[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Friday, July 6, 2012

Your IQ and Your Success (A Lesson From The Mensa Annual Gathering)

I'm at the Mensa's Annual Gathering all week. It's a fun, phenomenally eclectic gathering with presentations from speakers on a huge range of topics (so far I've learned about cryptography, leadership, video game design, etc) as well as social events (game tournaments, organized debates, symphonic music, even a dance).

You might think that a genius convention (to be a bit melodramatic) would be a veritable who's who of successful people. Maybe they're not all famous, but they should all be exceptionally successful, right? Isn't intelligence the key to success in modern times?

Side note: My nerds friends and I got through high school by consoling ourselves that smarts was the key to success in life. This T-Shirt was our unofficial  motto (see attached image).

But that's not what I've found at Mensa--unusually successful people, that is. There are plenty of geeks. :)

I've found witty people, shy people, blunt people, and people who know a disturbing amount of trivia about the TV show Dr. Who. But when I ask about their careers--they're surprisingly regular. For example, while there might be more computer programmers than usual, most of them work for companies as a regular employee and I only met one of them who created any well known programs (he was the speaker on video game design). They hold jobs like IT support analyst or school librarian or airplane pilot. Good jobs that require real effort, but nothing to write home about, so to speak.

But success isn't all about great jobs, right? Maybe they chose slower-paced jobs to have richer internal lives. In a few cases, you could argue that. But most of these people just watch TV in their spare time--oh and they read a lot of books (that stereotype is true). I've learned of divorce, estranged kids, and seen immature egos in action--nothing more than usual, mind you, but that's the point.

Except for a handful of quirks (like constant reading and way too many plaid shirts with suspenders), Mensans look and talk and live just like everyone else.

What I'm seeing displayed is this principle: a great life doesn't come from raw intelligence.

Studies of people's lives do show a correlation between intelligence and a "successful" life--up to a point. Up to 120 IQ, the smarter you are the more successful your career. Note: these studies focused entirely on net worth and prestigious careers. For now, I'll avoid the serious conversation about how shallow and sad it is to defined your life by a career. Even allowing for that shallow measure, after you get above 120 IQ, there's no advantage for being smarter.

Yes, 120 is above average, but it's also well below the genius level. Being smart does provide additional options in life. But by itself it means nothing.

An exceptional life isn't dependent on intellectual horsepower. An exceptional life is built on exceptional choices--day after day for years. Someone purposeful about their life with "normal" intelligence can far exceed the life of a genius who sits, consuming TV and books, waiting for life to happen to them.

Don't wait for success to happen to you. Even being born a genius doesn't make a great life come to you. Go find your exceptional life. Go create it.

(Oh, and we'll have to talk later about the harmfully narrow view of intelligence that most people have. It's far, far more than the math or English abilities most tests measure.)

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