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Being a Genius Doesn’t Equal Success In Real Life


When I was a young boy, I use to wish I were a genius, thinking life would be so much easier if I was truly brilliant.  However, lately, I have changed my mind and here is why.

I have a childhood friend that we’ll call Leroy who was very smart, actually a genius!  Much like the fictional character Encyclopedia Brown, Leroy would read the dictionary and memorize the spelling and meaning of each word and definition there-in.

As a kid growing up, it always amazed me that he knew so much!  He was always correcting my word usage, and was in many ways like having my own Mr. Spock when we hung out occasionally.

But, being a genius like my neighborhood friend sometimes comes at a steep, costly price!

You see, my friend graduated with a doctorate in chemistry.  He worked hard for that degree and I’m sure he did an amazing job all the way through college!

But my childhood friend also lacks people skills and sometimes doesn’t see the obvious answers to things.

I heard from other friends in my old neighborhood that after graduating, Leroy told them that he wasn’t going to send out resumes, and that he expected companies to come and find him, instead of Leroy going out and trying to get hired.  Once, I heard of the way he treated his job search, I realized that college was a big waste of time and money for him.

I also heard that he was working in my old neighborhood at a supermarket as a stock boy.  Even though the source was highly reputable, I still wasn’t sure if I believed that story!  Until I saw it with my own eyes!!!  While driving home from visiting my parents, my son asked for a certain type of candy from the grocery store.  It was 10:00pm, but I stopped anyway!  I ran in to purchase it and lo and behold, there was Leroy stocking cans on the shelves. 

And while there is nothing wrong with being a stock boy, seeing a stock boy with a doctorate in chemistry, stock shelves, was still pretty shocking!  Being financially oriented, the first think that popped in my mind was cost of obtaining his doctorate and what a waste of money that was! 

That’s when he saw me!  He wasn’t ashamed (as I would have been), in fact he came over shook my hand and updates me with what was going on in the neighborhood and his life.  Apparently, he was waiting for a big company to sweep him off of his feet (like Cinderella), but in the mean time, he stocked shelves and lived at home with his parents, in the basement (oh, he’s in his 30s, by the way).

So the moral of this particular sad story is…  “If you are smart, make sure you also have the necessary people skills in life, and if you don’t… then develop them”!  Perhaps if such geniuses as my friend were to read the book “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, it could help.  After all, this book is recommended by Warren Buffett!

Do you know of any friends that are off of the IQ charts with a brilliant intellect, but largely unsuccessful?  What do you think is holding them back?


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30 Responses to Being a Genius Doesn’t Equal Success In Real Life

  1. This is a tough area, because sometimes those that are really smart just do not have the innate people skills that others do. It sounds like your friend suffered from arrogance, but many very intelligent people just truly cannot understand the world in the same manner the general public does.

    I was watching a segment on 20/20 or a show like that that featured a guy that had an IQ that was Einstein-like. He was actually a bouncer in a bar and lived in a little hovel. In his house by day, he studied numbers and complex things I don’t understand. By night he was a bouncer. That was what he enjoyed. He didn’t care about money, he just needed a balance in life that worked for him. It was fascinating.

    • I’ve hear of that guy too! He’s been bouncing for quite a while…

      It’s kind of sad to see such potential wasted, but if he’s happy… that’s all that matters…

    • I can hardly imagine that such people actually do exist …

      This reminds me of the Russian mathematician who solved one of the hardest problems in modern mathematics and refused to get the prize of $1 Million for solving it… He lives as a poor man, btw.

      He could have given it away to charity at least…

  2. It sounds to me like he probably has some kind of undiagnosed disability (possibly on the autism spectrum). Very smart people often do not get diagnosed for these disabilities because they’re able to compensate for them growing up. (Like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory studying facial muscles to figure out emotions rationally even though he can’t sense them.)

    And don’t forget: Sometimes people without high IQs also have lousy people skills too. (High IQ people are seldom arrested in bars for drunken fist fights…) We’re just more likely to buy into the stereotype with smarter folks. It’s like middle-school all grown up.

    • All true, I’m definitely not saying my childhood friend is the norm…

      But just being a genius isn’t enough, it make the complete package to be true successful! Types like Buffett and Gates.

    • Asperger’s is the first thing that popped into my mind when I read this post, but then it also seemed like this guy had arrogance working against him.

      Public schooling for intelligent kids is not nearly where it needs to be. People think that since they are smart, they will be alright, but that is not always the case. Many bright kids suffer from social issues just because of the way their brain is made.

      You should see all the ‘quirky’ kids I interact with regularly. I believe Bill Gates has thanked his parents for recognizing his abilities and getting him the proper schooling.

      I better shut up because I could go on forever on this subject.

      • You and me both, ET.

        I think we’re going to go with the private school that’s imploding. I got some really good recommendations on the kindergarten teacher at that school, who turns out to be the mother-in-law of one of my colleagues! Everyone says she’s fantastic. Who knew?

        But they’re not only willing to discuss early entry, but they also let kids work at grade level in different subjects, so if a kid is really good in one subject, they’ll go with the appropriate grade for that subject while still being at grade level for subjects they’re weaker at. Which is great for our little min-maxer.

  3. Sad Money Reasons. I know a Ph.D. in chemistry who works at Payless Shoestore. He is demoralized unlike your former friend. Ultimately, he may do a post doc, but until then he’s unhappy. His wife is also a Ph.D. with from post-doc a prestigious school who is currently unemployed (nearly 1 year).

    • Wow! I thought my friend was the one example of such a case. He got his degree sometime after 2000, and just never tried to get a bigger job/profession.

      I wish your friend and his wife well; I hope they don’t give up!!! It’s a numbers game, and eventually, they’ll claw their way up if opportunity doesn’t present itself!

    • I know several cases of PhDs in theoretical physics from tippity top schools (think UChicago, Caltech etc.) who ended up working as RAs for econ professors. Some areas of science are as bad as the humanities in terms of job market.

  4. I think the problem with being a “genius” as a child is everybody tells you so, so then you think you don’t have to work hard. OR, it could be that Leroy has a slight case of Asperger’s syndrome – these are usually incredibly smart people with little social skills. Either way, I definitely agree that geniuses still need to work towards a final goal!

    • In my buddies case, he was pretty shy. I don’t know where he came to the conclusion that he came to, but I’ve never heard of companies coming to the graduated student?

      He could have that Asperger’s syndrome though, he is pretty quiet and shy…

  5. The part of the story that I love is that this guy didn’t care about what his day job was until he was called up to the big leagues.

    How many blog posts/mainstream news stories do you read daily about people who are unemployed but unwilling to take a job they deem beneath them?

  6. I feel like the odd man out by being someone who has the mental capacity to get a fantabulous well-paying job, but really, all I want to do is find a fun, part-time job and blog the rest of the day…stocking shelves isn’t my thing, and I do not expect companies to find me, but I miss my college job in a bowling alley. I crave low stress and tons of blogging time, lol. 🙂

  7. I think you also offer a great lesson to parents. Children, regardless of their intellect, need to be taught about finances, as well as real-life social skills. You may be able to build a rocket, but if you can’t save enough money to do so, or learn to talk to people to help you put it together, that rocket is only going to exist in your mind.

  8. I know some brilliant people and it seems that thier very highly functioning brain often impairs their ability to do basic things (resulting in things like asperger’s).

    In college I got a summer job at the same company with the smartest kid in my engineering class. He was a DxCK and arrogant and lazy. He really did expect things to get handed to him because of his intelligence. I got a glowing recommendation, he got nothing. He did end up getting the highest paid job in our class working for Mobil but I’m not sure what happened to him after that.

    • I really does take more than brains to be successfully, I think you did a great job identifying the elements that it takes to really shine above 🙂

  9. I have a friend who has IQ of 171, but still cannot obtain his bachelor degree simply because he is lazy! He has all sorts of excuses for that.
    Last week he got a low-paying job because he still has no university degree. Also, finding a full time job while studying does not affect very positively towards obtaining the degree…

    • To make dynamite, not only does it take the right ingredients, but also those ingredients measured out in the correct proportions! Say is true with the genius employee! The need the correct skills, and those skills applied in the perfect combination!

  10. As a young girl I could take apart or fix just about anything. My relatives would give me complicated (or not so) presents and before they’d get the directions out, I’d have them put together.
    I could read, pronounce and spell complicated words at a very young age.
    Instead of kids story books, my mother would recite encyclopedic books to me, usually about science and nature at bedtime.
    I’d many times correct her on the pronunciation of the dinosaurs.
    Have suffered alot of depression in my life.
    Ended up doing office work for 20 years although I have an associate degree in photography.
    Haven’t read the prior comments as of yet.
    Just wish that there was someone out there to
    support my mind and potential.
    Is there monies out there for this sort of thing?
    At the age of 57, I still have hope for reaching my goal of tapping into my mental resources before the apathy completely sets in.

    • I think we are all trained to think and behave a certain way. Not necessarily by design, but by the supposed wisdom of the day. In my particular case, I’m just starting to think outside of the box, I have a long way to go…