Smart people go to university. Dumb people don’t. That’s about the sum of it, right?
I didn’t go to university. People who didn’t know me probably thought that university and academia just weren’t my style. They probably thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the lectures and assignments and wasn’t cut out for essay writing. Secretly, they probably believed that “deciding” not to go to university was actually my way of disguising the fact that I didn’t have the intelligence to survive in a place like that.
If you’ll allow me to shamelessly toot my own horn for a second, you’ll learn that these statements aren’t really true. I attended an academically selective school, where all they did was prep us for university. I somehow managed to remain a top student and a gigantic ass-kisser of a teacher’s pet. I was frequently called names like nerd, dork, geek and gerd (the latter was slurred from the lips of an incredibly inebriated peer who was trying to say ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ at the same time). I read for pleasure. I started assignments – get this – prior to the night before!
I loved school and school loved me, a fact that accumulated in an ATAR score in the high nineties.
And yet, I did not attend university.
This was not the decision I was necessarily planning on. At school, I had clearly mapped out which degree I wanted to do, at which prestigious university, and where I wanted to work once uni was over. But the master plan started to unravel when I began attending university open days. I still vividly remember how it felt sitting in a shiny new lecture hall at my favourite university, notepad and pen poised at the ready, listening intently to a lecture regarding my dream course and feeling… nothing. Actually, boredom is probably a more accurate description. I was bored as fuck. I didn’t even finish the lecture, sneaking out halfway through to find the free sausage barbeque and revisit the stall that was handing out fairy floss.
It was the gap year that really solidified it for me. Seven months of working full-time, followed by a four-month stint backpacking Europe made it painfully clear to me that I did not want to spend another three years in a classroom. I was done learning – I wanted to be ‘doing’.
In hindsight, it was a pretty classic academic burn-out story, but I’ve learnt that sometimes burn-outs are okay. It certainly worked for me; I got a job that I love instead, one that teaches me through experience rather than textbooks. And while I do miss learning sometimes, I know that university isn’t going anywhere. I might go back one day. I might not. Who knows? Who cares?
What I’m trying to say through all this incoherent babbling is that intelligence is a relative and highly subjective term. It doesn’t adhere to stereotypes and it certainly has little to do with university attendance. I might be book-smart and know how to remember useless facts, but am I by no means hands-smart. I can’t create something beautiful out of a lump of clay or a pile of wood. I’m in awe of that kind of intelligence. Nor am a music-smart. My Garage Band compilations sound more like a traffic jam than a symphony or a bangin’ dance track. Creating a melody from a pile of sound is a fucking amazing gift if you ask me.
I can’t wire things or wield a paintbrush. I don’t know which flavours work well with fennel. I don’t know how the engine of a car works and I’m not the greatest at communicating with people. These are all there own forms of intelligence that many universities unfortunately don’t cater for. But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that they are all equally incredible and inspiring.
Don’t confuse intelligence with book-smarts, or only align it to people who get a good ATAR or go to university. Most of us are intelligent in our own way – it’s all about finding where to apply our particular breed of smarts.