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The Hard Stuff Rules

On the Dubious Merits of Being “Gifted” and Learning to Do Things the Hard Way…

To get things on the table right up front: going by standardized IQ tests of the ’70s (which is when I last took one), I was listed as being almost, but not quite, a “genius.” Which is to say, I’m not krellborn, but I am smart enough that everything thrown at me by public school was in the “no brainer” category. (Well, except for P.E., but hopefully the reasons for that will become apparent.)

As is often the case with kids in that situation, I learned exactly the wrong lesson from it, which is: “Work is bad. If something requires work, it’s probably not worth doing.” I also learned that if I don’t pick up something immediately, it must be because I’m useless at that thing. Like any kind of sports, for instance.

This really came back to bite me in college, where a lifetime of being smart had left me totally unprepared for having to do things like “study” or “pay attention in class”. I had huge SAT scores and coasted through my pre-college education, but being smart very nearly caused me to flunk out of college. Because I didn’t know how to work, because if something required work, it probably wasn’t worth doing. This is a common problem among people within my band of “not-quite-genius”-ness.

See, “normal” kids don’t have this problem, because they learn “work or fail” early on. By the time they get to college, they’re used to stuff sometimes being hard, and are not afraid of that. Not that they like it, of course, but they are at least trained for it. (I don’t have direct evidence of this, other than observation, but it seems like a pretty reasonable deduction based on what I’ve seen and read.)

Well, after dropping out for a semester, discovering what work was like, and having the fear of God put into me (so to speak), I sucked it up and went back to college and more or less aced it the second time around. Not because I wanted to do well in college, but mostly because I didn’t want to have to get a job. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and so it was that eventually it was time to work or starve, and I’m not a man who tolerates starvation well.

But the general pattern of “if it’s like work, avoid it” continued through my adult life. I did over time become more willing to work at something, but it takes a lot to justify it. Drawing something over and over until I get it right: worth it. Learning to drive a stick shift: not worth it. Dragging myself out of bed in the morning to go to a job in order to keep from losing my house: Worth it. Barely. Mastering the “hard mode” of a video game: not even close.

Recently, however, as I have become more aware of this pattern, I’ve been trying to subvert it. In point of fact, I’ve started seeking out the “hard mode” on things. Because I have found that if I stick with it, and if it’s something that really does matter to me, I will rise to the occasion. And the more “hard stuff” I do, the easier the “easy stuff” gets.

To pick a video game example, as the most direct illustration of this: I have a racing game I enjoy (Outrun 2006 for those who are curious). The game has two modes that I most commonly play: basic “zoom down the course from easy part to hard part and try to beat the time limit” mode, and a more free-form “pick a level and race it over and over again” mode. For a long time, I was unable to beat the basic mode (and I still can’t, for the harder courses), so I would just do the easy courses on the pick-a-level mode because those were relaxing and fun. But one day, I decided that dangit, I wanted to beat that basic mode! So I went to the pick-a-level mode, selected the hardest courses, and started running them over and over instead. It wasn’t as relaxing, nor was it as fun, and I never did do very well. But it did dramatically improve my skill with the game. The next time I went back to the basic mode, I beat it easily.

Of course, anybody who grew up getting props for how hard they worked to master something (instead of for how clever they are), this is a no-brainer. But for me, it was an illuminating moment.

Dover and Comfort V-Day KissWhat does all this lead to? Just this: my recently-announced new comic project is gonna be, well, hard. Every page, heck just about every panel, is going to require that I operate on a level comparable to my current best work if it’s going to come off the way I envisage it. I’ve essentially promised myself to do a comic where every page reaches the quality of the “Dover and Comfort V-Day Kiss” pic (or hopefully better, as there are flaws in that piece that still jump out at me every time I look at it). Yes, I can do the work, but great googily-moogily, it’s going to be tough going!

But … on the other hand … if that becomes my daily norm … how much more awesome will my next “level-up” piece be?

That’s not why I chose the look I did for the comic, but if it works, it’ll be a nice perk. :)

-The Gneech

PS: Two bonus points to the first person who names where the post title came from.

EDIT: For more on this topic, see this page.

Originally published at gneech.com. You can comment here or there.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 26th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Gifted kids get no help from teachers. Why, aren't we smart?
Gifted kids get bored easily.
Gifted kids are ignored by the system because they don't know how to deal with anything except average and stump.
Some teachers make life hell for anyone smarter than they are.
Gifted kids have to find ways to make life tolerable. May be music. May be arts. May be computers. May be drugs. Depends on the person I guess.
Gifted kids are often shunned by the other kids -- nobody likes the brain or the nerd.
Gifted kids are sometimes incredible, but only in a few subjects and they suck largely at others. Take the math savant who can't memorize dates for history as an example.

I hated being a gifted kid.
Aug. 27th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)

Aug. 26th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that sounds familiar. I was also having trouble because I never learned to manage my time well - I had a hovering mother, who hounded me to get my work done (even when I *was* working on it) so at college I bombed the first time. Badly.


And you've reminded me how much I want to play Marathon again now. Man, that was FUN. Especially when I got my hand on the physics editor. Ever see what happens if you crank up the BOOM on the guns? It's great - the critters go smush and then port down the hallway, through the wall, and out into space sometimes!
Aug. 26th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
Well spotted! You win the bonus points. :)

Aug. 26th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
But ... anything that requires work IS bad.

That's served me through 66 years. ;-)
Aug. 26th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with you and Shockwave's second point.

Being bored quick is not the same as ADD, but a sign that our brains need constant stimulation. After a short while of the same thing over and over our brain goes, "Okay, we've done this before. Now what is new and exciting?" The difference is that ADD people can't concentrate on just one thing for any length of time, while we can lose track of time concentrating on something that we need to get done.
Aug. 26th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
Heh, they kinda kicked me out of the gifted program in elementary school since I never did any of the reports.

I coasted through high school, but was similarly unprepared for actually working and studying to succeed in college. One semester I got a 1.0 average and almost got kicked out. I had to do well that summer - in one of the most re-taken weed-out engineering courses in the college: Thermodynamics. I barely missed an A, got a B+ and was able to continue toward my degree.

A couple years later I faced another tough spot, with a senior project adviser who just didn't care. I tried doing what was intended to be a group project - solo. I dropped out for three years, worked as an office drone with a month away on an animation lark that went nowhere. I found a new Adviser and got my degree.
Aug. 26th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
Suddenly, a lot of issues in my life make sense... Thanks, Gneech.
Aug. 26th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Pleased to be of service. :)

Aug. 26th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
This. Oh, so much this.
Aug. 26th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
High IQ + Standard rural school system = Bored Kid
That just about sums up my pre junior year of high school. What happen there was a couple of teachers who made classes fun plus I had my mind made up I was going to get into a decent college and become an engineer. But, like yourself, before that happen I failed miserably due to not being challenged, thus not paying attention and day dreaming of all that was possible to build/create in the future.

The key difference that didn't give me the same attitude on work that you got was being in farm country we worked every day with our hands. Looking back it turned out to be a good over all combination as the last two years of high school on proved to me what I could do.

I commend you on what you're undertaking. It will be tough, it will also be a challenge and from what you've said that is also something that stimulates you to some degree. As others have said in their comments it is a great insight to share.
Aug. 27th, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
I was lucky, I guess... I knew the subjects I loved to study, got to ignore, for the most part, the ones I didn't (never really hated any subjects, just saw no earthly use for some of them) and got hired straight out of college into the career I wanted.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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