Friday, May 29, 2009

Us and Them

In my field of education and line of work, I've come across several brilliant minds and truly gifted students of science. I like giving credit where it's due and have told many people how much I like their way of thinking/reasoning.

Whether by upbringing or by personality, I find it hard to take compliments too seriously. I usually brush off accolades as I find them a touch embarrassing - I just don't know how to react when someone says something good about me. While I didn't take any part of my schooling for granted, peers and faculty were of the opinion that while I had the intellectual horsepower, I simply lacked the will to work hard and score points in the exam. I was always in the top 10 in the class - good but could do better - was consistent feedback me and the parents got all the time.

College just about destroyed every notion I had about myself. I was in a large group of 12 people and 9 of them would score at least 20 points more than me per paper. Music, dating, the internet were large distractions and I suddenly found myself at rungs way below what I was used to. I had a "rock-bottom" moment in a lab exam in my junior year. It was a circuits lab, and I had to first draw a circuit diagram, write a little theory and steps to get observations. I remember struggling through the writing part. We're given components to perform the experiment only if the writing's approved by the examiner, and I somehow managed to cross that hurdle. When I wired the circuit up, I realized that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. The output was lacking, the components were hooked up wrong so they heated up, and I had no idea what the procedure was or even what test values I was supposed to procure. These were low voltage/power circuits and yet I managed to heat a transistor so bad that I singed my thumb and I bear a small scar to this day. The examiner (whom I hated, and he knew) came around  to check on me and he was also shocked at my ineptitude. I had a good reputation among the faculty due to my behavior and the company I kept, which made my struggles of the morning seem even more ludicrous. He dropped a couple of none-too-subtle hints on how to fix the circuit and what the correct procedure was, and left the table disgusted.

I got 70 in that paper. I shouldn't even have passed, but goodwill from a man who hated me, got me through.

I remember coming home, tripping over the furniture, and crying. It started as a loud scream due to the pain, but soon I was bawling because I was in uncharted territory. I always thought I was better than the scum of the last benches that had no clue during exams, and showed up just to mock the education system. Glaring examples that a single form of learning cannot help everyone. And here I was, priviliged well behaved child who was just as bad as any of them. I spent that summer wondering if it was all just a big sham, if everyone in my life had just been "nice" to me about my "intelligence".

It took a lot of effort to get out of that brooding mode, and I never fell that badly again. From then on, to the point of of considering myself below-average, I've tried hard to keep myself grounded. And as they say, if you say something long enough you start believing in it. Suppression of my ego also seems to have created nagging doubts about my technical ability.

But the world's a mysterious place and things seems to be changing, yet again. I find myself capable of writing rather clever code and find mistakes in others' code. People who've been at it for longer than me seek my advice, and some people even call me the absolute authority on the things I work on. After I dispensed some advice to someone I thought to myself "did I just say all that?"

Yes, times, they're a changing. I'll never be as bright as the brilliant minds I've seen at close quarters, but once I find the right balance between my ego and self assurance, I may have all the arsenal I need to make a name for myself.


Perakath said...

Very the nice. I can relate to parts.

Rassles said...

I've never been one of the smart ones. I mean, sure, advanced placement classes, but I was never one of the impressive ones. I've never really thought of myself as one of the smart ones. A smart ass? Yes.

Thanatos said...

@ Perakath

Which ones?

@ Rassles

Yeah, being a smart ass is fun.