I don’t consider myself to be a genius; I barely consider myself to be exceptional. It’s not self-deprecating, but more about the environment around me. Everyone here is pretty smart. Whether you are a developer or a growth marketer, I keep meeting people who are incredibly intelligent and impressive.
By no means do I think I’m stupid, but I sometimes feel like I can’t compete. Twenty-two year olds working at Facebook, HBS grads crushing it at Deloitte, and MIT kids changing the world in biotech. They’ve earned senior and VP-level titles, and seemingly have made it based on their smarts. This story is ubiquitous at this point.
The City is filled with people who are just plain impressive. They have multiple degrees, are invited to lecture, sit on panels and get written about in the paper. While impressive, being that smart gives some people an air of arrogance.
I recently heard a girl on my cross-country flight talking about her SAT score. Though it isn’t a complete measurement of intellect, it got her into an Ivy League school and from her school into her job at Amazon.
“1550,” she boasted, (used to be out of 1600, which tells you how old I am) as I rolled my eyes from the seat in front of her. I had to take the test twice — after taking a class and getting tutored. I guess I just don’t know how to take tests.
One of my best friends is a full-stack engineer who specializes in AI and machine learning. (I know, a complete buzzword, but for a reason.) It takes an incredible human being to program a computer to think like we do. The computer is smart like him. And, of course, the computer is smarter than me. He’s programming the future while I write press releases (and occasional columns for the Examiner). There is a clear divide.
This is where I really feel stupid — at work. I am surrounded by some of the smartest people I have ever met, engineers and business people alike. My boss went to Cornell, worked for NASA, hated it, worked as a consultant and worked for a company acquired by Intel. He had internships at big names like Dow Chemical and others I can’t recall. He quit being a total boss in the engineering world to being a kick-ass marketing director. He is super impressive.
We were actually talking about this the other day, how I felt intellectually inferior to my colleagues. He told me something that actually made me feel better.
“Melissa, you can think what you want about your own intelligence, but what I know is that you are a hustler. You are driven,” he said. “There are plenty of geniuses sitting around, not even using what they have been given; it’s a waste.”
He’s absolutely right. Though I feel threatened by some of the best talent in the world here in San Francisco, I know I have at least one advantage that can set me apart from the pack. I will get to the answer or accomplish the goal no matter what it takes. I don’t give up, nor will I ever. I may have gone to a state school, but I never missed class. I got straight As. I worked my ass off.
What even determines intelligence? There are so many different kinds. There is emotional intelligence, which many men in this city do not have. Then there is social intelligence, where we definitely fail as a group of San Franciscans. It’s when you can’t even say good morning. The people who make the most difference in society are the charismatic ones. I once took an adjunct class at Stanford about charisma. Being able to read people and respond to them in the way that gets them the most engaged is an incredible skill. Like my boss said, you can be the smartest person in the world, but if you can’t communicate and engage, you live alone in your intelligence.
Many high-level skills are needed to be successful, not just raw intelligence. You can’t just rest on your laurels, but have to strive every day to be better, because your competition doesn’t stop.
With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.