12 October 2014

Being Sherlock

 Let's just accompany this post with Sunday's outfit: Baju Kebaya done casual.

I've lived my whole life with the conviction that people in general, if they really knew me, wouldn't like me. This stems from a fact I've experienced time and again: people don't actually like smart people (especially smart women, but that's a topic for a completely different post), they just find them convenient and useful.

I am unusually academically gifted. It was extremely hard to type that sentence, and I can already feel a physical reaction of anxiety rising as I think about people reading it. Most likely, you'll read it and think, "Okay, you got As at school, so did I."

If you want to translate it as that, that's totally fine. But that's not really what I mean. I have a feeling, that, all over the world, there are unique "smart-alecs" like me, hiding behind a facade carefully created out of purple hair and a reputation for being a conscientious student.

I managed my own education from the time I was about 8 years old until I started college. Mom bought the books and graded my tests and essays, but I chose my courses and chose how fast I finished them. My parents held me back a grade in middle school so that I would graduate high school at 16 instead of 15. I scored in the 99th percentile on both the ACT and SAT exams without really studying. I never had a course in college where the academics really, really challenged me. A few classes took a little more time than others, but I never did homework past 7 or 8 at night and one could say I had a social life...I was married for nearly half of my college career (and there was that wedding one week before final exams). I routinely had research papers written and ready to hand in weeks before they were due. I am really, really good at multiple choice tests, especially, as I have an exceptionally strong ability to guess--Angel and I have joked about me possible being able to pass the NCLEX without ever stepping foot in a nursing class because I've taken some of the little "practice tests" he's had for different certifications and have gotten remarkably good scores based on pure guesswork and no actual knowledge about the medical field--but really, it's so easy to figure out the answers when you just apply logic. I took the written portion of the Michigan Cosmetology Exam (100 multiple choice questions) in 19 minutes and got 100%...but to be fair, I think I could have done the exact same thing without even going to cosmetology school.

I was very surprised on the occasions when I got less than 100% on an exam in college--but when my classmates bumped into me in the hallways before a test and told me how stressed they were about our final I'd say, "Yeah, I know right? Sounds like it's gonna be ridiculously hard, I've been studying a lot."

When I had to work in a group project, I'd routinely write the entire paper, present it to my classmates, turn it in to the prof, and then act surprised when my group members told me, "Wow, look at the grade we got! Hey, you wanna be partners for the next project?"

I never begrudged doing a group project by myself--honestly, I wouldn't have wanted my classmates' lower-level work to lower my GPA, and writing papers that got As was easy for me, so i was happy to do it.

But college was where I really began to hide my academic abilities from my peers. Because I learned from those group projects that people really like classmates who know their stuff when final exams come, but outside of asking you to email them your class notes, they don't really want to be your friend.

I made a point of not pursuing any extracurricular academics during college. I never wanted to be known as someone who was "smart." I didn't do the school newspaper or get my degree with extra honors. I did ballroom dance club, theater club, Bible study club. I acted in student films. I dressed in every color of the rainbow and wore my bellydancer scarf bedecked with jingly coins on exam days to make people laugh. I ignored the academic side of me as much as one possibly can while taking 16 credits (no more, no less; good enough to graduate on time with ease, but nothing ambitious) a semester.

I cringed when my professor would hand me back my exam in front of the whole class, with 100% emblazoned in red across the front and the comment "As usual, La Perfecta." My Spanish prof used to give me a wink and put his finger to his lips in a signal that meant, "Yes, Rachel, I know you know all the answers so I will call on everyone except you." My Greek Mythology prof wrote me a rather incoherent love letter about how it was students like me who made the field of academics a worthwhile profession.

So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe some people like you if you're bizarrely good at school. But it's mostly your profs--it's definitely not your peers.

I got an A- once, from a prof who said snottily to a student who was complaining about her B+, "I don't give As. Be happy with your B+, that's an exceptionally high score for this class." At that point I decided to take my A- and be happy about it.

The fictional character I have always related to most has been Sherlock Holmes--only I think I like people in general a little more than he does. And I do like them, very much. Like Sherlock, though, I can't relate well to most people, and I find that when I reveal how different I am, they tend to keep their distance.

I can't give my siblings or cousins or closest friends advice on strategies for learning a language, or taking a college class, because they write off anything I say with, "I'm not like you, Rachel. Everything is easy for you, okay? No one else is like that."

And I guess they're right. I often feel, with Elementary's version of Sherlock, that it doesn't seem like there's anyone else out there who's just like me, although I know there is, there's just not a lot of us. Unlike every version of Sherlock that exists, on a daily basis I choose to hide the way I observe and learn and seemingly "just know" stuff.

People don't like people who learn effortlessly. I imagine it's because they feel that I might look down on them because they don't learn as fast as I do. I don't. Being academically gifted doesn't give me any right to look down on others and because I am so smart I can recognize lots of skills that other people are better at than I am (i.e. parking large vehicles). I'd never say people are jealous of me. I wouldn't necessarily wish this on anyone. I wouldn't wish to be different myself, not really, I like myself very much--and never ever even the slightest bit having a hard time at school is not truly a heavy cross to bear because I got the good grades and I got to play all the time--but still, it's not the sort of thing that makes people want to be your friend.

I'm not claiming I'm the smartest person in the world. In fact, for the most part I actively try not to encourage my brains. I spend my time going on adventures at the park and reading fiction and watching movies and playing games and being a class clown of an ESL Teacher. I don't want to encourage myself to keep learning more because that's only going to widen the gap between me and all the people I love.

(*side note: Maybe, since I'm lazy with this brain of mine, I'm actually more like Mycroft than Sherlock...but then again, I'm extremely physically energetic, which is Sherlock all the way. Never mind.) 

I know that my family (immediate and extended) loves me. But they also roll their eyes when I go into a rant about how people totally miss the point of the Ru Tradition, popularly known as Confucianism. They send their papers to me to edit--but they just click "accept changes" and ignore my beautifully worded notes about WHY they needed to use the subjunctive mood of the verb in that particular instance. And they openly claim to hate me when I come back to Malaysia after 6 years away and can figure out the general meaning of written signs in Bahasa when I haven't done anything with the language in years.

So there it is. I'm Sherlock--with a habit of pretending to be dumber than I am. I love people, but I'm often lonely, because I find it difficult to build deep relationships. And yet I've found that the only close relationships I've ever been able to form have formed with the relatively few people who both know this little fact about me and accept me, too-big brain, and all. So maybe, after all, secrets like this are worth sharing.


  1. I love vulnerable emotional posts! You go lady!
    You are awesome... you should never apologize for who you are. You are smart and wonderful and gorgeous inside and out!! xxx

  2. Brilliant post! Certainly makes one appreciate the academic geniuses we have around us - and it's a pleasure to 'know' you through your blog! It's sad that that is the case, but it's quite amazing how inherent the Tall Poppy syndrome is throughout the different facets of society, even university ( - just in case, realise it's not a particularly well-known term haha). Anyway, thanks again for such a thoughtful, stimulating post.

    1. On another note, do you tend to find that people don't treat you like a 'normal person' when they discover just how smart you are? What's with that? It's not like extra-smart people are freaks! Usually they're the people who provide the most *interesting* kinds of conversation, enlivening discussion with quick wit, clever ideas, and notable facts (not something altogether easy to find!) ... although that's a generalisation, this has been my experience anyway :)

    2. Yes, I've experienced exactly that. I've also been told that people who knew of me for one reason or another before they met me were frightened at the prospect of having to have a conversation with me--and were shocked to find out that I am actually quite "normal" to talk to.

  3. Amen about people being intimidated by smart women! Also, just a general amen to this post! This is exactly what I meant when I said you're blog is so "you" earlier. Your posts have so much personality to them, which is so refreshing to read.

    I feel like for my own story, I used to think I was a Sherlock, but now that I'm working on my B.A. in biology, I've realized I'm more of a Watson. Dimmer than Sherlock, but still smart enough to get along alright. ;0)

  4. I love posts like these. I feel like I really can get to know you! Thank you for sharing.. And never be ashamed of who you are or what your talents may be. I know I need to remember this!

  5. Thank you for sharing this! I never would have thought about the social and emotional experience of someone as smart as yourself.

    I can definitely understand people being intimidated. Maybe they're worried that they'll say something dumb and will be looked down upon. But I guess that's more of a reflection of their own insecurities rather than the truth of how you are treating them.

    This is so thought provoking!

  6. You know what? Your "smartness" is only one facet of who you are. While I don't know you IRL, you seem like such a sweet kind person and you've done so many uber cool things. I think you would make an outstanding friend and people who shy away because of your intelligence are truly missing out.

  7. I feel this way about yarn. I can make anything.

    I never studied in school and not once ever pulled an all nigher and I graduated with a 3.2 and I'm happy with it, I really could care less. I just want to make things with my hands. I could have studied and gotten higher grades if I wanted to, but I didn't want to so I didn't. Hehehe.

    My mom is smart. She was top in her class always and said things just made sense to her. Maybe she is like you. I don't know, because I didn't know my mom then, but I remember her casually telling me she had the second highest gpa in her school of like a few thousand people.

    You should be proud of who you are! It is really easy to say that, because I feel awkward and shy that I can understand yarn so well after only four years of knitting and 1 of crochet. I realize this isn't an amazing life skill or anything like smartness, but I'm really happy with what I have.

    I like you. And I like myself as well. Your smartness does not intimidate me--- the only thing I really worry about is that my blog must annoy you to death due to all my misspelled and probably wrong-tensed words, but I can't do anything about it, since I can't change myself.

    You are wonderful. You have a role given by God and so do I. Hugs!

  8. I can relate to this so much! I was much the same with academics - it was never really hard for me, and multiple choice tests were a breeze. I've experienced the strange embarrassment of a 100% score in red that the rest of the class can see. I was often accused of ruining the chance of a curve grading. I was 2nd in my class in high school, scored almost perfect on SATs/ACTs, got a full ride academic scholarship to college, and there the lowest grade I ever got was a B- and that was because it was a sculpture class which is way more about technique than smarts (me and clay have issues, what can I say). And even though I'm not in an academic setting any more, I do still get some push back about being smart and having a sometimes scary-good memory. My friends and family only reluctantly play trivia or word or pattern-recognition games with me (even though those are the ones I love the most) because most often I win. I get weird looks even from good friends when I mention some minor detail of a long-past conversation. It takes me twice as long to write anything for work because I've learned I have to be careful not to come off as snooty with my vocabulary choices. And I often find myself keeping my mouth shut when someone states something as a fact that I know is incorrect, simply because I don't want to make waves or be the annoying smart friend that always corrects everyone.

    In sum, I know what you mean. My 'coping mechanism,' for lack of a better term, is that I tend to not reveal my academic history/crazy memory to new friends until we know each other better. By then, they usually know the other aspects of me well enough that it doesn't make a difference. And in the few cases it does change things, I'm probably better off without them as friends anyway.

  9. I was talking about this sort of thing with my husband last night. I feel like people will think I'm argumentative if I disagree with them and tell them what I know. I'm not necessarily trying to be argumentative, I just know something different than they do. Part of that is the way I come across, I think, but I don't know how else to be sometimes! Like you said, people have different strengths. I became aware of this when I was in college. I used to think being smart was so, so important. But I realized some people are better at being friends or at being compassionate or other things. Okay, I still really value intelligence, but I can appreciate that there are those with different strengths.

  10. Ah, I know what you mean. I pretty much hated being "that smart girl" in high school, and it was a relief to be able to hide in college. I can't say I always got A's because I went through this phase where I was disillusioned with school and more than two absences meant quite a percentage hit in some classes - but I always knew I was awesome. Mostly kidding. I really tried to avoid situations where classmates would ask me for help before exams - it's not that I disliked helping people, but. . .I'm sure you know what I mean. It's like they felt like they had some right to ask me for my time, because it was easy for me. They'd use me for help and in return I got nothing but a tedious, repetitive evening. I also tend to downplay how quickly I can read - I read somewhere that the "average" rate is 50 pages per hour and I'm like several hundred - and process/remember information. I definitely pretend to be more forgetful than I am to fit in. It's weird, the things smart people (women) do. I find it hard to build deep, lasting friendships in real life because it's hard to find people I can connect with on all levels (or maybe I'm just a snob) - the academic and the weird humor. But it's great to connect with you online :)

  11. Beautiful post. Am also someone who manages to do very well academically with very little effort, have a photographic memory and just generally soak in information in ridiculous amounts. If it helps, I'm quite a bit older than you, and things get easier with time. You'll become more accepting of yourself, and all you are, and you'll learn to show your skills, when necessary, with grace. [I didn't like your line, 'I don't want to encourage myself to keep learning more because that's only going to widen the gap between me and all the people I love' because feeling like that does yourself a disservice - if you want to learn more, for heavens sake, learn more! People are going to love you or hate you or 'meh' you, you've just got to do what you *want* to do with no regard for anyone else].....[had to laugh, when the page was loading, the title 'Sherlock' popped up and I was all ready and drooling waiting for the photo of The Cumber....(well, not *the* cumber - you know what I mean!)...and then I fell, delighted, in to reading your post....thank you!!! You are nothing if not always delightfully surprising!]

  12. P.S. Do you read If not, run there right now.....

  13. I am incredibly easily distracted so I have a hard time with academics, which is why I'm so jealous of someone like you. Let yourself shine, I think you're awesome.

  14. It just goes to show that even when you think people have it all figured out when things come easy to them, it doesn't mean it's always smooth sailing. You have such a gift! At least you have a partner/best friend who values that and supports you:) Thanks for sharing this, Rachel!

  15. I agree wtih Krysten Quiles - i get distracted so easily that college was hard for me. And then I went into Culinary - wowzers. but i made it through for that little piece of paper! Thank you for sharing this post- it's a good reminder to always be careful with ones' words. Words can hurt so deeply.

  16. I don't know that I've ever felt this way about anything, but it's a shame that you feel like you need to hide your smartness to be able to relate to other people. That being said, there's no judgment because I think a lot of us are in a position where we deny or hide our gifts instead of embracing them. I think sometimes to be a specialist of any sort means being misunderstood or at least, a large portion of the population not getting your enthusiasm or ability. But I also think as you get older (this is just a guess as I'm not very much older than you so who knows?), you may find a way to relate to people and also nurture your intelligence, too. I hope you do because making yourself smaller to make other people more comfortable, while admirable in a giving, "selfless" sense, is also a loss, too. But I think it would be cool for you to experience being challenge in an intellectual sense -- to figure out what the limits of your knowledge really are. And I also find that when you pursue things like that, you end up finding community naturally. Anyway, that's just my reaction after reading it! But I completely also understand, based on what I've read, why you have made the decisions you have! :)

  17. Agree 100%! Once people realize you're "the smart one," they don't care about you, rather just try to use you. I was smart (though often lazy pre-college) and am nodding in agreement to all of this, especially the "group" project nonsense. Maybe that's why I still don't trust people.... ;)

  18. I would love to have a friend like you! I feel sad that you have to hide your beautiful brain :(. Thank you for sharing this piece of yourself with us, and I hope that one day you won't have to pretend anymore.

  19. You are amazing!!! You are such an intelligent woman and you should be proud of that! I've found growing up that I have a hard time showing sensitivity to others that may not be as quick of learners as I am... like I didn't understand for awhile why they couldn't just try and get good grades, it really wasn't that hard. Obviously everyone has their good and bad subjects and levels of learning--but it took time for me to realize that and be sensitive to their feelings regarding that.

  20. First of all, where have I been? I LOVE the new blog design! Grad school needs to stop being so busy so I can stop by your blog more frequently.

    Second: Embrace your intelligence! I always admire people who are naturally intelligent. I think that is because I have always had to work very hard to obtain my A's and higher GPA. However, I wish I just absorbed information and could reiterate it in return. Never be ashamed of your gifts! You have your smarts for a reason! :)

  21. Ugh, oh my goodness. So many things that you've written here have resonated with me, especially since I am currently in college and facing many of these same situations. You should be so so proud of your intelligence. It's such a great gift and I'm sorry that people have taken advantage of it at times for their own selfless needs. I am all too familiar with the "burden" of taking on a group project, but accepting doing most of it because I know doing so will improve my own grade. But eek, please don't ever hide behind your intelligence now that you're out of school--it's what will attract other intellectuals to you and keep your own knowledge thriving and sustained. I've been thinking so much about academics and intelligence and how those have filtered into my life and how I constantly want to be in an environment where I'm learning, teaching, and becoming the least ignorant person I can on a plethora of topics, but specifically on those which matter most to me. I've also been thinking about associations with these types of people--often I am afraid to participate in more intelligent conversations even though I'm sure I'd fare just fine and learn as I participated, and I would very much like that to change. If I want those aforementioned continued learning experiences, I know I must put myself out there a little more. Am I rambling now? Anywho, this was a wonderful post to read, Rachel. Thanks so much for sharing something so personal. <3

  22. I do know that feeling of hiding your intellect to try and fit in, and make friends. I was lucky enough to befriend the 'smart kids' in high school - most of my friends were in the top 4% of my graduating class with me (a survival tactic on all parts, no doubt!) - which helped a lot. The many years before that were very lonely, and I find that making friends now, when I'm older and have moved cities/countries a few times, is much more difficult. It's tough to find people with whom I share common interests or backgrounds. Currently I am trying to figure out how to make friends in my old hometown having just moved back...and I'm struggling to find similarities in my life with people I meet so we have something to talk about...

    Regardless, you should be proud of your gifts! Even if you did not ask for them, they are still your God-given talents and you have them for a reason. Maybe it is to share your knowledge with the rest of us! For instance, I LOVE learning languages - those rooted in Latin were obviously the easiest to learn (once I learned enough Spanish, Italian and French were simple to figure out and I did much of the basics on my own at home). However, I would love to learn Mandarin but because it is tonal, it is so different to anything else I've been exposed to that I can't develop a strategy! Any tips? ;)

    Great post, Rachel. Very personal and honest.

  23. Don't be ashamed of your brains! I get the same odd looks because of how fast I read, how easily I can write up a paper, etc. People act like it's weird to be smart, to enjoy learning, or to be a quick study. But I say, it's a good thing! Don't dumb yourself down to be popular.

  24. your blog conveys how you want to come across pretty perfectly - you seem smart, of course, but, more than that, you seem adventurous, big-hearted, and curious. then again, it's probably your big brains that allow you to be all those other things - you know, your ability to focus on the essential things in life <3

  25. It is sad when someone cannot feel proud of their smarts. I think for women it is especially hard. I highly doubt that Bill Gates worried about standing out because he was too smart. The need for social acceptance often trumps the desire for intellectual challenges.


  26. Haha! This was a hilarious post. As an English teacher, I can thoroughly identify with your "accept changes" comment. I'm definitely not on your level academically (above average at most), but I really appreciate your sense of humor and approach to sharing your perspective on the routine of constantly finding your name in the exemplary category of life and academics.

    It would have been fun to know you in college.

  27. I remember that one episode when Sherlock was watching "crap telly." That scene popped up as I read this entry, especially when I read that you try not to encourage your brains. I agree with what one commenter said above: your intelligence is just one part of who you are.

    I found out that three of my top strengths are Learner, Input, Intellection which means that I love deep conversations and collecting info that I feel might benefit others. Before discovering that, I never really understood why some people seem to be intimidated when talking with me or they're less inclined to share what they know because they feel I'll look down on them. It's not always the case but it can be lonely, especially when people think that you're a snob and/or when those you're on the same wavelength with are not always available for mental stimulation.

  28. I think everything you just "confessed" is pretty awesome! I think that if we hung out I would listen intently to your rants- I bet they would be so interesting! But then we would have to give my poor brain a break and go shopping or something ;-) It's actually really cool that you can be so smart in so many subjects! Many people just have 1-2 areas of expertise where they really shine. The fact that you are well versed in a wide variety of topics means you can connect with a wide variety of people! And I think that's awesome!
    P.S. I am a little nervous that you are proof-reading my comments for grammatical errors though now ;-)

  29. I can totally relate to your post, as I have always done very well (for the most part) with minimal effort. I never received anything below an A until I went to law school, and I didn't study for the LSAT. Overall, most things came very easy to me in school. Sometimes it was a burden, but I finally just got to the point where I just owned it.

  30. I can relate to this post in a lot of ways. I definitely thought that people wouldn't like me if they got to know me. But I'm learning that it's just not true! And for the record, I like you even though I don't know you that well! :) Thanks for sharing this with Hump Day Happenings.