I was totally faking it. I was at this summer camp for crazy-smart kids. You had to take the college entrance exams to even get into this summer camp.
The purpose of the camp was to experiment with a new method of learning. We would sit in a classroom for nine hours a day learning one subject.
The camp was three weeks long. We were 12 years old. Some kids finished up to four years of high school and then college math in those three weeks of camp.
One kid was building a computer in his room. Another was a chess genius. Another had already finished four years of calculus at the beginning of camp.
I was in the lowest class, with the lowest learning curve of anyone in the camp. I was the outlier on the left hand side of the learning curve.
How did these kids do in the future? I keep in touch with almost all of my friends from there. They all have destroyed me in most areas of life.
One was in the seed round of Uber. His $25,000 investment is now worth about $100,000,000. I know “it’s not all about money” but … it partially is.
Another kid is one of the best biotech scientists in the world and is busy curing cancer. Another kid is a top executive at Microsoft for the past 20 years. Another kid became a famous (and wealthy) card counter in Las Vegas.
Oh, and John Green, who wrote “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns”, went to the same camp, but ten years later.
This has happened to me quite a bit. Where everyone around me is clearly smarter and better. I don’t want to fake being smart. But I don’t like to be so obviously the most stupid either.
It’s almost shameful to say: “but I like to make friends and fit in”. Is that wrong?
People don’t appreciate how hard it is to be stupid.
The biggest trap is to people please. I would think, “if I just make everyone around me happy then they won’t know how stupid I am.”
But if you live everyone else’s vision of who you are then:
- You’ll disappoint them. Because you actually have no idea what they really think of you.
- You’ll get less healthy.
An extreme example is when you are at someone else’s house and you want them to be happy. They offer you more potatoes. You take it even though you are full and feeling sick.
In other words, it was so important to make someone else happy that you ACTUALLY SACRIFICED YOUR OWN HEALTH.
Do that enough and this is the result: some people vaguely remember you…and you are dead.
I do this. I still do this. I try not to.
If you try to carry everyone’s happiness on your shoulders you’ll just end up hurting your back.
If you know what I mean, raise your hand. Even if you are driving. Or in a Starbucks. People won’t mind. They might be stupid also.
I don’t really have a super list for this that solves this problem. I still don’t know what to do.
But here’s what I do anyway.
– HUMOR. Humor always makes people think you are smarter than you are.
How do you get funnier? Read funny books. Watch funny videos. And perhaps most importantly: remove skills. Which leads to…
– ADMIT WHAT YOU ARE BAD AT.
If you just up front say you are the worst father in the world and that anyone who hires you is a complete idiot then at least you’ve addressed all later objections.
Nobody can blame you when you say things like, “my wife was so annoying when she was pregnant” because you’ve already admitted it.
Or when you say, “I lost 15 million dollars but at least I learned ten different methods of killing myself if anyone wants to talk to me later in the bathroom about it.”
– BE CURIOUS.
Being curious is not an easy skill. You have to learn two other sub-skills.
Here’s an example: If someone is telling a story and says, “And after I dealt with my divorce I was able to-”
I would interrupt there. Why did you get divorced?
Everyone just says, “and then we separated and it was all mutual and-”
Do you know how many people who say they have a friendly divorce had a friendly divorce? ZERO.
Somewhere in that soup is disease, betrayal, violence, anger, sadness, despair. There are children whose world is falling apart. There’s a special hand-written note that is now just a piece of paper.
I want to know.
When I was talking to one of my favorite podcast guests and he said, “And then I dealt with some personal issues and then-”
“What personal issues?”
“Well, I had a cocaine problem and then-”
“How do you get over a cocaine problem?”
I really wanted to know. And the more questions you ask:
A) The more you learn
B) the less opportunities you have for sounding stupid. Facts are stupid. Questions are smart, even if they sound stupid.
C) the more vulnerable the other person becomes. Vulnerability for two million years was a way mammals show trust for each other so they can function together in the tribe.
It may be none of your business. So ask nicely.
– THE THREE Ps
To hide my stupidity. I always Prepare. For instance, I have to meet someone tomorrow for lunch.
I’m already reading everything he’s written. I’m already writing down things I’m curious about. I know he’s not doing the same (why would he?).
I do this every time I meet someone. Prepare, Persist, be Proactive. the three Ps.
And before the lunch, I’ll watch comedy. It’s hard work to be stupid and keep up with the smart people.
Believe it or not, I might also sing. Singing activates a different part of the brain. I was talking to Josh Foer who was the 2006 US Memory Champion. I asked him if singing helps memory because it comes from a different part of the brain.
He said, “why do you think they teach the ABCs with a song?”
So that’s my preparation before any kind of meeting, even if it’s a cup of coffee.
If I prepare, I know what problems this person is solving in his life.
If I persist, I eventually get that lunch.
If I’m proactive, I reach out to people I can learn from and because I’m curious, even if they hate me afterwards, at least I learn something.
And sometimes magic happens.
Today I’ve done it twice. Reached out to people I haven’t spoken to in years and responded to them as if it were yesterday.
I congratulate them on something they’ve done. Or I suggest an idea.
This keeps a network alive and vibrant and a little weird.
If everyone in your life is NOT a little weird then you are fighting the universe too much. The universe is a little weird also. Don’t fight it.
I asked, on a whim, a friend of mine recently if he’d help me get my podcast on Sirius XM.
I figured he’d say an instant “no”. Instead, he spoke to someone at Sirius, who was interested, and now they are looking at a reel we put together.
So out of 20 or so things I asked of people last week, one might turn into something.
I’m stupid. And I’m not even saying it to be superficially self-deprecating.
I’ve seen too many examples of it. I’m grateful I know so many smart people who like me (“they really really like me!”).
But heck, I try to share my stupidity with as many people as possible. So I’m stupid and narcissistic. I admit it. Hurray for me!
Catch more of James Altucher at his website.