Words by Jess Downey
I'm the baby of the family. And my brother and sister were what I like to call “traditionally smart”. My brother was in the National Honor Society. My sister was too and in the top percent of her graduating class. She even gave a speech at graduation.
Then there's me.
I had to work hard just to get a B. Sometimes even a C. There was no honor society or speech at graduation. I was just an average student. When my sister and I were in college we took some of the same classes. I would study all night and she wouldn't even open a book. I was lucky to get a C while she'd get an A.
So, I don’t think it’s crazy to say that following them in life made growing up extremely hard. I felt like everyone just expected me to follow a similar path. Especially since we had a lot of the same teachers. It was so hard to break out of that mold and, honestly, when I was in high school (and really most of college) it wasn’t a mold that I thought I should break from. Instead it was something that caused me to be incredibly self-conscious. It was something that caused tremendous anxiety. I knew at a very early age that I wasn't as smart as they were. And I always felt inferior. Like I wasn't good enough. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be like them.
I went on to college and was determined to move past my negative thoughts. But I kind of found college worse. I would do super well on papers, but tests always killed me and pulled down my grade in the class. I always felt terrible and it gave me a ton of anxiety. I hated taking tests because instead of studying, I would freak out about taking the test. And let’s not even talk about during the test. So much anxiety.
I think finally in my senior year of college, I began to understand myself and my brain a little more. I realized that I was just as smart as anyone (I mean maybe not the gifted kids, but you know what I mean). I can totally remember the moment. I was in my Sociological Theory class and the professor was handing back our first test. I literally received all of the points (plus a few extra) on the essay portion. In fact, she commented to the whole class on what an excellent job I did. But I literally failed the multiple choice portion. It was the exact same material.
That’s when it hit me. I’m a creative type. I understand things and I can think critically about most things, but I have a problem with just regurgitating information. I need to be able to explain things in my own words, with some analysis. That, along with my anxiety, is what made multiple choice tests so paralyzing. It’s what was making me fail. I eventually graduated from college and I was super proud. But I also found myself prefacing my success with things like “I’m not the smart kid in the family.”
Now, over a decade later, I would love to say that I never have those thoughts anymore. But I do. They’re especially strong since I’m married to an academic and I always feel inferior when we’re with all of his friends who all have extremely advanced degrees. In fact, the idea for this post came from having a conversation about what I should write and me telling him that he's the smart one in the relationship.
But I’m much better. And I remind myself constantly that there’s a billion different ways to be the smart kid. I am smart. I’m just not traditionally intelligent. I’m not book smart. I’m creatively intelligent (at least that’s what I like to call it). And I have lots of talents. I’m creative. I write well. I can take ideas and turn them into something really wonderful and beautiful. And that’s not something that everyone can do. It’s also not something that everyone needs to do. The world needs creatively intelligent people like me just as much as it needs the traditionally intelligent people.
Jess is the lady behind Facebook for Holl & Lane. She is a lifestyle blogger, shop owner, crafter, and DIY-er. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two little doxies, Brooklyn & Grendel.