Nowhere in the DSM-IV does it mention “the stupid complex,” but I’m telling you it’s an epidemic these days. I used to suffer in silence. But ever since I’ve come out of the closet, I swear I find a fellow sufferer every day.
At my last therapy session, I was telling her how scared I was that everyone was going to find out that I was inherently stupid. She laughed out loud and said, “Do you know how many times I hear that a day?”
Oh. Good. Then it’s not just me.
I don’t know when it started. It could be a result of being a twin, and needing to form a sense of identity separate from my sister. Since she stole “tomboy” early on, I became “the brain,” except that mine didn’t work, but no one really knew that but me. And I was able to keep it a secret all through my childhood and adolescence.
My condition was reinforced by those damn standardized tests, the ones that tell you that if you score below one thousand, you need to eat more Wheaties, hang out with smart people (writing down the things that come out of their mouths known as vocabulary words), and apply to community colleges… Oh, and that your chances at success are found somewhere in the hair-thin piece of that pie chart that predicts future earnings.
Having a best friend in college that was valedictorian didn’t help. The same homework from French class that she sailed through in a half-hour had me pursing my lips and looking up terms for six hours.
For several years in college and afterward, I had the bright idea of pursuing a Ph.D., which, in my mind, stood for “Proof of a Highly Developed brain.” Surely if I had those three initials following my name I would no longer feel insecure about the vacancy in my brain and its troubling horsepower. But then I met some people who did have the three coveted letters, a certificate of proven intelligence, and they were still insecure! So I was thankful I saved myself some money and years of frustration writing a thesis.
In fact, as I discuss this pea-brain fixation among other educated types, I discover one successful person after another — New York Times journalists, bestselling authors, international speakers, neuroscientists — who have not been able to shed their stupid complex. I was dumbfounded. Surely if I had their credentials I would never suffer another insecure day in my life.
But that’s just not the case, is it?
No accolade or degree has the capability to zap the stupid complex. That is ultimately good news, really… if you are chasing the next big promotion or award or degree to confirm that your brain is just fine. It means we can sit tight and watch SpongeBob, because we will feel as stupid on our couch as we would in an uncomfortable chair during a Harvard lecture.
And there is great relief, I think, in knowing that there are more of us that feel stupid than there are that feel smart.