Hands up who at some time in their life has felt like they aren’t intelligent?
(Side note: yes, that is meant to sound like an absolute, because for many of us, that view of ourselves has felt absolute.)
If a lot of you just threw your hand up in the sky, I am right there with you. What I can also tell you is that there are lots of people like us, and it is no surprise; we exist in structures and societies that favour one kind of intelligence.
It’s insidiously etched into our souls throughout education, and keeps going in the working world. We exist in a competitive system that teaches us the dark art of comparison early on. You can basically supplement the word intelligent for pretty much any of the other things that we think we aren’t.
That comparison impacts us all in different ways and creates a tonne of different cages in our minds depending on who we are and our level of sensitivity.
When we are littler beings, we take the outward assessments of us (that give rise to our own inward assessments) as final
Our littler being version of us, will have looked at the capabilities or looks of others, realised that they have something that we don’t, and rather than then figuring out all the brilliant things we do, simply make a rule about ourselves that we are not [insert whatever that thing is here].
We take for granted all of the magic that we bring, because when we find things easy, we assume that everyone must think they are easy too.
As a coach, I work a lot with people around self esteem is something that comes up a lot. It is something I have also done a lot of work on personally.
Different but still valuable
Coming back to intelligence then, I can tell you that I am someone who can either hyper focus and remember everything or remember nothing. I can find it hard to read and retain a lot of detail, and I have to be quite deliberate with reading in general. However, what I have always been able to read is humans, situations and energy (there she goes again with that yogi chat haha).
I am great at finding creative solutions and my brain fires up excitedly when inventing new things. It tends to move quite quickly and can context-switch in a flash. I love these things about me now, but when I was younger, even in adulthood, I would compare myself to others and worry.
For anyone who is either wrestling with their own relationship with their intelligence or seeking to support others, I’d like to offer a reframe that might make you fall in love with your intelligence a little bit, just like I have.
Two legs good, four legs bad
There is a book called Animal Farm by George Orwell that a lot of us read at school (wow, I remembered it haha). It’s a story about the shifting power dynamics as the animals, on four legs, take back power from the humans on two legs… only to eventually create a similar hierarchy once again with some of them starting to walk on two legs and becoming the ruling class.
I like to refer to this with my coaching clients with two legged intelligence being the intelligence that we think we desire more than our own. I truly respect two legged intelligence, I am actually in awe of it. I would love to have the ability to read lots of detail and retain data. It’s that awe that has made me question my own intelligence so much.
But what if we could learn instead to celebrate ourselves and our brains, just as they are?
In Animal Farm terms, I like to think of the type of intelligence I have as four legged intelligence. I have all four hooves on the floor, so I can feel energy, I can assess environments quickly, I can read humans, I can optimise and solve problems. I don’t always retain data, and sometimes reading a lot of it is a challenge… but when I apply myself deliberately and intentionally to things, I can fire up that part of myself.
My hooves mean that I can feel more, which is a tremendous gift, but can also be overwhelming.
When I started to realise the magic of my brain, my four legged intelligence, I was able to start to celebrate it.
Can we therefore offer ourselves and our society a reframe?
Two legs good, four legs good, three legs good, five legs good…?
You are good at that stuff. I am good at this stuff. Sometimes you are good at this stuff. Sometimes I am good at that stuff. That person over there is amazing at this other stuff. You have this. I have that. And so on…
Can we please just find a way to celebrate ourselves as we are and work to remove comparison? Can we please see the beauty in one another’s differences and understand that we become more powerful when we are simply exposed to them and we don’t think we are failing because we don’t have what they have? Can we agree to just be beautifully different in some ways and brilliantly the same in many of the ways that make us human?
If you are reading this, my guess is you are already past the school age where a lot of these views are formed. Might I invite you to think about how we break this down in the here and now? How can we learn to celebrate all that we are and all that we bring without the need to be worse or better than each other?
In case that question left you feeling a little bit stuck…
My advice would be that many of the biggest changes we can make start small, they start with us.
How do you see yourself in the world? How do you see your intelligence? Is there work you need to do on your relationship with you.
Once we develop self awareness around this, it becomes easy to support those closest to us with their own self perception. That may start to add up into a growing number of people who start to believe in themselves and their abilities.
When we believe in ourselves and have confidence, that’s when we start to be a little bolder with our ideas and start to innovate on the world we find ourselves in. And boy does our world need some innovation.