It’s More Than How Smart You Are

“It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”Rene Descartes

Among one of the most popular misconceptions student arrive to university with must be that the ‘smartest’ students are at the top of the class. They somehow picture a young savant quickly skimming through the textbook and getting 99% on all assignments, tests and finals.

In reality, how smart you are is only part of the equation. Yes, being ‘smart’ is helpful; you grasp content quicker, understand concepts, and learn at an accelerated pace, but being smart in and of itself won’t guarantee you success.

Take the example of studying. Student’s as a whole love to brag about how little they study. It’s a common practice – if you admit to having studied for an exam, you are somehow a less intelligent student. You will hear students sharing the extent of their preparations before walking into an exam; “oh, I just started studying 30 minutes ago, here goes nothing.” When you hear something along those lines, one of two things is happening:

  1. They really did just start studying – they are either ill-prepared or just clearly unaware of the world around them
  2. They are pre-ambling on the test to protect their ego – they most likely have actually been studying A LOT, but they are striving to protect their ego in case they don’t do well. It’s a win-win to them. Do poorly, and it’s excusable: after all, they just started studying. Do well, and it looks genius: they only studied 30 minutes!

I know that’s the case, because both of those situations applied to me. At one point or another I used that excuse for both of the reasons listed above.

So the question arises, if it’s not about being smart, what is it about?

Being Smart and Putting in the Time

While being smart is half the equation, it’s incomplete by itself. The other half of the equation is working hard and putting in the time required.

You need to apply yourself to learning the material, mastering the craft, or crunching out a couple problems. Very few students (most likely none) do well on their natural talent alone. In almost every case, you simply fail to see what happens behind the scenes. That student returns to their room, and…guess what? Studies. You might not see it, so your perception of them selectively builds. However, when they come out of the exam with a 90% grade, it’s not because they are naturally smart, it’s because they put in the time and effort required.

The other great reality is that it really is (to a large extent) an equation. What you lack in the natural smarts, you can make up for in effort. It might not get you to the point where you are the next Steve Jobs (because that kind of vision is something beyond what you can acquire through effort), but it will get you into the top quarter of the class.

Beyond Putting in the Time: Hustle

What separate the top 5% of a class from the top 25% (and what separates the top 5% of the workforce from the top 25%) is something unique that falls under effort – it’s called hustle.

Hustle is strategic effort. It’s putting in the time required, but putting it where it will provide the most value. It usually involves taking a more challenging path, stepping outside your comfort zone, or doing something new, but hustle is what separates the crème de la crème.

So, how can you hustle? It just means using your effort wisely. Perhaps rather than reading another 30 pages again, it would be more productive to find a friend and quiz eachother. Maybe rather than doing 60 minutes of problems every week, you do 30 minutes of problems and go in for 30 minutes of office hours. Whatever it is, think about smart ways to get the best return of your time – that’s hustle.


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