Wis and Int

When I was younger, in my teens and early 20s, I’m sure I had a higher IQ than I do now. I could remember phone numbers months after hearing them once. I could compute an 18% tip split 5 ways, in my head in a matter of seconds. I could read highly involved and technical code or philosophy or science, and recall it perfectly. I could remember every line from movies I’d seen once, or all the lyrics of songs I’d heard only a few times on the radio.

Back then, I thought that I could think my way out of any problem. I figured that the existing solutions were clearly not sufficient, because problems continued to exist. I was definitely smart enough to do this, because I’d never met anyone smarter than me (only people with more experience). My imagination was limitless, or so I thought, and I could not imagine a problem I couldn’t solve, so QED it was only a matter of time and persistence.

Luckily for me, I had enough persistence to eventually build up a small bit of wisdom, because in the last 10 or 15 years, a lot of that raw computational brain power has slipped away. I don’t miss it, really. I have to look things up more often, and I use a calculator. I have to write down phone numbers, and my calendar is not in my head until I look at it each day.

The feeling of omniscience was pretty awesome, but I’m wise enough now to know that it was a mirage in the first place, and that I was a fool to think it was anything but an obstacle. It was like cocaine, keeping me moving faster, and thinking more highly of myself than was appropriate. I wasn’t really happy; I was just distracted. As the high of youth wears off a bit more each year, I realize how much I wasted that velocity. If I’d started then on the work I’m doing now, I’d be so much further ahead!

Wisdom is not intelligence. In the long run, it’s much more important. For a software developer, or just any rational human being, intelligence gets you in the door, but its purpose is to become the raw material of wisdom.

Take note, clever youngsters: You will slow down. You are going to be noticeably less smart in 10 years. Set yourself up with good habits now. Be persistent, be calm, be careful. Develop instincts and compassion. Flinch towards the dark spots. The hard part is recognizing that there’s anything you need to learn.

We do our societies and our children a disservice by glorifying intellect and achievement, when in fact it is persistence and compassion that make all the difference in life.