True Story: I’m a Genius

This is just one of many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is Marissa’s story.Can you tell us a bit about your background?

My dad left college to attend pilot training for the Air National Guard, and my mom left college after one semester to work full-time while Dad went to school and pilot training. Dad later received his BS in business management by attending night classes. Dad was a fighter pilot with the Guard and a corporate pilot, and Mom was a “stay at home” mother for many years before going to work as the Deputy Clerk Treasurer for our town. She also runs her own embroidery business from home.
Dad was always really good with math and sciences, and Mom was always really good with accounting and finances. I’ve always thought both of them were incredibly smart, though I’m sure they’d demur to that description. I have two younger brothers, both of whom are exceptionally intelligent.

Do you even remember noticing that you learned things more quickly than others? How did you find school?

My first memories of school are of it being momentarily interesting, and then frustratingly boring, then momentarily interesting again, then frustratingly boring again. I always loved learning new things, but I wanted the pace of the learning to be exponentially faster than it was. I got bored very easily by class, because I picked things up quickly and didn’t understand why we couldn’t move on to something new as soon as I understood something. At that age, I didn’t realize that I was learning any faster than others–I just didn’t understand why class moved so slowly.
As I got older, I realized that school came much more easily to me than it did for others. It wasn’t until law school, though, that it finally sunk in just how much easier school was for me than others. When I was in those classes with other incredibly smart people and the class pace still felt agonizingly slow, the subjects still came easily, and I still didn’t need to study–it was then that I finally understood that the learning experience for me was just fundamentally different than it was for most others. I guess I knew that before, but it didn’t really sink in until law school.

When did you get tested? How did the people in your life react to your IQ score? Did it change anything?

The first testing happened when I was around 6 years old. I was already finding school frustratingly boring, and my mom kept asking the teachers and principal to consider letting me participate in the school’s Gifted & Talented program. The problem was that the program was only for students in the 5th grade–I was in Kindergarten. The principal kept telling my mom that she was “just another proud mother” and there actually was “no such thing” as a gifted child (apparently he was not a supporter of the G&T program).
In the hopes of disproving his theory and demonstrating that I was intellectually capable of keeping pace with the students in the G&T program, my parents had me tested. The test did not give a specific three-digit number at the end, but instead placed the subject into one of a series of IQ ranges. My test results were the highest the testers had seen, and fell significantly outside the upper-limit IQ range on the test.
The test results indicated that I could be moved up to the 5th or 6th grade immediately. However, recognizing the social challenges that would arise by placing a Kindergarten-age student into a middle school class, my parents opted to leave me in my grade, but continue petitioning for advanced programs for me. (They were wise–I’ve always been grateful that they foresaw the social challenges that would have created. It was hard enough to be “the really smart kid” in class without the significant age gap.)
They succeeded in their quest. I was enrolled in a special reading program and allowed to participate in the G&T program. From then forward, I always participated in some advanced classes–e.g., skipping a recess to go to an upper grade’s reading and spelling class in elementary school, designing my own spelling curriculum in middle school, taking college math classes during my study hall in high school. One of the teachers at my high school created a special curriculum for me so that I could take multiple AP English classes on a condensed schedule in my freshman year. I eventually skipped my junior year of high school and graduated early.
My parents didn’t make a big deal of my IQ (except with the principal and teachers, for the sake of helping me get the academic environment I needed). I’m not sure whether they told my grandparents or aunts and uncles. They didn’t even tell me until many years later. My folks were very cautious to not make my IQ my sole defining characteristic. They saw it as a tool for helping carve out an academic path that would fit me better than the standard one in school, but not as anything that needed to be widely-known… which is another way in which I think they handled the whole thing with a lot of wisdom.
Are there certain things that aren’t easy for you to learn? How does that make you feel?
Spacial reasoning has always been a struggle, and I’ve always been downright befuddled by directions. The only test I ever failed was on using maps to navigate. I have a great memory, so I have to learn directions purely by memorization, not by understanding the spacial orientation of the streets and town (even though I’ve lived here all my life).
I have gotten better with directions as I’ve gotten older, but it’s largely because I’ve learned to basically memorize all of the cross-streets, the street signs, the landmarks… I can’t understand it all in spacial relation to everything else, but I can memorize it. It’s a bit like not having your landscape in 3D, but being able to memorize all of the 2D aspects of it well enough to construct how to access them in a 3D world. I’m not sure if that makes sense. It’s tough to describe!

Have you ever felt burdened by the knowledge that you have a really high IQ?

Only occasionally. In general, I’m just really appreciative and grateful that learning things happens as easily as it does. Once in a while I’ll encounter something–like not being able to find the right piece of code to make a webpage display how I want, or not being able to master Quickbooks in fifteen minutes–and I’ll think, “Well, a fat lot of good the smarts are doing me now!” But that’s generally just tongue-in-cheek.
The only time it really felt burdensome was in elementary, junior high and high school. The bullying–for being the “smart” kid–was brutal. It felt burdensome because it made me different, and it made me a target, when I very much just wanted to fit in. But outside of that, and ever since then, it’s been like a really cool bonus that I somehow got lucky enough to have, and I’m just grateful for it.

Are there any drawbacks to being so intelligent?

The social aspect of school (see above). The bullying was just awful, and unrelenting. That was the one truly terrible part about it. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Other than that, the only “drawbacks” I can think of are minor, like not being able to find in-person classes that move fast enough. For example, I signed up for some adult education foreign language courses at the local college only to find that I could finish up the entire course in the span of one class meeting–those classes are even more slowly-paced than regular academic courses. I love learning–I positively crave it–but finding courses that move at my speed is nearly impossible. Fortunately, the internet makes so much information accessible that I can access courses and books and resources on almost any subject and learn it at my own pace. I wish there were more fast-paced, in-person classes I could take, but that’s a minor drawback, all things considered.

What advice would you give to others who have really high IQs and are currently in the education system?
Ask for and actively pursue an academic environment that fits you. Be willing to work with the educators and administrators and be open to compromise–after all, they’re working within limits of time, personnel and budget–but don’t be passive, and don’t let school hold you back or stifle your learning.

Also, remember to always consider the situation holistically, weighing the benefits and challenges on the academic front as well as the social and emotional fronts. It all matters, and favoring one to the exclusion of the others usually creates more problems than it solves. You’re always more than just your IQ!

Do any of you have an especially high IQ? Any questions for Marissa?

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  1. Jessika

    What are you doing now?

    I live with a man that's extra ordinary in maths and pursued an academic niche based on that. He's now a highly sought after scientist in his field. I don't understand diddly of what he does, I flunked math but it makes for great discussions. And I have mastered equations (finally!).

  2. Lara

    I wish my parents had been more aggressive like Marrisa's.
    They put me in private school but I was bored out of my mind. The school tested and tested and I scored out the ballpark, qualified for Mensa but, they never really did anything about it. I pretty much coasted through my entire education and started accepting Bs instead of As for classes I simply grew tired of.

    Seems like a bit of a waste.

  3. Anonymous

    Wow. Wow. We have identical academic experiences. I tested the same levels as a kindergardener, was the only student in my school to reach the minimum IQ score, and was bussed to a separate school for G&T classes all through elementary. The teasing was relentless. Try explaining to already confused classmates that you ride the 'short bus' to smart class…..hahah. I'm positive it made me stronger though.
    And directions are the same for me!!!! My achilles heel!
    I think I've let my quest for knowledge be overshadowed by my desire for normal social development, as possible as that is. I would never consider myself a true genius, it's only partly so on paper. The only drawback now is being careful not to let that part of my life become a label for me; to be either too focused on it or too easy to dismiss it.
    Loved reading about someone with a parallel path as me! Thanks.

  4. Marissa

    @Jessika: I've held a number of jobs since college (6 different full-time positions in 10 years). I tend to get bored and restless at work, much the same as I did in school, and I want to move on to something new and challenging. After law school, I was an attorney with a large law firm and then with a large corporation.

    When my position at the large corporation was eliminated when the US economy tanked, I started to work as a "Can-Do-Ologist" ( a blend of business consultant and strategic partner for small biz entrepreneurs. That's what I'm currently doing. So far, it's been a good fit for me because I can continue shaping and revamping what it is I do so that I stay challenged and curious.

    @Lara: I'm so incredibly grateful for my parents' efforts. They did a great job at helping me get as challenging an academic environment as the school was able to provide, long before I understood what a big difference that made. I try to let them know on a regular basis how much I appreciate them–for that, among myriad other great stuff they do. They're good folks. πŸ™‚

  5. Marissa

    @Anon: How interesting! There was another girl at my school who was super intelligent who also had a terrible time with directions. She did the same thing I did: memorize. I find the high IQ + bad with directions correlation really interesting.

  6. Michelle

    Wow, this was great! I suffered enough bullying in school just being generally smart, so I can completely imagine how hard being exceptionally smart–but also trying to realize that everyone else you is not–could be. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Sarah Von Bargen

    I'm terrible with directions! I have now decided that's because I'm a genius πŸ˜‰

  8. nova

    Imagine if you had been allowed (forced?) to skip to grade five when you were what? Six years old? You'd be like Doogie Howser!

  9. Tara Lee

    This is such a great story and so close to my own. I was able to read before entering Kindergarten and was tested upon entering grade 1. My school did not have a gifted program so my parents agreed to have me skip one grade (if I had skipped 2 I would have ended up in the same class as my older brother which my parents wisely decided would not be a good idea). While in Grade 3 I would attend Grade 5 reading/spelling classes during recesses or throughout the day.
    I also find the pace of in-class learning super slow. I really just need to read the text book and I'm good to go.
    Socially because my parents agreed to only skipping 1 grade it was never too bad but I do find I gravitate towards friends that are older then me. And its not really something I play up. Its just a number.

  10. Marissa

    @Michelle: I tend to go with the "It helped make me the person I am today" viewpoint, but it was awful. I wouldn't wish that on any child. Sorry to hear that you experienced bullying too, and glad to know that you got through it!

    @Sarah: I think that's the only logical conclusion to be made. πŸ™‚

    @nova: When I learned that the multi-grade skipping had been an option, I realized that I could have become an attorney and passed the bar [exam] before I could enter a bar. Would've made for a cute tagline, but what a rough social adjustment. My classmates used to call me Doogie Howser though, even though I never actually skipped grades until much later. My classmates did it to mock me, but now that I'm older I look back & think, "Why was that insulting? Doogie was cool!"

  11. Trishna

    This was such and interesting read. Thank you so much. πŸ™‚

  12. The Curious Cat

    I love these true stories – so interesting! Please keep them coming…so great to get different perspectives on situations! xxx

  13. Luinae

    I have a very high IQ as well- I was tested when I was 8, 7 years ago. My IQ is 155+. We know it's higher then that, but I pretty much broke the test.

    I completely and totally agree with what you said- I'm still in school so I spend so much time going "Move faster, ahhhhh!" It does feel like everything moves so slowly.

    The other thing is that sometimes I feel guilty. I go to school, don't take notes, do the work, never study and my average is around 94. But I have friends who could never get that average and they work their butts off. So that makes me feel kine of guilty.

  14. Marie

    Great story! I am happy to say that in my area the GT program starts in second grade, so even the younger have a chance to excel.

    Also in Reno is the Davidson Academy, a free public school for the "profoundly gifted." This is a great option for families willing to make the move to beautiful Reno. Check it out:

  15. Anonymous

    can you tell us the actual number of your iq? being a genius has a very very large range…

  16. nicalyse

    How wonderful that your parents didn't focus on your intelligence – that they recognized the potential drawbacks of doing just that.

    Teacher education programs shove the "teach to the middle" theory down the throats of future teachers. As a high school English teacher, I worry a lot about those students who are behind the curve and how I'll modify my plans for them. I think it's incredibly sad how little attention is given to the needs of G&T students – bored students are just as important as students who don't understand, and we forget that.

    What do you think is the ideal solution for public schools and G&T students? (Obviously each students is different and should be treated accordingly, but your thoughts are certainly of value.)

  17. The Naked Redhead

    I skipped first grade, at which point I began working on a maniacal plan to take over the world.

    I'm still working on that plan.

    I am not a genius.

    Boo. πŸ™

    (Very cool story, though. Thanks for sharing! :))

  18. Esti

    It's wonderful that your parents were so persistent in making sure the school was taking care of you… it's really hard to be that far ahead of everyone when you're young and don't have a lot of other options for entertaining yourself.

    I have a high IQ but a mediocre memory (by 'smart' standards, anyway), so I kind of plateaued in most subjects around the beginning of high school. I'm kind of happy about that, because it allowed me to figure out what I really loved (it was books… it was kind of always books) and focus my energy on that instead of trying to keep up with things that no longer interested me just because I happened to be good at them. Sometimes I regret not keeping up with physics or economics, but I'm thrilled to be in grad school for what I love best.

    I'm curious as to your opinion on Howard Gardner's idea of multiple intelligences and how that theory relates to an IQ-based standard. I find a lot of sense in his work, both for itself and based on my experiences with people, but I haven't heard much besides elitist lip-flapping on how to reconcile the two concepts.

  19. Pace Smith

    Well said, Marissa! Your experience sounds pretty similar to my own, except that I *did* skip two grades in school and I *did* have all the social problems that entailed.

  20. Marissa

    @Tara Lee: I read before Kindergarten too! Once I learned how, I was a complete bookworm. I'm less so now because of the amount of reading I do online, but that's a habit I picked up early & never quite lost.

    @Luinae: I never really felt guilty… but I did do a lot of tutoring and helping my classmates, especially in college & law school. I'd like to say it was selfless, but the truth was that I didn't have to study much and I wanted my friends to be able to study faster so they could hang out and have fun with me, so I'd help them with their studies so we could get back to the really fun stuff faster. πŸ™‚

    @Anon: I don't know the three-digit number of my IQ. If it was ever uncovered in any testing, it wasn't ever revealed to me, which is fine. The exact number wasn't ever really important to me.

    @nicalyse: The ideal solution for public schools–for G&T students as well as any other students–requires massive change throughout the system, I think. The current educational system is in dire need of a complete overhaul in order to actually prepare students for life beyond tests and rigid (and outdated) job definitions, and to support teachers in being able to do that. I feel ill-prepared to advise on the specifics of how that might happen, because I honestly just don't know. My initial instinct is to say that money, time, attention and efforts need to be given to G&T students beyond the standard, state-mandated course curriculum. But then, I think that's true in general, not just for G&T. And it's a pat answer anyway–most teachers I know simply don't have any additional resources to give, and are rigidly confined by the state mandates. The system needs help on a much larger level than I'm qualified to advise on, I know that.

    @The Naked Redhead: Love it! If anyone's going to take over the world (manically, nonetheless), it really should be someone with a moniker like "The Naked Redhead." Best of luck with your world domination!

    @Esti: I was unfamiliar with Gardner's work (and am still relatively unfamiliar, save for some quick Googling and article reading!). I don't know enough about his theories to give much of an educated perspective. However, I absolutely believe that intelligence is not and cannot be fully expressed by IQ. It's like looking at one tread on one tire of a car and trying to determine from that one tread whether it's a good car. It's but one small piece of a large, complex puzzle. IQ is only shorthand for identifying a certain kind of aptitude. Intelligence is expressed in ways that an IQ test–or any test, frankly–can't fully capture. To the extent that Gardner is advocating a broader view of intelligence, beyond just the two- or three-digit number on which we usually focus, I'd say I support that viewpoint.

  21. Jessika

    I was bored out of my mine in school, while we are on the subject. I have a great memory for details, I hid it though. If I find something boring I just don't give a damn (see above on flunking math). I've done extraordinary well in other subjects. Highest grades in everything but well, the math. By age 11 I had learned the Japanese emporial range from b.C to today.
    I rely alot on muscle memory alot. Walking around really does it for me. It's a dicotomy I guess.

  22. Melanie

    I'm not a genius, but the internet says that my IQ puts me in the "very superior intelligence" or "gifted" category.

    I did participate in GT programs from 2nd through 8th grades, as well as any advanced core classes that were offered. In high school, I took AP classes and tests, and ended up graduating as one of our valedictorians. I was always great at standardized tests, so I was also our school's only National Merit Scholar.

    Looking back, I'm sure I could have been a lot more challenged in most of my classes. The only thing I ever really struggled with was chemistry. It just didn't click with me like everything else. As for everything else, I always went to class, did my homework, and studied for tests, but it never felt that hard.

    When I went off to college, I decided that it would be more fun to, well, have FUN than always go to class. I didn't want to just be "that smart girl" anymore. I do regret that I let things slip during those years (just because I KNOW I could have done better), but I don't think graduating with a 3.25 has greatly affected my station in life.

    It's good to hear others' stories, even if I'm not quite as smart as them… And for what it's worth, I'm terrible with directions too!

  23. Vic

    I don't know if anyone will read this, but it's worth a try. I guess I really need help. I don't know what to do anymore. I don't consider myself a genius, but i'm so bored during lessons (i'm in high school). Even though I love some of the subjects being taught, I just can't seem to find the lessons interesting. Everything moves so slow. Maths and Physics, which most of my friends find extremely hard are easy for me.
    I tried talking to one of my teachers about it, to see if there was some kind of extra material they could give me, but he just told me it would get harder soon enough. That was a year ago. It still isn't any harder.
    I find that being the 'smart kid' is… hard. I have extremely high expectations for myself and the people on my class just put more pressure on me. They tease me about being a 'genius' and constantly ridicule me. I've tried making myself look 'dumber' and it only hindered me. I've become so accustomed to it that I can't seem to act like myself around my friends anymore.
    If anyone has any ideas or just a "man up kid", whatever, i just need some kind of help and I hope one of you can help me.

  24. Joey

    I have an IQ much higher than all of my classmates, but I despise school and try to avoid going because I'm always so bored. Last year I missed nearly a month of school, and I hate doing homework, because I already know what I'm doing. Any advice?

  25. Anonymous

    Do you not yet feel lonely, Marissa? I know that I do.

  26. Anonymous

    That's really funny you have a hard time with spatial reasoning. I've always been considered intelligent, and started college at 17 (not a huge accomplishment, it was only community college :P) and from then on I excelled in school and graduated with a 3.99 with a Microbiology Degree (had one A minus… in a philosophy class!). Anywaaay, people joke with me about being the dumbest smart kid they know, in that if I'm left to navigating without anything to help me I become incredibly lost. It's incredible to others how easily I'm lost, but I just lack the ability to connect the flat images I see when I look at something to the true 3d orientation of the world. Basically I navigate in two dimensions πŸ˜› Anyway, I surrounded myself with friends who weren't as smart as me, and I learned to adapt and fit in socially… and that meant drinking. I found that if I drank, I could relate to less intelligent people much more effectively. I've since stopped this practice after meeting people in college that could reciprocate with me. I now take pride in my intelligence, and I follow my own whims, and it has created huge disparities between what my life is shaping up to be and what my old friends are doing, but I can accept that.

  27. Fidel Velasquez

    As a young child, I always thought that I was of normal intelligence because of my home-schooling. I only realized when I went to public school that I not only had a very large amount more knowledge than all of the other students, and even some teachers, but that I was also quite skilled in spacial thinking. I automatically noticed relationships between numbers and formulas in math class, and performed random mental calculations every time I looked at the digital wall clocks. I was also bullied and misunderstood by my peers. No one, not even my family, has fully understood my intelligence, and I became extremely lonely. I am currently fourteen, and I recently left public schooling to begin internet schooling to escape the bullying and bad teaching at the public school. This story is not fabricated. I merely wished to express my emotions.

  28. Fidel Velasquez

    I apologize but I feel that I must digress. In addition to what I have previously stated, at all times I feel that I must, and I do, act less intelligent than I am simply in order to interface with anyone else. These statements are two of the few instances in which I allow my true self to come forward. In continuation, my father perpetually insists that my intelligence is meaningless, and that I must deny it in order to attain happiness, without realizing the pain that he is causing me simply by rejecting who I truly am. He firmly believes that all intelligence higher than that necessary to function within a society based upon farming will only lead to self-destruction, while I believe that it can be used to heal the wounds caused by its misuse in the past. I know not of why I have been endowed with my intelligence, but I strive to help others through its use, rather than deny its existence.

  29. Anonymous

    Let me correct something very important. Having a very high IQ make you someone intelligent, but not a genius. I know a true genius who has a normal job and is happy with his life, while I know someone with a 150 IQ who lied to himself and became arrogant and hypocritical.

    • Anonymous

      Just because they are arrogant does not make them stupid. It just means they lack 'social smarts', which many true geniuses lack!

  30. Anonymous

    have you felt something empty within you as you try to look as how life goes by? do you think about the questions on

  31. Anonymous

    I'm currently in Middle School, and I find most of my classes extremely boring. Why? Like you, I learn faster than my 'peers'*. Classes will spend a month on one topic when I could have had an equally thorough understanding of it in less than a week! However, I doubt I could move up grade levels. Plus, my family is too tight on money to send me to a private accelerated school. So, for now, I'm left stranded in a sea of average people…

    *I have to separate the term 'peers' into two categories in my mind: age peers, such as the ones mentioned above, and intellectual peers, whom I have yet to encounter in person.


  32. Jeremiah KΓ©nyon

    I graduated HS when I was 16 also, and started a business. I’ve been running my own business since 2000. The hardest part is finding people capable of understanding enough of what I do to also see the value and hire me. In my freelance service sort of working lifestyle I am required to be both salesman and product basically, and it’s hard selling yourself. My parents homeschooled me most of my young life because the second I’d get to any of the 15+ schools I tried going to I’d beat up several kids who’d decided to make fun of the “different kid”. Sometimes they would start the fight first, but I’d usually just not take any bull, so I did start the physical aspect a lot. Kids can be hurtful purposely, and these kids got hurt for it. I always felt school to be a messed up social scene where if you don’t have certain clothes or watch certain shows you might as well be an alien to everyone. I didn’t have certain clothes, or watch certain shows. I was the kid from the country who had more knowledge of natural medicines and foods, hunting and bushcrafting, I didn’t care about Sports or MTV, or wearing Tommy Hilfiger. I knew how track the migration patterns of Deer, not human niche or trend. I kept to myself and read my classic literature, Dickens & Dostoevsky, H.G. Wells & George Orwell. They really should have a credit-card class in school, or a building resume and portfolio class, or how to write a cover-letter class. I basically looked at the world as though there was no chance I wouldn’t take it over easily when I “Grew Up”, as if growing up was the key to ultimate power. Boy was I wrong. I am ultimate proof that it doesn’t matter how smart you are, the world will chew you up and spit you out hard and mean. The interviewers KNOW I’m smarter than they, a lot of times it’s why they ask me in there for a job interview. They ask me some technical question claiming it’s a test of my professional skill, then I find out through research afterward, most anywhere that has interviewed me for a job hasn’t given one or paid me, BUT HAVE THEY USED MY IDEAS AT THOSE INTERVIEWS? Yep. Usually the guy interviewing me for work feels much the same as the kid in school who’d try to make fun of me, I want to punch him in the face for not realizing who he’s talking to, but why should he? He doesn’t know anything but meeting me, and people normally make fun of eachother a bit to become friends. Is it my fault I don’t like making friends? When I can provide $5,000 services for $1,000, should you care if I want to be your friend? Design is the worst too, try to get someone to pay for your artistic insight. So now I either have a oneshot client with less than a month’s pay in hand, or I’m homeless. The first time I was homeless I thought I was having a blast. Now I know I was, I’m not sure why but no buildings (boxes) feels better. I loved camping as a kid, and now one will give me a job, so…

  33. Xy_sonya

    Genius is not who know everything genius is who can create anything that people dont imaging..

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