The Downsides of Being Smart

A podcast listener named Amy Young writes in with interesting comments about our recent “Can You Be Too Smart For Your Own Good?” episode:

As I hold a Ph.D., I too feel well qualified to speak on topics I know nothing about.  Actually, the Ph.D. is in psychology, I am somewhat qualified to speak about the topic; however, most of my info comes from having a very bright son and having to do a lot of research to try to figure out how to raise him.

One downfall of being particularly bright is that you are often lonely.  You see and think of stuff that most other people don’t see or understand, so it can be hard to feel a genuine connection with most others.  What is really exciting to you goes right over the heads of most others.  As you get older this gets to be easier to solve by finding your flock, but I think loneliness in the formative years always sticks to you.  

Another downfall is that exceptionally bright people have a high drop-out rate from school, particularly high school. It seems counterintuitive until you spend a day in our public school system.  Bright kids see school as not providing any useful information and find it creates a lot of boring busy work.  On that note, a really great topic for you to explore is the economic impact of the teacher’s union’s stronghold on the American public education system. 

Also, in terms of gender and smarts, a downfall of being bright is social exclusion, which can be devastating for most girls.  As for the low marriage rates among bright women, I think most bright women avoided marriage in the past as it often meant staying home to perfect souffles and iron underwear.  I would imagine that to be torturous for bright women and could possibly be the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ song “Mother’s Little Helper.”


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  1. Dave says:

    So sad you think you notice things other people don’t or that your thoughts go over their head. You really don’t know how little you do know.

    Once you realize every person is your superior in some way then your flock will have no end.

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  2. Joules says:

    Despite my lack of a PhD I’ve often been called “bright”, “smart”, and “brilliant” by many *with* PhDs so I feel well qualified to agree with this article. I was horrified at the aspect of getting married because I felt it would negatively affect my autonomy. I wasn’t concerned that my spouse would be abusive or controlling, no, I was concerned that I would develop a designation and that would be used in the place of my name.

    Which is exactly what happened when I got married. There are now a slew of people who know nothing of me and care to know nothing of me outside of the fact that I’m married to their friend.

    My fears have now migrated towards an aversion to motherhood. I’ve already got a man-child to care for, books to read, movies to see, plays to force my friends to go to… The second to last thing I’m going to do is add diapers and kid-friendly dinners to that list. The last thing I’m going to do is add more designations, that come with no increase in pay, to the end of my name.

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    • Violent Violet says:

      I never wanted to be defined by my husband (didn’t change my name, which was practically unheard of 25 yrs ago) and we never wanted kids to cramp our lifestyle, either, so we were careful to not have any.

      You’re not alone! There are thousands of women who think like this!

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      • K says:

        Good thinking. I can’t think of any good reason why anyone would want to have kids. It’s a decision that’s mostly motivated by social pressure, a misplaced sense of duty, or simply a delusional belief that it will bring happiness.

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      • robyn g says:

        Dear Violet, I added the name of my husband to my first published book because it was the only way in which I could thank him for his’ part in this book’s completion (since the publisher would not allow me to say thanks on the inside cover). This was in 1995 and our daughter was four at the time. She was difficult for the very reason of having an inquiring mind and being stubborn minded from day one. Funny story. She was around 2 ish and wanted to go to a an American Diner. We pass a restaurant that was, as the sign read, “serving dinner.” Not knowing the spelling made going to an ‘American dinner” easy. We all now laugh. But in hindsight, some kids need a great deal of tlc i.e., real attention to meet their needs. Perhaps she really was and still is almost too smart for her own good. But being a parent is a lifetime committment to a relationship with your unique child. And, for me, a definate plus. Would not have missed this experience for the world. And am fortunate to have a husband who is easy going in many respects and understands. Speaking for myself, I will say that my daughter is no “cramp” to our style but is a continual source of enrichment, delight and challenge. AS far as my work is concerned, I mean understanding family is so much a part of my work in sociology, I find it hard to imagine the two as anything but complementary. The men who think that women should not be valued as individuals perhaps “wanted” (in the primitive sense) or needed their mothers all to themselves.

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  3. Kyrie says:

    I’ve heard most of my life how smart I am. As a female, I’ve found brains and looks do not help me as much as one would think. In school, the teachers praised me for my smarts and that made me a pariah to classmates. Dates would enjoy my barbie exterior until they found out that I was more intelligent. Most companies value teamwork, which is my idea of hell. In my current job, my output is 3x higher than my teammates. As I’m still a temp after 11 months, this does not bode well. I’m a geek that would love to attend many a TED conference, if it wasn’t for the fact that I still have to attempt to earn a living. Still looking for my flock.

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  4. cee says:

    I completely relate, but the author makes me think they actually aren’t very intuitive or smart, appearing to utterly miss the obvious: Mother’s little helper was written about pills like valium.

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  5. srinivasan says:

    I think times hav changed,today most of the women are bright and smart.And also they are enjoying lives as well.So the Actual idea of one has to be alone if he/she has to be bright is fundamentally wrong.Modern day women rae more intelligent to find a way to balance both the career and family life.Men are ready to marry a smart woman than a girl who just nods her head for whatever the husband has to say.

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    • Violent Violet says:

      Men’s “Invisible Backpacks” are so lightweight and comfortable these days, aren’t they?

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  6. Steve Cebalt says:

    First, Amy deserves a lot of credit for opening herself up and for a very cogent analysis. The original question “Can you be too smart for your own good” depends on context. A rocket scientist or brain surgeon who uses his/her intelligence in their work and has like-minded peers to socailize with, is in good shape. If he/she worked in a dull repetitive factory job, not so much. The social problems seem paramount, and you don’t have to be smart to feel isolated. I am not so smart but I am a hard core news and politics junkie. But there are only 2 people in my circle who share those interests, meaning that my “knowledge” does me little good. That problem may be compounded when you are so smart you have very true real peers. My own problem is that I am far too good looking for my own good, but that’s for another forum I suppose.:)

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  7. M says:

    I can’t figure out what the narrow definition of bright in the comments mean. According to Amy, most bright ones are already out of the school system. So looking at another perspective… those holding a Phd might not be bright, just well educated.

    How people come to the conclusion that Amy refers to only academically inclined as bright is beyond me.

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  8. jrod says:

    Gotta love the internet no one is afraid to tell you how smart they are!

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