels turning. I may not be the smartest guy in the room but I stay in the room longer and I always show up.

    • #9
    • July 16, 2017 at 6:22 pm
    • Like8 likes
  10. Profile photo of Kay of MT Member

    I was the smartest of three, but never had the advantages of my siblings. After reaching adulthood, I would read just about anything I could get my hands on, fine print on the TP rolls, etc. Kept my library card up to date, introduced my children to books as babies. Both my siblings have several university degrees, I have none. My sister confessed to me several years ago, that brother was always worried that I would find out that my IQ was higher than theirs, and they wouldn’t be able to lord it over me anymore. Couple of stories about that but for another time.

    • #10
    • July 16, 2017 at 6:56 pm
    • Like7 likes
  11. Profile photo of Pilli Member

    I this world of 100 Watt bulbs, I consider myself an LED. I’m only 34 Watts but I shine like a 100 Watt bulb.

    I don’t have a clue what that means but I thought it sounded good.

    • #11
    • July 17, 2017 at 1:57 pm
    • Like19 likes
  12. Profile photo of doulalady Member

    I was a coaster, still am, shame on me. I watched my smartest brother crash and burn in high school because he couldn’t figure out how to work hard.

    This made me determined to ensure my smartest kids learned how to work hard. Turns out it’s almost impossible to reach a full point with these sorts of kids though. You can pile it on and on and it just doesn’t ever get too much for them.

    It was not helped by their teachers, who were happy to coast with their education and give them endless undeserved awards for minimal effort. So I decided to homeschool.

    The oldest declined. His take, I can get all A’s in my sleep, so I’m not homeschooling to work as hard as you want me to. The joke was on him, he inherited his father’s work ethic in spite of himself.

    His sister with four degrees is now a housewife, excelling in everything she turns her hand to.

    The robotics engineer? He’s now a sculptor, in this economy! To earn a living he works as a computer engineer for a small business in town.

    Their father is disappointed, I did my best.

    Of course my normal, hard-working kid is soon going to be the only one with a PhD like his dad. Please G-d let him not decide his vocation is flipping burgers.

    • #12
    • July 17, 2017 at 7:13 pm
    • Like6 likes
  13. Profile photo of Muleskinner Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):
    I now see my learning disability as a gift for some of the same reasons. Sounds like I need to make a post.

    Go for it, sombody has to.

    You wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your child. Or would you? To quote a chapter from Malcolm Gladwell

    • #13
    • July 17, 2017 at 7:33 pm
    • Like2 likes
  14. Profile photo of Cow Girl Thatcher

    Richard Finlay (View Comment):
    I came to a similar conclusion from the other end of things. In our small, rural school I could coast and excel. I never learned how to study, etc. When I got to college it was a major discontinuity.

    That was me, too—high school was a piece of cake. Therefore, I never learned to study. I failed college the first time. So, I quit after two years, got married, had five children, and then decided I should finish my degree. (Because I had so much spare time…) But by then, I’d learned to break big jobs into little pieces and to keep on trucking, so I finished my bachelor’s degree eventually, and now I also have a master’s degree. Work, work, work—that’s what it takes. It also helps that I love reading, and I love writing.

    • #14
    • July 17, 2017 at 10:26 pm
    • Like6 likes
  15. Profile photo of Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    doulalady (View Comment):
    This made me determined to ensure my smartest kids learned how to work hard. Turns out it’s almost impossible to reach a full point with these sorts of kids though. You can pile it on and on and it just doesn’t ever get too much for them.

    It was not helped by their teachers, who were happy to coast with their education and give them endless undeserved awards for minimal effort. So I decided to homeschool.

    My oldest is also a genius. (I guess it runs in the family.) My wife and I did a few things with him to make sure he did not crash and burn. The first thing was to have him treat school like a game of Simon Says, with the teachers as Simon. “Just do everything they tell you to do, even if it is ridiculous, it makes no sense, and you do not believe it. It is part of the game. Ask your mother and me about it when you get home.” That made him question authority without challenging it.

    We also stressed that being the smartest one in the room was like being the strongest or best looking. One aspect of many factors. That he would find himself in situations where he wasn’t the smartest (because you will run into someone smarter), so you had better be prepared to work hard – and we kept challenging him intellectually.

    We finally did homeschool ours, although that had more to do with the middle son getting “A”s in English in 3rd grade while being functionally illiterate (thanks to Look-Say). Then we ran the intellectual equivalent of a Marine boot-camp for the mind.

    All three turned out fine. The oldest two are engineers with successful careers. The youngest is working doing CAD-CAM and finishing his engineering degree. Middle son is now the best writer of the three, and the other two are pretty good. I figure all three are the equivalent of one-eyed men in the land of the blind millenials.

    Seawriter

    • #15
    • July 18, 2017 at 4:03 am
    • Like6 likes
  16. Profile photo of Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    Yeah, I can idenfity. I have no idea what my IQ is, but I’m a pretty smart guy. I learned long ago that I can do adequate, even good, work, quickly and with minimal effort. Sadly, that meant that I developed the habit of never giving anything more time or effort than I had to. I might have benefited from some superachieving siblings as competition!

    There is growing evidence that “innate talent” is not nearly so important a thing as we tend to believe, and that in fact it might not even exist in many fields. The people who are most successful are the ones who work at it. I highly recommend Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise by Anders Ericsson, which is all about this topic. (Or, for a brief introduction, listen to the episode of the Freakonomics podcast that featured Ericsson.)

    • #16
    • July 18, 2017 at 9:20 am
    • Like2 likes
  17. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    There is growing evidence that “innate talent” is not nearly so important a thing as we tend to believe, and that in fact it might not even exist in many fields. The people who are most successful are the ones who work at it.

    It may also be that those who are the brightest talents in an area do not find it challenging, so find another direction to go in life that is more challenging for them.

    Being a believer in reincarnation, I might even posit that some areas of strength brought into life are because the individual soul has developed such talents in previous lifetimes and that they came into this present life because they were here to develop other qualities rather than coasting on the laurels of abilities developed in past lives.

    • #17
    • July 18, 2017 at 9:30 am
    • LikeLike
  18. Profile photo of doulalady Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):My oldest is also a genius. (I guess it runs in the family.) My wife and I did a few things with him to make sure he did not crash and burn. The first thing was to have him treat school like a game of Simon Says, with the teachers as Simon. “Just do everything they tell you to do, even if it is ridiculous, it makes no sense, and you do not believe it. It is part of the game. Ask your mother and me about it when you get home.” That made him question authority without challenging it.

    Seawriter.

    This technique worked for us until high school. That was when he realized he already knew more than any of his teachers about any subject they were teaching.

    Worse, they used their power to teach their politics and he reckoned that was fair game for push back. Which of course he was genius at also. They were used to unfailing admiration from the kids. It’s cool to be left wing, right? But then he took them down. All his school work was exemplary so they got nowhere with the administration. Two or three, maybe more, teachers were so put out they retired.

    College was more tricky because they were more willing to punish with low grades, and his grant money was at stake. That was when he discovered the intimidation power of an honest to goodness war hero over pajama boy. Not pretty. But effective.

    • #18
    • July 18, 2017 at 11:10 am
    • Like3 likes