I believe that smart is something you do, not something you are.
I’ve been told that I’m smart for as long as I can remember. I guess we all are at some point, but I stood out because I’d been pushed ahead in math early in elementary school. It wasn’t just my parents and teachers either; I was the designated homework helper, and my peers told me I was smart too. I heard it so much that I began to believe it, especially as I found that I could get by without working as hard as everyone else. I watched my sister, two years younger than me, slave over homework for over an hour a night while I had barely touched my books at her age, and I pulled a B average by acing tests and quizzes and slacking on my homework. Somewhere, somehow, subconsciously I decided that I was better than everyone else, that I didn’t need to work like they did—and I really believed it.
In high school, everything changed. I’d stayed ahead in math, and I finagled my way into advanced science too, but suddenly if I didn’t study for a test I might fail instead of scraping a B. I still didn’t learn, and I struggled through that year with spark notes and last minutes cramming sessions as my grades got steadily worse. When it came time to choose courses for the next year, my math teacher and I agreed that I just wasn’t ready to continue on my math track for the next year, and I opted for the AB calculus course, instead of BC. Not a dramatic drop, but it was a blow to my ego that I wasn’t the best anymore. That was my wake up call, that I needed to turn it around, that I wasn’t being smart—and it wasn’t just in math either. Every teacher, every recommendation was the same. “You’re bright enough for this class you want to take, but you need to work harder.” My grades improved through my sophomore year, but despite my newfound motivation they still weren’t good enough for the colleges I had become interested in.
Now, I am finally learning what smart is, but I’m also still paying for those mistakes. I still don’t work quite as hard as I should, and I can only blame myself for that. I could say I’m just not smart, but I know I have more control than I’d sometimes like to believe, and I know what some would give to have my gifts. Still, I am becoming smarter—a smarter that will help me for the rest of my life, and I know that the more I pay for my mistakes the smarter I will become, because smart is something you do.