I am blase about my own inadequacy

On “Gilmore Girls” last week, the character Rory, a freshman at Yale, had a near-breakdown because a professor suggest she drop a class due to the fact that she was taking more than the usual courseload and not keeping up. I can relate to that. I’ve had an average of one complete freak-out per year at the University of Chicago. However, over time they’ve decreased in intensity. A while back, Alan blogged about at what point one “plateaus” as far career or general competency and such (here it is). Well, I’ve found mine and I’ve pretty much learned to accept it. Until I started grad school, I was always one of the smartest people around. At least as far as school and the jobs I’ve held, I’ve been pretty good at things without trying very hard (although in other aspects of life, I’m quite clueless). I never reached capacity, I guess you might say, and always wondered how smart I really was. At the University of Chicago, however, there are scary smart people, and a lot of them. People to whom the mind-boggling enormous amount of reading and work we had to do seemed effortless, people who could grasp all sorts of complicated theoretical arguments without any difficulty, people who appeared to permanently memorize massive quantities of data by simply skimming through the hundreds of articles we were supposed to read. And, most humiliating, people in entirely different fields of study who know more about my own field than I do. (Nod and smile, nod and smile).
I would never be one of the leading researchers in my field even if I were willing to put in the million or so hours of work a week that would require. I’m just not good enough. Which is okay, because of something else I think I’ve learned while in school. If you need to be the best at something in order for that thing to be worthwhile to you, that thing is probably not the thing you are supposed to be doing. If it’s enough just to be there, to be around people better than you, to plug away at your own capacity and contribute what you can, even if you never achieve renown or fame and fortune at it, that’s what you are supposed to be doing.
While I can relate to Rory’s distress, the concept of an extremely intelligent and competent person freaking out because they are not a super-person is quite funny. Good enough is good enough; probably the people best suited to be the top people in any area of life are those who are humble enough not to need to be.

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