What are the disadvantages of being smart?

Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What are the disadvantages of being smart? Here are some of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.

1. Marcus Ford

More likely to suffer from depression.

Difficult to relate to peers. This is especially painful during the younger years.

School is not challenging, which makes it a boring prison.

Teachers may love or hate you for your smartness. Both can be uncomfortable.

Some people will be intimidated by you. Hard to make friends.

Jealousy. People love to see you fail.

You feel like nobody understands you.

Pressure. Smartness alone doesn’t lead to success as an adult, but everyone will have high expectations for you.

In school people cheat off you. In my friend’s chemistry class they devised a system to allow every person to cheat off of her.

Self esteem issues. You are only praised for your smartness.

Less ignorant, less blissful. You see more faults in the world.
2. Surabhi Sinha

The habit of over-thinking, over-analyzing and over-estimating often comes in the way of happiness.
3. Bill White

In graduate school, my advisor was a very smart guy. The rumor was that he got his undergraduate degree from MIT at 14 or so, and his Ph.D. before he was 21. He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet, and he really tried to do excellent teaching excellently. But he didn’t know how what it was like to not understand something. When I couldn’t figure out something complicated instantly, he was unable to proceed. It wasn’t that he was impatient or frustrated, he was just non-plussed.

I think that’s the most important problem. Not understanding other people. But one doesn’t have to be smart to get a feeling for this. Everybody is smarter than somebody else in some way. I know more about C++ than many people, less about Erlang and even less about musical counterpoint. When I talk to people about C++, I’m the smart one. When I talk about music I’m the ignoramus. The same is probably true for you. So, figure out where you are the smart one, and see what disadvantages there are talking to other people.
4. Gauri Noolkar

For all the hype that goes into how amazing it is to be smart, there are also some disadvantages which hit you on the way.

1. You risk appearing/being arrogant.

You are informative. You are logical. You know what you are talking about. You can easily spot fallacies in debates and counter them effectively. Be it with your content or with your oratory, you hold the conversation or win the debate. That’s great!

Except, people don’t like it.

They don’t like their beliefs to be questioned, their reasoning to be invalidated, and their choices to be proven wrong. Sure, you might be focusing on the content and enjoy intellectual stimulation, but you’d be amazed to know how quickly people get personal. To their ears, you are just an arrogant brat trying to prove everyone stupid.

(or perhaps you are trying to prove them stupid, in case of which, you are arrogant).

2. You are supposed to not need any kind of help.

Hey, you are smart! What else do you need in life?

So what if you missed a month of classes due to illness? You are a brilliant scholar, smart enough to catch up. You don’t need my class notes.

Boss gave you the toughest client? You can manage him all by yourself, you are so smart!

Too many chores at home? You are smart, you can multitask, you don’t need a hand.

Problems in personal life? Why, you are so smart, you give solutions to everyone in their problems. Why would you need a shoulder?

Be it out of resentment or sheer supposition, people just take it for granted that you can do everything by yourself and never need any help, guidance or support.

(And if you can really manage with no help, you are arrogant.)

3. Jealousy surrounds you.

Smartness, as I take it, is a multifaceted virtue. It’s not just IQ, or just wit, or just rote knowledge. It’s a combination of bits of intelligence, wisdom, good soft skills, and a pleasing personality.

Smartness is also problematic. People known for one, distinct forte are different from smart people, who are known for a number of things. Except immediate ‘competitors’, people who are known distinctly for their beauty, or IQ, or athletic abilities, or art, or anything are largely appreciated, and welcomed. But come up against someone who has a bit of intelligence AND knows a thing or two about art AND speaks well AND has a good degree AND has a decent dressing sense… and you start squirming.

Smart, multifaceted people face more jealousy in the common society than experts do.

4. You are automatically supposed to be wise. And nice.

Smartness does not mean kindness. Knowledge does not mean wisdom. Yet, you are assumed to be so.

But in a lot of cases, that is not true. Smart people can be downright assholes. Just because they are smart does not mean they do the right thing. Just because they know a lot of things does not mean they know its worth. Smart people can be just as selfish, greedy, misguided, prejudiced and harmful as anybody else.

Society expects you to be kind, nice, wise, and ‘do something for the human race’. Which, though reasonable, do not automatically go with smartness.

5. Ultimately, you are alone.

Aren’t all of us? Well, not exactly in the narrow sense of it. Many smart people turn introvert. Those who do not still have only a few friends they can count on.

It is tough for you to find friends who are not with you for your smart solutions, who are not pressurized by your smartness, and who do not detest it. It is tough to find friends who can push past the dominating presence of your smartness and discover the person inside you. It is tough to find friends who do not assume and suppose anything about you just because you are smart.

Barring those few special people, you are alone.
5. Athena Ponce

In certain settings, a smart person likely has to adjust their personality and manner of speaking because if they use their normal vocabulary and speak about their typical interests, they will sound like a pretentious know-it-all. Having to change oneself to be socially acceptable can be very painful, I imagine, because there’s an implicit fear of rejection and humiliation from being seen as a weird nerd who seems to consider themselves better than others (but very possibly does not).

Also, in conversations, people frequently say things that are factually or conceptually incorrect. That’s just typical conversation, since nobody knows everything. But a highly intelligent person may actually know the correct facts and concepts being discussed, and they could sound like a jerk for correcting others, which can be embarrassing for the one being corrected and result in anger or resentment.
6. Giulio Talamini


Being Smart can be an advantage if combined with the following qualities:

1. Self-acceptance: Intelligence is not to make no mistakes, but to see quickly how to make them good (Bertolt Brecht)

2. Beyond one quality: Cleverness is not wisdom (Euripides)

3. Not taking yourself too seriously: I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I’m saying (Oscar Wilde)

4. Modesty: It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer. (Albert Einstein)

5. Kindness: A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special (Nelson Mandela)



Being smart is only a trait of a person…And dwelling only upon this unique feature in a person can be a big disadvantage

There is an Albert Einstein’s quote which I literally love:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”
7. Satyanarayana Shanmugam

You might end up having a poor social life. It is difficult to find people with a similar level of intelligence depending on how smart you are. People with a lower level of intelligence will subconsciously avoid you because your very presence can make them feel less intelligent, and nobody likes that. If you’re lucky enough to be in a place where you’re surrounded by people with similar levels of intelligence, you should consider yourself to be extremely fortunate.
8. Erica Friedman

“The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.” – Horace Walpole

It’s true that being intelligent can make you feel alone – especially as a child, when you are limited by social obligations you do not choose for yourself and financial dependence on others.

But, then you grow up and you achieve financial and political independence. If you do not use that freedom to surround yourself with wonderful people, you’re wasting your time on this planet.

I am reasonably intelligent. I worked in advertising and sales, which teaches you everything you ever need to know about how horrible and wonderful people can be. I have friends who slay me with their humor. My friends are sharp as knives, and they keep me honed.

If you are truly intelligent, you can spend your days sneering at people around you and be a big fish in the minuscule pond of your mind or you can use that intelligence to do something awesome. It’s your choice.
9. Jessica Margolin

This may be specific to being a smart female.

I have a former sales/marketing colleague who constantly “othered” me by saying I was smart. She once introduced me in a professional context as a “walking brain.”

So I asked her to stop. She said, “But you have to realize that’s the first thing that anyone notices about you!”

I responded that I realize, and am thankful, that people see me as particularly smart; however I’m not working enough despite being so smart, and that lack of deal flow seems to be related to people “branding me” as an intellectual stereotype with my head in the clouds who can’t DO things, including relate to The Average Joe. I asked her to stop exacerbating this. I asked her to pick any other attribute, and since we had worked closely together she had many specific performance/outcome related introductions available to her.

She continued othering me. So I told her I was angry at her disregard of how I felt about this, and distanced myself from her.

I realized she was a competitive businesswoman whose particular skill was branding and product positioning, and she realized I was smarter than she was. I was instinctively cubbyholed into a power-zapping “brand” that she felt that she could be successful against. I do think it was instinctive and not deliberate, but the fact remains that when I said it was destructive to me and asked her to stop, she refused to.

Very sad. One of many stories like this.

On the other topic, which seems a theme in this thread, that intelligence is correlated with depression: I truly believe that the intermediate variable is isolation. I don’t think being smart makes you see things that are depressing; I think being in a society that ridicules intelligence, and then exploits it makes people feel like crap, and that causes biochemical changes which lead to depressive behaviors and ideation.

I think anyone can view life in such a way that it feels depressing, of any intelligence. The two cognitive patterns are (1) bad things persist while good things are transient and (2) small things are catastrophized into dealbreaking show-stoppers.

While intelligent people might make logical-seeming arguments to support these two dysfunctional thought patterns, anyone might make crappy arguments, and feel just as depressed.
10. Steve Upstill

(Assuming that by “smart” you mean high IQ; there are lots of interpretations of the word) There is a temptation to believe that being smart is a superpower to conquer the world. It’s a mythology about smart people that’s in the culture to begin with, but largely promoted by smart people themselves.

This mythology leads to a few basic mistakes:

Overestimating the importance of being smart. While being smart is undoubtedly useful in general and sometimes a critical advantage, there is a lot to being in the world beyond what smartness gets you.
Underestimating other attributes of the high-functioning human being. Emotional intelligence, social aptitude, empathy, compassion, spirituality; all these things and many others can get downplayed in the presence of awesome smartness.
Falling in love with rationality. This is an instance of the “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem. Massive intelligence mates with the Enlightenment ideal of rationality and breeds contempt for anything that can’t be described as a logical proposition or provable formality.
Sometimes being smart is actually being dumb. Hang around smart people long enough and you’ll discover that they can talk themselves into anything–precisely because they are smart.
Some of the other posters mention high expectations. If you have an attribute that’s supposed to furnish your life with miracles, and your life isn’t furnished with miracles, whose fault is that?
There must be more, but that’s a starter list.
11. Anonymous

When I was young, I consistently tested in the 99th percentile. I was significantly ahead of my peers in school, possibly due to having a father that was a mathematics professor and could only really relate to me by teaching me mathematics as a toddler. I was in gifted/talented programs as a child. My school grades started off good, and degraded as I discovered just how little I could get away with doing, and was not fortunate enough to have a teacher who could challenge/motivate me. I was the youngest child in a large family, so my parents didn’t invest heavily (either fiscally or emotionally) in my education…not to berate my parents, they did great with the burdens and resources in their lives. I was not a child savant…I was just a good reader and (far) ahead of the curve in mathematics.

In middle and high school I had trouble relating to most of my peers…my grades were horrible as I generally refused to do homework because I could understand the concepts adequately without it, and didn’t have anyone pushing me at home for grades. I tested about 1550 on the SAT, and a 31 composite on the ACT without any studying, and was able to get into a state college engineering program. I ran into a bit of trouble in college, first by carrying to heavy a class load, and trying to ‘get by’ the way I had in high school…but eventually graduated with a computer science degree.

To answer the question: I find in general that I am lazy…in large part because I can be. I am not an especially ambitious person. I have no great yearning for riches, power, fame, acclaim in my field, etc. I have never related well to others, but I don’t know if this relates to intelligence, as clearly there are intelligent people who get on just fine with others. I don’t regard myself as especially intelligent these days. I’m financially comfortable, have a job I don’t really care about and am free to pursue my likely ADHD-driven interests. It is unlikely I will ever accomplish anything of significant interest, and I’m okay with that.

I suppose, to sum up…all my ‘problems’ are of my own making depending on your view of the universe. Intelligence by itself is not a disadvantage. We are all products of our environment, whether brilliant, average, or mentally deficient.
12. Harris Siddiqui

This is how the disadvantages start:

Initially you are totally unaware of your abilities, so you’re a hard worker (because you are a kid who wants to be the best). Sometime hence, maybe the 3rd grade, you experiment a bit. Reduce your hard work, to some extent. Still on top, no harm done.

About the time you reach high school, you stay back and watch others run, trying so hard to get ahead of you. Deep down, you just keep smiling to yourself, knowing that you can take them down anytime. And just before the final run, you do beat them. That was awesome.

From there on, it kinda becomes boring, you get tired of the rules and the damned grading system and stuff. So you just don’t give a fuck to run with them anymore. You find challenging mischievous things (drugs, alcohol, smoking) around you and do them, until you’ve had enough.

Then you move on, find that one thing that you’re gonna do for the major part of the rest of your life. You find your true passion. Some of them, are not able to get to this phase, so that’s how the genius ends for them. For the rest, they do the best works of their life now. (Not really a disadvantage, this one).

Towards the later stages of your life, you know what you’re capable of, and you have your fair bit of experience, so you keep the disadvantages away.
13. Jonathas Duarte

No matter what your area of expertise is, people will ask you to fix their computer just because you are smart.
14. Anonymous

The biggest disadvantage? The one that can hurt you the most in the long run? Thinking you’re smarter than everyone else in the room. This can damage relationships, careers, happiness. It wasn’t until I was pushing 50 that I realized the true meaning of the phrase “The wisest man living is the man who appreciates the limits of his wisdom.” Just remember – some of the smartest people alive are the ones that make others feel smarter than they are!
15. Matthew Stern

Intelligence isn’t valued, at least not in the United States. People are generally judged on their appearance, charm, humor, and physical strength. Intelligent people are usually treated with suspicion and disdain. “No one likes a know-it-all,” as the saying goes. So, we generally have to hide our intelligence or develop charm and humor so we don’t seem as threatening.

The irony is the United States has achieved its success because of intelligent people. Where would we be without people like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs? But each of those people are probably as known (if not more so) for their personality and charm than their intellect.
16. Stephen Heleker

You may end up feeling dissatisfied with your life, even if you enjoy success and have a close network of family and friends.

You may have delusions of grandeur.

You may feel entitled to success.

You may blame your dissatisfaction on your intelligence, instead of your expectations.

All things measure, being intelligent relative to your peers has far more advantages than disadvantages. The wonderful irony is that the advantages drive most of the disadvantages. In the same way that a middle class American might despair that Whole Foods stopped carrying their favorite espresso blend, an intelligent person might regret a life of easier successes and higher ambitions. After all, there are more intelligent, successful, and lucky people out there, and that just isn’t fair.
17. Luke Merrix

I can come from this from a slightly different point of view. My best friend growing up was ridiculously intelligent. He never had to do anything in school and still got straight As. It was frustrating knowing that no matter how hard I worked I would never be as intelligent as he was. I have always been middle of the road intelligence wise but very driven to succeed.

Unfortunately he has suffered from depression and anxiety for a very long time but still has a beautiful mind and can write something that has the ability to astonish or drive you to tears.

I cherish having him as a friend even though it has been a struggle for a long time. He has changed and improved me in ways he will never know but he still lives with his problems and may never get the freedom of mind which experience.

I don;t necessarily think that intelligence has caused the problem but it may not have helped either. TC mark
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17 People Reveal The Disadvantages Of Being Smart

ZUCHT moe van soms… altijd dat moeten uitleggen…
Waarom je zo denkt… een probleem ziet, drama, zit te stressen, terwijl dit dus echt niet zo is…aargh!!!!!!!!!
Ben de vrolijkheid zelve van nature gelukkig…
Ik zie veel, denk veel, so?
Jammer dat veel mensen je dus soms gewoonweg niet kunnen volgen…


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