I was born very stupid and will die very smart

If this isn’t the slogan for your life, it should be.

You were born extremely dumb. There is no question about it. So the first side of the equation is set; it’s the second you have to worry about. Will you die very smart?

Smart is relative. Yes, humans read more than they ever have. They have more schooling than ever. Yet most of it leads to nowhere. If this is all you do, you will not die very smart.

Let’s make a giant list.

Let’s try and figure out how to die smart, right here and right now. Not a little smart– how to die being the smartest person you know. I’ll start, and you can add to it by leaving a comment below.

Start by reading a book every week. Most people read a book a year. If you do this, you get more in a year than most will read in their lifetime.

Next, travel as often and as cheaply as possible.

Consider avoiding school entirely– you’re looking to learn at your pace, not be slowed down by others or be sucked dry by fees.

Meet smart people constantly. You end up learning a lot from conversations if you’re good at listening. Set up meetings with them to learn what they know.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Remember the process of learning to ride a bike. You can’t pick it up from a book. You have to try and fail. It’s integral to the process.

Test perceived boundaries. Make sure there are no assumptions in terms of what is important and what is not, or what is dangerous or safe.

Now you. Show me what to do.

(Or, check the comments if you want to see what others wrote.)





53 responses to “I was born very stupid and will die very smart”

  1. Mars Dorian Avatar

    Luv the title and the message – too bad the post is too short and could have used more content.

    Still, the message’s clear: I have made it my personal goal to learn something each and every day.

    Before I go to bed, I ask myself: What have I learned today ? If I can’t answer it, I read a new passage in a book or check Google.

    New information everyday keeps stupidity at bay.

    1. Kelly Avatar

      Like how you ask what have I learned today. Cool idea!

  2. Danielle Avatar

    Thanks for the motivation. I strive to read a book a week, and last night I took my monthly trip to the library. There are so many topics I want to learn about, and this post has inspired me to make a list to hold myself accountable.

  3. Joshua Avatar

    Spend time with people smarter than you. Recognize that almost everyone is smarter than you in some way.

  4. Chris Avatar

    How about “Embrace ignorance”? Revel in the fact that you don’t what to do, but more importantly, you don’t know what NOT to do. Definitely tied into testing perceived boundaries. Also provides a basis for spending time with smarter people, once you realize what you don’t know.

  5. Amanda Avatar

    I’m the youngest person at my workplace by about 8 years – this ensures that everyone around me is (usually) smarter than I am, so I’m constantly gaining new knowledge :).

    Also, I’m learning to play the guitar. I’ve never played a stringed instrument before, so it’s new territory. I’ve learned that being music-smart has helped me with other kinds of intelligence and teaches things like patience and focus.

    I’m going to work on this one book per week idea. I have so many things to learn!

  6. Nate Guggia Avatar

    This post really resonated with me. Do you consider listening to an audiobook a week the same as reading a book per week? Or podcasts, etc?

    1. Louis J Avatar
      Louis J

      Going to take a swing at this one. While it’s nice to come here to be inspired, you still need to do what works for you, and in this case perhaps what you have time to fit in. And I’d say audiobooks and podcasts are better than nothing at all for sure.

  7. Stefanie Avatar

    Pay Attention.
    We ignore, overlook and miss so much because we’re not paying attention. We’re thinking about the dumb things we’ve done in the past or worrying about the future. Tell that inner voice to shut up and just observe what’s going on around you and you’re bound to learn something new. And enjoy life more, while you’re at it.

  8. Bridgette Avatar

    Whatever moves you, regularly challenge your creative faculties.

  9. Justin Fishaw Avatar
    Justin Fishaw

    “Stop and smell the roses” is an overused yet under-appreciated phrase that is very important to those looking increase their knowledge daily.
    Go, go, go, is easy in this fast-paced world of information overload. It’s easier to keep going than to stop, reflect, and really understand the importance of your new found intelligence.

  10. Justin Fishaw Avatar

    “Stop and smell the roses” is an overused yet under-appreciated phrase that is very important to those looking increase their knowledge daily.
    Go, go, go, is easy in this fast-paced world of information overload. It’s easier to keep going than to stop, reflect, and really understand the importance of your new found intelligence.

  11. Alan Avatar

    Do something you fear everyday… doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, just say hi to a stranger. No strings, no worries and it takes a second to do.

    The bigger stuff sometimes takes a while for me to build courage but eventually I break through.

  12. Alexandre Lamarre Avatar
    Alexandre Lamarre

    I get the point and I completely agree with it, but part of me also feels that I was born very stupid and will die very fucking stupid.

    You see, the more I read and learn, the more I have to cope with the frustration that I can’t keep up with the even greater amount of information out there and the ever-multiplying ways to find it. At that rate, new things to learn turn up faster that I can read and learn about them.

  13. Dave Gregory Avatar
    Dave Gregory

    Ask questions, actually listen to the answers, follow up with a deeper question….repeat. Seek out extraordinary people but also look for the extraordinary in everyone you meet.

  14. Emily Avatar

    Don’t rest on your laurels. Let go of the security of previous success and recognition to strike out and set new, audacious goals. It might be counterintuitive, but success can make your life stagnant and prevent you from learning new things. Become a beginner, learn, master. Repeat.

  15. Shanna Avatar

    Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room.

  16. JulieFaith Avatar

    Never say no to new experiences: live music, travel, art, social gatherings, sporting activities, seminars, whatever. Every new experience is an educational opportunity and a chance to grow. Ok, I know this may not always be feasible for a variety of reasons but at least entertain the thought. Don’t just automatically say no.

    Great post!

  17. Diego Haupenthal Avatar
    Diego Haupenthal

    Keeping my mind calm and clear helps me to maintain myself open to new knowledge and experiences, barely all the time. Devolving a clear vision also helps to choose what is important and what is irrelevant in life.

  18. John Haydon Avatar

    Smart doesn’t always equal happy. I would throw in a healthy practice of helping others, staying close and connected to good friends.

    1. Matthew Palka Avatar
      Matthew Palka

      I agree. If there is one you’re going to be smart about, it’s relationships and how to work with other people. I guess the big question is, “What is important for me to become smart about that I will best apply in my life to make the world a better place?”

  19. Tom Avatar

    Shanna hit the nail on the head! Great article and terrific comments. Thank you, Julien, and all the people who have commented!

  20. Christine Myers Avatar

    One of the hardest and most effective ways of becoming smarter is to practice mindfulness, especially “beginner’s mind.”

    Giving my full attention to a moment leaves me open to learning in a multitude of ways.

  21. Isolde Avatar

    I am all for learning, but school shouldn’t be ruled out. Having to adapt to others’ pace and to their views and limitations that we do not agree with is also part of learning. It turns out to be very helpful in ‘real life’ later!

  22. Lian Avatar

    Sometimes I think it’s the other way round – we’re born very smart, with all the right intuitions, and over time they get masked by suspicions and skepticism. Therefore I do my best to stay ‘in touch’ with my childhood naiveté, and not get drowned by the voice of reason……

  23. Sneza Avatar

    Don’t assume newborns and young children are “dumb.” They could show us a lot if we let them.

  24. julie Avatar

    learn the thing you’ve always wanted to learn. the thing you’re most afraid to try, the thing that has the most excuses backing it up. the thing you’ve never been able to stop thinking about.

    it will unlock the door in ways you never imagined.

  25. NomadicNeill Avatar

    Learn to speak more than one language.

  26. Matthew Avatar

    “If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”
    ― Frank Zappa

  27. Rachel Avatar

    Hi Julien,

    Thank you for your helpful posts this past week. I am one of those students you spoke of (without a job), and I was considering, at 43, taking a loan from my retired parents to finish my last semester of my 2nd BA. After coming to my senses I realized I could read the material and even sit in on the classes without paying through the nose. With no guarantees of future employment, I choose to side with you.

  28. Alena Avatar

    Acknowledge your fears and move forward anyway. Have a fear of public speaking? Join Toastmasters. Fear of heights? Try a zip line.

    Try to learn more about your own strengths and skills and perfect them.

    Read self help books and learn how to be a better person, the world needs them.

  29. Ryan Critchett Avatar

    Coming to your posts are always like medicine for the entrepreneurial brain. Dude.. I so align on the school thing. Your pace, not theirs. And screw paying student loans forever. I know attorneys that are in debt until they’re 50. Sweet post.

  30. Frances Schagen Avatar

    Take classes in new things. I took pottery and I’m taking belly dancing. It changes the way you see the world around you.

  31. Lisa Yallamas Avatar

    Love the way you think.

  32. Linda Sand Avatar
    Linda Sand

    Read everything. Not just the things you think you’ll like. You may be surprised at how your mind will open to ideas that are new to you.

  33. Joe Avatar

    I am an aetheist, but I am willfully reading CS Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.”

    It helps me understand how Christians think and relate, although its sexist and a bit bigoted (sign of the times circa 1952 AD? Or circa 200 AD? That’s about when the first Greek NT Bibles were printed).


  34. Mike Haydon Avatar

    Be sure to share thinks that you’ve learned, whether by writing blog posts, sharing stories around the dinner table, etc. This will really help you remember what you’ve learned and other people’s interest will help spur your desire to learn more.

  35. Peter Paluska Avatar

    Read this here blog.;-)

  36. ken Avatar

    The way I learn every day is to fail every day! Does that make sense? well, it should! I take the things I hate doing because I’m not good at them and atempt them, only to fail. Then I find why I failed and Repeat!! Thats what I do! Don’t like it, too bad.

  37. ken Avatar

    Sometimes you can just tell. Pain is a nervous signal pulsed into the membrane. Therefore, pain is a feeling, right?, (ex.) Rotater cuff hurts on the inside; This is where I drop the Bar on my skull! The pain in my inner shoulder destroys my squats. Consistent hurt shoots through my left wrist.

  38. BlackDog Avatar

    pants on the ground, and a PR in my Hands.

  39. Deanna Ogle Avatar

    My strategies:

    (1) Find content and reading that stretches your brain
    (2) Always try to create or learn something you know you can’t master on the first try

    My reasons:

    I like the book-a-week thing. However, sometimes I feel guilty because I haven’t read a full book per week since my high school literature class. But then I remember that I don’t physically read a book because I’m so busy reading tons of articles online. New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Slate, Wired, etc. I think the key is to just read constantly. There are totally times for reading a good chick book once and a while but on the whole don’t read any old blog. Read the blogs that make you want to scream “PEOPLE ARE SO INTERESTING! Who knew there were so many smart/brilliant/interesting people out there?” This is when you know you are reading to learn and reading to stretch your brain. Maybe you find that in the New York Times, maybe you find that in your coworker’s blog. It doesn’t matter–just as long as you can feel your brain growing in your skull a little bit.

    I think the best guideline is just to find ways to challenge yourself. Pick up a new hobby. (Me, as a girl) commit to paying attention to the commentators on ESPN to really pick up the nuances of the game of football. Take a language class on a whimsy and fall in love. Gorge upon design blogs to first see, and then try to create something of your own.

  40. Gavrev Eugen Avatar
    Gavrev Eugen

    Ever since I opened the world of chess game. There are some principles I try use everywhere to gain more experience , they are

    Don’t be afraid of losing. Be afraid of playing a game and not learning something.
    Don’t play a game or even a move if you don’t feel like trying your best

    yep, and “THE ONLY WAY TO GET SMARTER IS BY PLAYING A SMARTER OPPONENT.” — Fundamentals of Chess 1883. Also it’s quiet amazing how many things you can learn when you are teaching someone.

    PS: To read a book every week, it’s an goal for me, firstly for me it’s time management . I am very glad You pointed me in to this direction.

  41. momen Avatar

    What about how to retain and recall what you have learned? I am afraid that most of the things that I am learning right now won’t be retained the same as my high school French. I tried to look for ways to retain the info and knowledge and the only tool that I found was flash cards. Does anyone know of better studying tools?

  42. Stu McLaren Avatar

    Great post Julien!

    I think one of the most powerful ways to become smarter is to SHARE what you know.

    The process of sharing helps you crystalize what you have learned because it forces you to get clear – otherwise you won’t be able to teach it or share it so that others can understand it.

    So after reading a book a week, share with someone the big takeaways and you’ll cement that knowledge even more 😉

  43. Tim Avatar

    I’ll be back later to read all of your comments. I will, I promise.

    Never be angrily jealous at the “natural” talent of others. They are them, you are you. They are not you. You kick ass all over the world, and they could never do it in the same way as you.

    Addendum: If you are a vampire, steal the souls of these folks. You will gain their superpowers. It’s true. Honest.

  44. todd schnick Avatar

    thanks to julien, in january 2010, i started reading one book a week. it has had a profound impact… on me, my business, my creativity.

    do this. do this now…

  45. Peter Avatar

    I think our society as a whole has become so painfully numb due to things like TV, video games, and constant connectivity that we’ve lost touch. If you add up the time you spend watching TV or playing Halo, you probably could have learned how to play an instrument or take multiple quick skills courses for a trade. All involve risk, money, and breaking out of your shell. All are better choices. Short but good post Julien.

  46. PRof KRG Avatar

    I don’t agree with the school thing at all. This is probably obvious since I’m a college professor and a Ph.D. candidate. However, I love the book advice. Read. Read. Read. Because knowledge is yours forever! Plus, it’s just fun to be better, right?

  47. Monique Avatar

    You obviously don’t have kids. My two-year-old is very, VERY smart. Most of the adults I interact with are dimwits. It’s all downhill, my friend!

  48. dang tin Avatar

    Also, I’m learning to play the guitar. I’ve never played a stringed instrument before, so it’s new territory. I’ve learned that being music-smart has helped me with other kinds of intelligence and teaches things like patience and focus.

    I’m going to work on this one book per week idea. I have so many things to learn!

  49. Jennifer Avatar

    Volunteer. I have had some of my most illuminating and life-changing moments when I’ve lent my time to a cause or group that needed support. It’s also an incredibly effective way to rejuvenate one’s soul (especially at times when work may be soul-crushing and we’re just focusing on making the most of the experience).

  50. brett Avatar

    not here to leave a link for backlinking.. or to show picture of who i am. i took the time to read this .. my current life in ruins and being that i’m a cargiver to my disabled littleone, yep i have one little boy and a husband, and yes she is disabled also. but i have held on and sometimes feel as if the world is on my shoulders.

    with a broke down old van and living in a motel. after being burned out of our home and seeing the TRUE uncaring nature of the city, the police and the state.
    I came to the point no one gives a damn but ME. after reading your long disertation I’ve renewed my sight on life.. thanks man you gave one person on this planet the keys to open doors again… TY


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