Confessions of a Curious Mind, Part 2

Conceptual image of human brain in colorful splashes

In part 1 of this series, I explored the nature of openness and answered some questions about how openness affects my life.

Now, we’re going to look at specific facet of openness: intellect.

Intellect is similar to IQ (and highly correlated with it), but it’s a bit different. I like to think of it as how “nerdy” you are. People who score high on intellect love to read books and hear new ideas. You might think of it as IQ that you’re self-reporting.

Again, let’s get the boring, braggy bits out of the way. I score 97/100 on intellect and I haven’t yet met anyone who scores higher (out of the 600 people who have taken my personality test). I only have a friend or two on Goodreads who devours books at the same clip I do. So again, I’m clearly an outlier. A weirdo, if you will.

Various standardized tests consistently put me around the 98th percentile of intelligence. So yeah, I’m smart, but I’m not a genius. There are 6 million people in America who are smarter than me, at least in terms of IQ. (I wish I knew more of them.)

So now that I’ve established my nerd cred, let me answer some questions about intelligence.


Vince on Intelligence

Q: You must be filthy rich.

A: That’s not a question.

Intelligence is a poor predictor of success — both in school and in the workplace. Work ethic (also known as conscientiousness) is much more important. And I’ve had a poor work ethic for most of my life; it’s only improved in the past couple of years.

But let me clarify. Intelligence matters, but it’s more like a threshold. Once you hit a certain level, having more of it won’t necessarily make you more successful in your profession. A doctor with a 130 IQ isn’t necessarily any better than one with a 120 IQ. But if your IQ is 105, you’re probably not cut out for med school.


Q: As a student, how did you study?

A: Well remember, my work ethic sucked when I was in undergrad. You should actually ask someone who’s very conscientious how to study — not someone who’s very intelligent.

Me? I did the reading for the first few weeks, then I lost motivation. Then I’d wait for the study guide and only study what was on that. Which is probably why I got B’s and not A’s.

I basically relied on my intellect to carry me through college. I’m not a good role model in that respect.


Q: Okay, so how should you study?

A: Focus intensely for maybe a half-hour at a time. Tune out all distractions. Turn off your phone. Then take a break and do whatever you want. Then return to your work.

Test yourself on what you’re learning. Do the practice problems. Make flash cards.

Try to figure out how what you’re learning connects to the concepts you already know. That’s equally important.


Q: Is there anything about yourself you’d like to change?

A: Not really. I’d probably trade a few IQ points for better focus, but that’s about it.


Q: What are your biggest distractions?

A: The same ones everyone else deals with. Reddit, Facebook, etc.

Surprisingly, TV and Netflix don’t distract me. I only put them on when there’s something specific I want to watch.


Q: What’s your typical day like?

A: I wake up and putz around online. Then I force myself to get some work done. Then I go teach. Then I come home, and get a little more work done while taking lots of breaks and indulging in various distractions.

That’s the number one thing I’m working on right now: getting better at focusing and tuning out distractions. It’s going to take some time, but I have faith it’ll improve.


Q: Are you hard on yourself?

A: Not really. I’m a strong proponent of mindfulness and not taking your negative thoughts too seriously. But even that’s a skill I had to learn.

I still need to apply this mindset to improv. It’s pretty common for me to say, “That was a great show, but I was disappointed in my own performance.” To which my friends basically respond, “Wtf? Why?”


Q: Why do you like learning?

A: Why don’t you?


Q: What was your GPA?

A: 2.9 in undergrad, 4.0 in grad school. I was much more motivated when I began studying psychology.


Q: Do people always come to you for help?

A: No, but I wish they would. My friends at least. I like helping people solve problems.


Q: What’s the most difficult thing you had to learn?

A: That award still goes to high school calculus. I barely passed that class.

I’m trying to get over my lifelong math phobia and I’m currently learning statistics and data science. It’s really tough, but it’s still no calculus. (Eventually I’ll have to re-learn calculus, if I want to get into artificial intelligence).


Q: What would you have done if you hadn’t gone to college?

A: Start a business, for sure. I crave freedom and it’s also the best way to make money (assuming you’re smart about it and don’t take stupid risks).


Q: What do you like to learn about?

For some reason my blog won’t display this next question correctly. The question is what do I enjoy learning about? The answer is psychology, evolution, astronomy, statistics, business, computer science, marketing… lots of stuff. A better question is what don’t I like. And that’s math, physics, and chemistry.


Q: What motivates you?

A: Again, remember I wasn’t very “motivated” when I was younger. But now I’m more aware of my talents and I want to make a dent in the universe. I want to be successful in my career, and have plenty of free time so I can spend it with people I care about.


Q: Do you find it hard to make friends?

A: Not at all. I’m pretty extraverted and I have a decent social life. (At least, when my schedule permits.)

I find it hard to make close friends. Just because of how my brain is wired and most people aren’t as nerdy as I am.

Dating is even harder. It’s rare for me to be mentally attracted to someone!


Q: How do you manage your time?

A: Again, I’m not the best person to ask about this, but I’ve learned from some really smart people. (Namely Cal Newport. Read his book, Deep Work.)

I take some time to identify the most valuable tasks for me to work on, then I prioritize them. I keep a daily schedule and I work on them as early in the day as possible — before I run out of mental energy.


Q: Do you do anything besides read and work all day?1

A: Not really, if I’m honest. That’s why I score so high on intellect and openness.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. That’s how I am on weekdays. On weekends I go do improv and hang out with my friends.

I also exercise and play piano and do other normal-people stuff. Sometimes.


Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series. I’ll be discussing creativity!

  1. I adapted this question a little since it was originally written for students.


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