The Life Well Led
By Marty Nemko

My clients of high intellectual ability have benefited from these tips. They’re aimed at adults but may well be relevant to children.

Allow visitors time for acclimatization. Let’s say a supervisee has come into your office. Or you’re meeting someone at a restaurant. Or s/he’s coming to your place for dinner. Most people need to slowly get comfortable: perceive the surroundings, get comfortable, etc. As a quick thinker, you may do all that in seconds but, unless the person is of similar cognitive ability, they may need a minute or two to acclimate. So don’t jump to an issue that’s at all cognitively demanding until you sense the person is comfortable—That’s one of small talk’s purposes. It may be wise to let the other person take the lead so you can better sense when s/he has settled in.

Beware deep dives. Smart people tend to enjoy exploring a topic in depth, but other people may find that boring or that you’re too intense. They may think or even say, “Can’t you relax for once and talk about pop culture, family, the upcoming vacation, sports, or how that political figure sucks?” Sure, you might try a deep dive , but stay alert to people’s early signals of being turned off: wandering eyes, bored body language, silence, and, of course, if they change the topic.  Perhaps save your deep dives for your intellectual peers and for your private explorations. For example, the internet makes ocean-bottom dives so easy and fast.

Finding peers. It’s too self-absorbed for you to expect people to accommodate to your outlier ways of being. So a good chunk of your time should be spent with intellectually compatible spirits. Of course, in the job world that means working for organizations liberally laced with smart folks. You’re particularly likely to find them in high-tech, biotech, financial research firms, universities, and of course, think tanks. Outside of work, high concentrations of brainiacs exists in book clubs, high-level in-person and online courses, as strategic planners in political campaigns, mentoring or tutoring a gifted kid or adult, and of course, in Mensa.

Hold your powder. In mixed-ability environments, you (or your high-IQ child) may fall victim to ostracism or even bullying by people jealous, intimidated, or angered by having to confront their mind’s relative infertility. It’s required noblesse oblige that you restrain yourself from unnecessarily displaying your mind’s fecundity. Yes, bring up your good ideas but couch them in a face-saving way, for example, “Perhaps this might work. Insert the idea. What do you think?” And, where honestly possible, acknowledge others’ contributions. That can be as simple as, “Good thought.”

Have stimulation sources at the ready. While everyone needs down time, high-IQ people have a greater-than-average need for intellectual stimulation. Of course, there’s no need to always rely on others for that. Keep with you one or more sponge activities (activities to sponge up life’s many bits of unallocated time), for example, that book or audiobook you downloaded from the library onto your phone or Kindle. Also always have an intellectually stimulating side project that’s related to work or not: Develop an app, write a one-person show, conduct research on a work topic of interest, create a one-minute fundraising video for your favorite cause, craft letters to the editor, work on a thorny life problem that you or a friend is facing: from how to attract Ms Right to how to dump “Mr Right,” from how to find good housing cheap to how to find the wisest uses of your charity dollars.

Being a high-IQ person in a mixed-IQ world isn’t as easy as the average person thinks it is. Perhaps one or more of these tips will help.

Dr. Nemko is a career and personal coach specializing in high-IQ individuals. You can reach him at or 510-655-2777.

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