Many times (especially in “Corporate America”), I have been “accused” of being smart. The statement is usually something like this: “Jeff, you’re smart” or “You’re smart, Jeff”. Leaves very little ambiguity, huh?
I have always vigorously denied the statement. It’s not false modesty or humility. It’s acute self-awareness. There are plenty of things I just don’t know and I’ve lost count of all the mistakes I’ve made (both in facts and judgment). There are boatloads of people who are smart and loads of those smarter than me.
What I am, however, is quick. I even have a diploma to prove it. One year, for “Boss’ Day”, the department gave diplomas to each of the managers. Mine was “Quick-Witted Wordsmith”. If you can’t trust people who work with you, who can you trust?
The funny thing about being quick is that it gives the illusion of smart. I’m one of “those” people who have an answer for everything. Sometimes, the answer is even correct. But, and here’s the kicker, as long as you are quick and say it with conviction, you trick people into believing you’re smart. It’s the perfect front for corporate management (if I could be a little less concerned about people, I’d be executive material).
There’s an old generalization about the difference between men and women in the workplace. I take no responsibility for its origin nor can I say it still exists today, but it’s useful for illustrating my point. It goes like this: Ask a woman a question that she doesn’t know the answer and she will check facts and get back to you with the correct answer. Ask a man a question that he doesn’t know the answer and he will give you one on the spot (and correct it later, if necessary). The woman is viewed as indecisive or unprepared and the man as confident and knowledgeable. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.
But, I’m that man. I can answer any question. Quickly. I can even back it up with supporting information. None of it may be real, of course, but, come on…I’m a fiction writer. It’s what I do! Because of this facility, I’m smart.
Goofy, right? But it gets better. The more I deny I’m smart, the smarter I appear. So, though I tell people the honest truth, they believe the lie. Talk about your Catch-22! If I lied and said I was smart, then I would appear arrogant and thus, not smart. Is your head spinning like mine?
The whole thing is a bit ironic. My entire life could be described by the difference between being smart vs. being quick. Take my tennis game, for example. I will make boneheaded plays like running to the net on a short ball hit to my opponent’s forehand. They will usually pound a ball past me for a winner, but sometimes they’ll laugh as they lob a ball out of my reach behind me. Except, I cover a lot of ground on the court and, more often than not, run down those shots and end up winning the point.
That’s not very smart tennis…but it is quick!