When I was in first grade, I had a substitute teacher tell me I was stupid when I asked for help with the math we were learning. We were learning to do addition when you have more than two sets of numbers. Math has never been my strong suit, and what was easy for my peers was insanely hard for me. I realized a few years ago that the substitute was wrong. I wasn’t stupid; it was just easier to tell me I was, instead of trying to figure out a different way to explain it to me.
Despite the fact that I’ve come to terms with what happened when I was seven, I’ve recently started to realize that it was that moment that set me on a path that I regret.
Throughout elementary school, I constantly found myself in situations where my peers seemed clueless about the things I was saying. I used words that seemed normal to me, and most of the time those words just earned me blank stares. I remember people commenting frequently on those “big words” I used. Around sixth grade it started to dawn on me that being smart was great, but it was really lonely. I already stuck out among my peers because my dad was both a pastor and the town garbageman, and being intelligent just was an added ingredient into the mix that kept me from fitting in.
So, I locked up my brain. I sealed up those parts that would help me achieve, and took to playing dumb. I found that if people believe you’re dumb, they go easier on you and quite a bit less is expected of you.
Recently, I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to play dumb anymore. It’s cost me too much in life, and I’m sick of giving up what I want because I’ve put so much importance on fitting in. Unfortunately, what I’m discovering is that it’s not terribly easy to undo nearly 20 years of playing dumb. I’ve spent so long convincing myself that I’m only average and am incapable of achieving anything, that my brain is rebelling quite a bit against my decision to unlock it. There’s also an element of fear. It’s scary to decide to stop choosing the easy option. However, I think (and hope) it will be worth it, in the long run.