How to be Smart in a World Full of Dumb People
Living a good life is pretty simple. Just don’t be a dumbass.
Now, when I say dumb, I don’t mean lacking intelligence. For the most part, humans can be very creative, intelligent, adaptable, resourceful, and resilient. But they also do a lot of dumb shit.
Your job is to avoid these common pitfalls. If you can simply do that, you’ll be miles ahead of the pack.
I’ll share some concrete examples soon, but when I say dumb, some of the things that fall under this category are:
- Being overly focused on things that don’t matter
- Making decisions that compound and get worse over time
- Almost anything under the label of instant gratification
- Blindly following … anything
- Always thinking at a surface level about everything
The common person, you, likely squander much of your real intelligence by doing dumb shit. You are infinitely capable, yet you find yourself continuing to fall into these traps.
Once you learn to avoid these traps, though, you start to operate at a different level. You see the games being played around you.
As Robert Greene advises, you “Think as you like, but behave like others.” You start to do most of your work in the background, building your empire and dream, while everyone else focuses on dumb shit all day long.
When I use the word “smart” I simply mean “be aware.” Smart people make observations about what seems to work well and what definitely doesn’t work well. That’s it.
Here’s how to play the game.
Dumb People Want to Be Right, Smart People Want to Get it Right
“The need to be right is a sign of a vulgar mind.” — Albert Camus
People often can’t get out of their way because they can’t accept what is or seems to be true over what they wish was true.
If you just look at our discourse, it’s obvious that few people actually want to find solutions to the problems that ail us. They just want to win. This is dumb.
Test for you: imagine, right now, that the correct answer to a hot button issue you deeply care about is the other side’s opinion and not yours. How does that make you feel? Exactly.
It’s no easy task to focus on what’s right and wrong in an absolute sense, devoid of your bias and desperate need to be right, to be seen as wise and intelligent, to put a “W” in the column for your tribe. But, the thing about getting it right is…you get it right.
Oftentimes, the solution to your problems might not be the answer you want. You have to get good at swallowing tough pills if you want to get closer to whatever it is you call success.
This is especially true for how you think the world works. Many people construct an image of a cruel and unfair world that keeps them from being successful. The man is holding them down. There’s no way out of this oppressive hell.
But to succeed, this, by definition, would have to be false. People are often unwilling to let go of this reality simply because it means admitting they were wrong.
Dumb People Always Have to Have an Answer, Smart People Know They Don’t Know Everything
“I know that I know nothing” — Socrates (and if you send me a note about the accuracy of the quote attribution, you are missing the point of this post entirely)
One of my favorite hobbies is asking people their opinion on something I know they know nothing about and watching them come up with elaborate answers anyway.
I have a three-year-old daughter. Three-year-olds ask a lot of questions. When she asks me a question and I don’t know the answer, I say, “You know what Nyvia? I don’t really know.” And I say it in a tone that conveys that it’s okay to not know.
Sometimes I’ll try to look up the answer and explain it to her. Other times I will leave the question unanswered to get her to understand that she doesn’t need to know everything.
The people who are most miserable in life tend to be the ones who are most certain about everything. Dumb people fall into the trap of thinking too rigidly and lose all of the flavor mystery provides. Smart people know that probing for answers is much more fun than the act of finding the answers themselves.
If I felt I knew everything, life would be boring. If I owe my “success” to anything, it’d be my curiosity. I’m a student of life. I’m trying to ask better questions, not necessarily looking for perfect answers.
And through this process, you do find answers. You should have a worldview, convictions, and beliefs you hold dear. The point isn’t to be a leaf blowing in the wind, but to avoid being an immovable object.
The more you tie your identity to what you believe or think you know, the less adaptable you are. And the more you always feel like you have to look smart by sharing an opinion, the dumber you look.
“I don’t know” liberates you from the need to always seek approval. It’s the gateway to connection and learning. It gives you the freedom to become a student, a listener, and a real learner. The minute you say those three words, you get to explore the pathway of understanding. You realize it’s fun to not know things.
Those dumb fools and their certainty.
Dumb People Play Status Games, Smart People Play Freedom Games
“Ignore people playing status games. They gain status by attacking people playing wealth creation games.” — Naval Ravikant
Imagine risking prison just to kid your kid into a prestigious school. Dumb. Yet people commit fraud to do just that.
Look at all of the things people do for the sake of status:
- Buy too much house
- Lease expensive name-brand cars
- Work jobs they don’t like but look great on a C.V. or LinkedIn
- Buy designer clothes
- Go into nasty, nasty, nasty, debt and indentured servitude to do all the above
I watched a video by Gary Vaynerchuk once where he talked about the fact that some people sacrifice their freedom simply because they’re unwilling to downsize and lose status, e.g., quit the six-figure corporate gig, move into a smaller place, and run a business that makes less money but provides freedom and joy. This is both telling and sad.
We’re all slaves to status in one way or another, myself included.
But you can at least tie your status games to, you know, your own tastes and strengths. I seek status and validation as a writer, but at least writing is the thing I want to do instead of the box society wanted me to live in. I also try to avoid some o the status games others play.
Right now, I could buy most of the cars I see on the road in cash, but I don’t have a car note. I still drive the 2008 Kia Optima I bought for $2,500 at a car auction. When it breaks down, sure, I’ll buy a new car, but I won’t buy a super flashy one to look good in the “short game.”
I remember watching another video about the now ostentatious and obnoxiously rich Grant Cardone where he said he drove a Toyota Camry while having $1,000,000 in the bank because he was saving every penny to buy real estate properties. You can’t think long term and play status games at the same time.
I’m pooling my resources to play the “long game.” — permanent freedom. I will never work a job again, even if that means I have to downsize during downtimes.
I’m reinvesting into myself, into my craft, into future business projects. Then, maybe on the backend, I’ll buy some nice shit. This is the equation for wealth, freedom, and abundance.
Stack your paper and keep your mouth shut.
Dumb People Believe in Reality, Smart People Create Their Own Reality
“Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.” — Morgan Housel
Outside of the laws of physics, the idea that things are just the way they are is … dumb.
You’re so convinced of reality, why?
You’re so convinced you know how the world works, why?
Why so uncomfortable with ambiguity?
The more you understand how much of your life is shaped by your perception, the more you’re able to reshape reality as you see fit.
I once wrote an article about Jerry Weintraub, who famously said, “When someone tells me no, I just act like I didn’t hear them.” Here’s a quote from that article:
My first instinct is to find another way to connect or engage with closed-off people or organizations.
I learned these skills from people like Jerry and others like him. No doesn’t always mean no. No can mean be more creative.
The word no is often a filter for people who give up easily. People often use the word no as a litmus test to see if you’re worth working with — it’s an easy filter to use.
When it comes to doing things others won’t do, it’s a matter of the way you see reality. You can see rules as set in stone or negotiable. Often, they’re negotiable.
Stop taking everything at face value. Discover the life-changing magic of the back door, the side door, the greasing of the squeaky wheel, and the road less traveled.
In many ways, it’s actually harder to be mediocre and do what everyone else does because there’s more competition — the race to the bottom is filled with contestants.
The “real world” is hyper-competitive, in some senses to the point of cruelty. People who create their own reality come from a place of abundance. You can’t compete when you’re playing your own game.
When you’re busy creating your own reality, you also don’t try to force people to change theirs because you know it’s their responsibility to create their own reality, too.
We could live in a world where people mainly focused on themselves and creating their own dreams while interacting with other people, but at the same time not infringing on them.
But this will never happen. Because people are too focused on the idea of this concrete, certain, dog eat dog world. Dumb.
You’re Not “Dumb” or “Smart” You Just Are
I used the words “smart” and “dumb” because it’s the best way to trigger you into reading the article. Polarization is effective in lower levels of consciousness. Sometimes a little agitation can spark you to be more awake.
At the end of the day, I don’t have any moral judgments about what people do in these examples. Rather, smart and dumb are terms I use to define what seems to be either:
- Useful and productive
- Useless or counterproductive
As a writer, I make observations that seem to be true and applicable to a large number of people. Then I provide insights and let you decide. It seems to be that people playing status games, caught up in triviality and tribal warfare, stuck in a paradigm based on approval and the need for in groups and out-groups, just don’t seem to be happy.
Doesn’t it seem dumb to not be happy?
Doesn’t it seem dumb to focus on anything else but happiness?
I’m not perfect. Nor do I pretend to be. But I do have one thing figured out. I think. Maybe. I dunno.
Mostly, we’re chasing illusions. We cling so heavily to the biological, material, and psychological world that we don’t spend nearly enough time trying to connect to the infinite world.
In a world full of mystery, abundance, wonder, and miracles, spending time being rigid, jaded, cynical, outraged, worried, anxious, jealous and all of the other emotions that come with this “real world” of ours, just seems like a huge waste of time.
Am I wrong?
You tell me.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.