From Complacency to Confidence: Why Intelligent Kids Should Work Harder

When intelligence becomes a crutch at school, what are the steps in self-awareness to overcoming it?

Published: Jun 9, 2023  |  

Law student and campus journalist in Nigeria

child kid education

Although only a small percentage of people are born with innate genius, anyone can cultivate their unique talents and abilities. As a child, I was blessed with sufficient intelligence and the kind of charming personality that consistently made me stand out in school. Based on this, I thought I was entitled to always stand out effortlessly.

I had a long attention span, and a sharp understanding mind as a child, so I didn’t have to work as hard as I saw many of my peers do. I didn’t have to read or prepare hard for exams, because I could remember my classwork vividly. While others had issues understanding a mathematical equation, I couldn’t even empathise with their confusion, because to me it was so easy.

But in school, as in life, you’re only as good as your last win.

Coping with failure

Now, I have a better understanding of intelligence—and its inevitable diminution. I have witnessed how intelligent people often think they are continuously entitled to success without putting in the work. So much so, that when the lapses come, it’s often hard for them to accept their failures, and they struggle to overcome them and continue moving forward. 

So, if such a person is not strongwilled enough, if they lack the resilience to view failure as a critical step in their learning journey, the fall becomes all the greater. Like a rolling stone that was rolled strongly in an upward trajectory—when it reaches its apex, it slows, and begins rolling downwards, and the gravity makes it harder to maneuver, or to stop. 

Acknowledgment of initial natural intelligence by parents, teachers, and indeed yourself, as the principal actor, is very important, but to accompany it must be a lifetime of building and nurturing that special talent. Genetics may determine the starting line, but hard work determines the finish line.

In high school, a girl outshone me in class and answered more questions than I could. She seemed to value the classes so highly, paid rapt attention, put in effort, and got more teachers to like her. She even read her books and checked the teachers’ corrections during free periods! I’d never done this—I typically would look at the grade awarded and ignore the comments. I sincerely felt she was doing too much… until the results started distinguishing her.

I was angry. Not with myself, but with her. In this case, anger could brew a better and greater zeal to succeed, but instead, it often brews bitterness. I wanted to keep doing the same things as I always had, but achieve better results than my peers.

Hard work wins the prize

Looking back, many students remained completely undistinguished in their studies, but some of them have strived to become very good at what they do outside of academia, even those who were not naturally considered intelligent. With sweat and blood,  they changed their own lives. My best friend comes to mind, who I thought would always come second in class, when all of a sudden (or at least it seemed that way to me), he took pole position. But it wasn’t that sudden, he intentionally worked at it—went above and beyond in his practice. The difference is in the labor. 

I had everything at my beck and call, but I allowed myself to shrink. I thought: Why should I suddenly put in effort—I haven’t needed to before? There it is, the arrogance of an intelligent person shrinks their intellectual capacity because—very often—an arrogant person refuses to learn and grow. Ego is the ultimate barrier and excuse-maker.

Natural talent must be exploited, manipulated, and stretched to improve its utility and give better satisfaction. And desire must trail that talent. Michael Jordan understood this and he went on to become the greatest basketball player of all time. The improvement leads to self-perpetuating upgrades. This is one thing that even Artificial Intelligence understands, and why it will not dissipate like other trends.

I had the advantage of easily understanding. All that was required of me was to respect that and continue to invest in it. Higher levels of achievement and competition, require an upgraded level of brilliance, innovation, intelligence—and effort.

Many A-grade students become average as they progress, where C-grade students often thrive. This is not only about a school setting, it is about life generally. How often do we choose something we are “naturally good at” or have “a natural affinity for”, and reject things we aren’t good at, just because it takes more effort, more work, more pain? I once accepted that I wasn’t cut out for a certain subject, and by accepting it, birthed a reality,  because I simply allowed my self-esteem to be fazed and my ego to be bruised, when all that was expected of me was to put in the work. 

The power of confidence over intelligence

I have also learned the need to be more assertive, bold, or audacious—and more importantly, how this can substitute some natural intelligence in the short term. Because, unfortunately, lack of confidence can deprive you of what is rightfully yours.

Think of it as taking a small step into the limelight, to showcase your light to the world. You must not allow your talents to wither away due to laziness or miss out on opportunities that can boost your knowledge, confidence, and transform your life. Because, living with the regrets of what “could have been” is to be avoided at all costs.