Something occurred to me about a week ago which helps explain how I perceive the world:
(a) the vast majority of people in the world aren't terribly bright - – in some cases, breathtakingly dumb. There's a reason why the most popular movies are what they are; there's a reason watching television is a national pasttime; there's a reason McDonald's is an unstoppable force on this planet. Most of the knives in the utensil drawer of humanity aren't very sharp.
(b) the rest of them – I see them as the people smarter than me – are intimidatingly smart. They speak multiple languages; they have a facile grasp of mathematical concepts that elude me; they can play the piano brilliantly. I think of myself as a wooden-headed clod when I consider these individuals. My knack for self-loathing kicks into 5th gear when I consider these folks.
At the risk of sounding like an obnoxious dork, I have lived my life in the 98th percentile. I've always been considered bright; I've always done well in school. But the fact is that the other 2% is exponentially smarter and more clever than I'll ever be, and I think it's healthy to focus more on the people above you than those below. I spend a meaningful amount of time marveling at the excellence of others which I have failed to attain.
We live in an increasingly competitive world, and as the brainpower of formerly-suppressed and formerly-poor nations is released, the good citizens of the United States are going to feel increasingly marginalized. I think this is beneficial for the planet as a whole, as I tend to be a big believer in meritocracy, irrespective of nationality. But I also think America's tenuous grasp on the slippery rungs of world dominance will be a lasting reality.
Many things tumbling around my brain have brought up these thoughts. One, obviously, is Mr. Jobs, whose passing continues to reverberate throughout this valley in a way I can only liken to Jesus' own death. This may seem like absurd hyperbole, but I believe it. The impact the man had and the devotion he earned is little removed from that of a major religious figure. If you somehow missed my eight-part homage to the man on YouTube, it begins here.
Separately, some weeks ago, I overheard a woman at the skating rink speaking in German to her child. Judging from the fluidity of her speech, I assumed she was a native German, but then later I was surprised to hear her speaking in accent-free Californian. I asked her about this, and she explain that she went to Germany during college in order to learn the language. When I mentioned how perfectly she seemed to speak it, she said that native Germans would tell her that she had absolutely no accent at all.
Like a typical American, I know only one language, and I am certain I am a lesser person for it. Those who know two, three, or more languages have, I am quite sure, far better thinking and processing skills than I do, and I feel I cheated myself out of this by screwing around for four years in Latin, not really putting forth any effort. I'm not complaining about the language – I think Latin is a great one to learn – but I often wonder how much more I could have accomplished if I had better educational opportunities and had been a more driven student.
Living near Stanford and being surrounded by Silicon Valley success obviously has a lot to do with constant thoughts of self-doubt. This is a culture of overachievers. Just about the only good thing I can say about how I've led my own life is that I have always sought to do what I love. I have, thank goodness, been able to craft a reasonable income from my own passions. If I wasn't psychotically in love with ProphetCharts, I'd probably be homeless and roaming University Avenue, mumbling incoherently.
I've missed my chance to be a great student, but there is always an opportunity to learn. If nothing else, I think looking up is a better habit than looking down, since it is more likely to encourage effort and self-improvement (besides which, it is kinder).
I am truly grateful for the group of Slopers we have assembled here, since many of them represent this ethic of betterment and reflection. I'm not nearly as smart as you might think, but I can at least admit that I've finally had enough insight to recognize my own multitudinous shortcomings.