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.Published in