Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

If I’m So Smart Why Am I So Dumb?



photo courtesy of Gary Higbee

People may have told you that you were smart. But you may not feel smart. Why? Because you graduated from college with a 2.65 grade point average after changing your major 5 times. Why? Because you never finish any of the projects you start. Why? Because you can’t decide what color to paint the bedroom and it’s been three years. Why? Because you still daydream all the time and forget to tie your shoes. Why? Because you haven’t won the Nobel Prize. In fact, you haven’t won anything except the spelling bee in third grade. Why? Because you still cry when you gaze at the stars. Why? Because you know how much you don’t know.

Let me explain. It’s complicated.

1. If you have multiple interests and abilities (multipotentiality), you may want to study many topics and not want to narrow yourself down to one field. One day you’re fascinated by marine biology and the next by philosophy. How do you choose?

2. Perhaps, college was the first time you were challenged academically. You didn’t know how to study and you couldn’t stop yourself from procrastinating, so your grades suffered.

3. You love learning new things and once you learn what you need, it’s time to move on. This may mean that certain projects don’t look complete even though they are complete for you.

4. You have very high standards for your work. If you’re feeling pressure to be perfect, you abandon a project because you feel paralyzed.

5. You’re very sensitive to color so it really matters what colors you live with. Decisions, in general, are hard because you can think of way too many possibilities.

6. Daydreaming still gets a bad rap and you believed what your teachers told you about it. Some of my best friends are daydreamers. And who has time to tie their shoes?

7. Winning has never been your objective.

8. Crying gets a bad rap, especially if you’re a male. But you see the incredible beauty in the sky and are amazed.

People may have told you that you were smart. You may not feel so smart. That’s OK. Nobody said living with a rainforest mind was going to be easy.

Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019.

183 thoughts on “If I’m So Smart Why Am I So Dumb?

  1. Pingback: Si soy inteligente, ¿Por qué me siento tan torpe? | Aa.Cc., LA REBELIÓN DEL TALENTO

  2. This describes me to a T. I’m 26 and still can’t figure out what to do with my life, because everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) interests me. One day I’m full-blown dedicated to becoming a singer/performer, the next I want to be a marine. Still the next I’m all like “maybe I should just settle down and start a family,” until I see the stars and want to write a book about space-faring. I’m putting my foot down and I’m going to force myself to go back to school for animation, because that combines quite a few of my talents…but I’m still sad, thinking about everything else I’m completely capable of.

    When I ask for advice from my intelligent parents…the only advice I get is “why can’t you just choose one?” When I ask friends, I get the same thing. If I tell someone I know that I’m gifted, they usually laugh in my face (because I’m known for being clumsy, disorganized, and easily distracted), or tell me that I’m arrogant for saying/thinking so.

    When I turn to myself, I feel so incredibly guilty for being concerned with something so stupid as my issues…because there are kids dying in Aleppo from war and starvation, and here I am in America worrying about my first-world problems. It’s like “I don’t have a right to be upset! There is so many more important things to worry about than my career choice!”

    So here I am, professional donut-froster at a gas station in Wisconsin. My 69 year-old co-worker, Fred, told me that “you’re going to be a lifer.” And I died a little inside when I heard that, because it’s probably true if I don’t get my s*** together.

    But I’m really encouraged to read this, because somebody GETS IT. It’s like a validation, like a confirmation that no…I’m not arrogant, I’m not stupid, I’m not a failure, I’m just different. I’m gifted, and it’s not always a gift.

    Thank you for posting this. I’m buying your book, I’m craving guidance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Carrie! I’m so happy you’ve found my blog!! Keep reading. You’ll see yourself all over the place. Look for the posts on multipotentiality. They will describe you. As will the rest of them. I’m glad you’re getting my book. You can use it to help others understand you, too. Thank you for letting me know how my blog has helped you. It warms my heart!


    • Carrie,

      Everyone starts somewhere. TBH you sound a bit like my me and my ex. Same age as us and capable of anything but a bit afraid to take a leap of faith. The only difference between my ex and I, is that I took that leap of faith. I chose a career and just went for it by going to college and networking, now I am doing significantly better than my peers (financially speaking). He, however, changed his mind day to day of what to go to school for and is currently (as he has been for last 3 years) without a job or working in restaurants or warehouses. He is trapped but he is the one doing it to himself. The route I chose was because I never wanted to stop learning. When you graduate college the learning DOES NOT stop there. Because that is who YOU are. I interview attorneys and judges and individuals who have attained phd and masters of business because I have that fear of not knowing what to do because I want to do everything(Also, because I do not want to go into my next level of school without having some concrete information and advice). The single thing they all have confided in me, is to choose a career based upon what you want most (for me – continuous education and to be more than financially stable). The key here is that I am not saying choose a career in what you are most interested in or what you are passionate about.

      What I am trying to say, is that you obviously have a beautiful mind. Allow yourself to explore it. Choose a career that will help you fulfill your needs. Then fulfill your other needs by developing them as hobbies. Don’t feel trapped by college or your career into that defining who you are. You are currently a gas station clerk, that is not who you are. You are an intellectual. Currently I am a paralegal and run a business but that does not define me. When I am not at work I meditate, practice yoga, study philosophy, physics, astrology, greek mythology, psychology, I run a donation program, and volunteer teaching an ESL child how to read. 4 years ago I was homeless, pushing myself to attend classes, struggling to eat or get a proper nights rest. That is where I took my leap of faith, where I had to remind myself, it will be okay, take the next step.

      I wanted to speak out to you because your mind should not be in a gas station I believe in you. Create your world by taking your next step. A very good friend once told me…Thinking is like a rocking chair, you go back and forth and back and forth, you will continue to do so until you jump off of that rocking chair.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Sort of like me. I’m basically failing at my A-level subjects but right now I’m really only interested in concerto’s, Russian, the concept of death (say if you kill a mouse which is in your attic – how it isn’t murder if there was intent) and the effects of rationing before and after WW2. I am taking science subjects!

    I feel challenged in some subjects (I took them for this reason) and I’m okay with that. I’m not gifted but this is sort of me. I am overly sensitive (don’t wash up loudly if you’re near me) but sometimes I am completely apathetic in situations. I am just a random individual.

    I like what you’re doing. Keep at it. I should get back to revision now. I’m bored already… 😦 😦 😦 I really hate cells and whatever else there is I have to “learn”. 😦 😦 :(…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This seems to be an old post but honestly I feel like I’ve been shown a door that I thought only existed in my imagination. I’m 22 almost 23 and I’ve recently fallen into a confused state leading to depression because I feel ridiculous just like someone mentioned in a post earlier. There are so many bad things happening in the world and here I am feeling like my problems should be the centre of the universe. I had no idea there were other people like me and that there was even a word for it! Growing up I always complained of how I feel like I’m good at every subject I give even just 10% of my effort to, life would be so much easier if I was just excellent at one or two subjects because I always felt I had the potential to be a prodigy of some kind. I’ve won ballet awards, poetry competitions and to top it all off my A level subjects were Chemistry, Biology, Maths and Arts… ARTS! With sciences. People always told me I was ridiculous for complaining for being good at everything I did.
    I knew one thing I wanted and needed out of my career would be a lifetime of learning so I applied for biomedicine to help the world or something at university and my arts teacher also applied to an art university on my behalf because of how good she thought I was and I ended up taking a leap of faith and falling into the arts community.

    Today I’m feeling the worst internal struggle I possibly could. I am from a Pakistani family I’ve been given the freedom and opportunity to explore a career in design, I’m good at it but I feel stunted, I feel like there’s more to learn and more to life that cannot possibly be fulfilled by design moreover I feel like I’ve cheated my parents out of a lot of money just to have figured this part out… I’m so bored with the subject that I feel paralysed now while doing my final major project and I don’t want to lift a finger. To top it all off I know once I go back home from University I’ll be expected to get married and I don’t want to do that without knowing who I am or what I’m made of. I’m scared, confused, and I’m considering going back to the sciences. Honestly I don’t know what to do and no one around me gets it. I have no friends because whenever I’ve voiced my opinion they’ve left my side thinking I’m arrogant or foolish or self centred but it truly feels like a struggle or like I’m fighting to breathe. I cant stand to have another conversation about shoes, bags, celebrity gossip. Seen as there are many people out here who kinda get it I really needed to let it all out and have someone out there know my struggle/story.

    I’m a wanderer and very curious person I want to know every possibility for a certain situation even if its as small as buying train tickets, I want to know why the 2 pm train might be cheaper than the 8pm, I want to know why the street lights in Paris are art nouveau and the street lights in Brussels aren’t and I also want to know how my DNA could mutate and form illnesses and when I get anxious all these thoughts are magnified like someone gave my thoughts red bull.
    It matters to me when daylight hours are so short and the flowers don’t get to blossom and when spring comes around are the colours are beautiful and bright.

    I don’t know much about what goes on in my head but I don’t think its something that can be figured out and that to me is beautiful yet I’d like to figure out a way to manage myself better.

    Thank you all for voicing what I thought was only inside my head.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Welcome to my blog. I’m so glad you’ve found us. Keep reading. I’m guessing that you’ll find some answers to your questions and, perhaps, some greater understanding of yourself!


  5. I feel worthless and stupid when I see people around me achieving so much, getting good jobs earning a lot of money even though they’re not necessarily as smart as I am. I see my old friends getting their biomedical degrees and some part of me feels sad and depressed and then I wish so deeply that I find a mentor or guide who gets it and gives me that tough love to stand back on my feet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Maybe it’s not tough love that you need, just a greater understanding of the complexities of your rainforest mind. Thank you for commenting. I’m so glad that you’re here.


  6. I feel like I’ve found this little gem in the world. I’ve just read through a bunch of your entries and they’re ALL applicable to some part of my life (living with two gifted sons and seeing myself and my husband in these entries too, although of course we were never “diagnosed”). I’ve often felt lost on how to direct, especially my younger son, who is more on the ‘textbook’ side of gifted (highly sensitive, philosophical, different emotional needs, way too smart for his old mama)… I look forward to reading more and finding useful strategies, and the best part is, feeling less alone in it all 🙂 Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can strangely relate. It’s as though I have finally found someone who actually understands what I feel. It’s quite liberating, yet I am skeptical. I have two MS degrees in Math and Computer Science, yet I TRULY believe that anyone, including homeless people and those who dropped out of high school, could do the same thing I did. In fact, I went to college while living in the slums and struggling just to make ends meet. It’s not a big deal and college has mostly been a waste of time and money for me. I could have gotten my education at the public library for $2.50 in late fees.

    I tell people all the time that the MS dropped in value the instant I got one. With all that education and nothing to show for it, I am the most idiotic person I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keep reading, Manny. Certainly, one doesn’t need a college education or financial wealth to have a rainforest mind. Many very bright people don’t feel so smart for a variety of reasons. But if you read some other posts, you may find yourself described here and there and perhaps it will help you feel more understood!


  8. I’m definitely not gifted but I can relate to all of this and pretty much everything on this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a continuum or spectrum of giftedness so even if you’re not a genius, you can still be gifted. If you can relate to most of what’s here, chances are, you’re on the spectrum, J. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: If I’m So Smart Why Am I So Dumb? | Megachord's official website

  10. So… what’s the advice for this cause? I’m 14 almost 15 this August. My mind is always changing interests that no one give a damn. Just like earlier comment, I feel the same that there’s a world problem but I think it’s one of my problem and I’m so into it but I can do nothing because I have no power.

    I was called smart, but in fact I am very slow at learning math and science. And as you mentioned, I always interested in arts but it’s only like a blink. I was trying to learn how to paint with watercolor and I felt like it and then few weeks later I got bored and I didn’t do it anymore. I always want to learn instruments, but in my school they don’t have any music clubs and too expensive for me to go to a course so I didn’t do it.

    I always telling my interests to my mom, but she never give a damn. And everyone kept telling me to focus on one subject so I can make it succeed. But the problem is I just can’t. There’s like somewhat an expired date for whatever I’m doing. And as you mentioned as well, decisions are the hardest thing to choose. Because, yeah, I always see everything in any possibilities. But I just don’t know how to do. Sometimes I thought that I am crazy but I don’t hear any scratching, knocking, or screaming sounds from my mind.

    I just, trapped in between.

    I’m sorry if my explanations are so bad, and sorry for my bad English. English is not my first language (I’m Indonesian), and I am so thankful if you respond or have any advice for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so sorry things are hard for you right now. I’m glad you’re reading my blog. It might help you find ways to understand some of these patterns. You don’t have to be advanced in all areas to be gifted. And you may be like many rainforest-minded folks who have multiple interests. Some of them also feel like they’re crazy when they aren’t! Look for my posts on multipotentiality for more about that. I recently wrote about post about decisions, too. I’m so glad you’re here, A Alivya!


  11. Paula! It is so true what you say! My son and I are gifted. It seems that everyone around us is happier, has success and achieve their purpose. I want to help my son carry this situation in the best way. I suffer with this painful lucidity and I do not want my son to go through that pain.
    My English is not good, I hope it is understood
    Congratulations on the article, brief but very clear!
    Fernando – Uruguay – South America

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Why is this so true… how do i deal eith this though? I feel so ditsy and jumbled all the time. I find i like everything, but i still find myself saying “i dont know” and break down, what do i do? I love to learn about everything, but i dont know what my passion is, or if i have one, why am i like this

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Strikes a chord. I’m managing the symptoms of childhood sexual assault and severe physical abuse by my father. To survive to middle age, I had to live my life (metaphorically) always entering through side doors and trying to achieve goals while remaining anonymous and invisible.

    You have a very insightful and fresh approach. Your writing has a lot to offer guys like me.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m glad you’re here, Invisible Man. And glad to hear that my writing is helping.


  15. I don’t really know what to say. I’m 13 years old and I’m cramming up in everything right now. I don’t know what to do. Yes, I’m an emotional kid. And I’m sick. I wanted to make my parents happy somehow, but MY GRAAADES ARE SO LOW. And I always end up saying, “WHY THE HELL ON EARTH AM I DUMB?!?!?!” idk. It really makes me cry everytime. Idk what’s happening with my life either. I don’t feel like studying.BUT I NEED TO. I don’t feel like doing homework and projects. BUT I NEED TO PASS. But I always fail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Kryx. I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time. If you relate to what I’m writing here and you think you might have a rainforest mind, show this blog to your parents and or teachers and let them help you figure this out.


  16. you were able to describe me better than i can describe myself.
    thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  17. you are sweet… people like us just need to break more bones to learn than others…thanks for the kind words.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I find myself in most of that , it feels good not to be alone

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This totally describes me! I feel dumb all the time. I mean – ALL THE TIME EVEN! I can’t explain you, but I think I cannot deal with my perfectionist side. I’m shy and quite insecure, and it drives me crazy, because this ends up leaving me more sensitive to opinions and mistakes by my own. I really hate myself when I score low in a test; I really hate myself when I fail down in a goal and I really hate myself when I pick up myself thinking too much about the things. I don’t really think I’m a kind of gifted at all! I love learning new things, but I feel myself dumber than ever.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. i’m 22 twice detained in subject of my interest which is mechanical engineering. i have lost all my friends during adolescence and i can’t figure out why may be because i was so arrogant and never gave second thought about anything that i did. i don’t know there is lot but i now i’am all alone still in the second year of my course trying to accomplish it. i changed a lot or its just that i’ve gone quiet i don’t socialise at all i’am just trying to get through this because my parents would be happy if i become an engineer . i’am almost all the time inside of my head thing about everything and then coming back i hate it but now i’am habitual there is still a lot that i want to share since i have not told this to anyone and i thing they’ll laugh out or won’t understand what i feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So sorry things are so hard for you, Anonymous. I hope that as you read my blog that you’ll find some ideas that are helpful. In the comments, you also might see that others are going through some similar things. I hope that you can talk to your parents about how you’re feeling.


  21. Yeah, I relate to this. Only a year left in college for my undergraduate degree and I think I just failed the final I took today. I was getting really good grades for a few semesters, but then for some reason it just stopped happening. It seems like my academic abilities have been taken away from me. I’ve found that I don’t have very good time management skills or study habits, so I tried to improve those this semester, and I just ended up with worse grades than what I had before. I’m afraid I won’t get into a good graduate school now…And I’ve never failed a course before, but I there’s a pretty good chance I just sealed that fate for myself today. It wasn’t because of intentional underachievement. I wasn’t lazy. The material wasn’t “too easy”. It was hard, and even though I am supposed to be gifted, I simply didn’t learn the material well enough to pass.

    I remember when I was a kid in the GATE program. Even though I was shy and lacked confidence in many things, at least I was good at school. That always comforted me. Straight As were a regular occurrence, but even then I would sometimes get B+s or Bs and I would beat myself up for it. Still…they were rare growing up. When I started researching the characteristics of giftedness when I was in high school, so many things about myself that I didn’t understand started to make sense. Unfortunately, it’s like there’s this block over my mind. I can’t seem to do well anymore. It seems like the gift has gone away.

    All the literature I’ve encountered only talks about gifted students failing because the material isn’t challenging them enough, and for me that’s never been the case. If I understand the material, I’m not going to fail. If it’s easy, then great. I’ll get the A no problem. But therein lies the problem – the material isn’t easy anymore – and this is why my academic self-confidence has been slowly deteriorating over the course of these last few years. Trying new study techniques is paralyzing because I’m afraid I’m going to mess up again.

    Thanks for writing this; it is comforting at least to know that there is someone who understands. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • If the work has always been easy and now it’s not, give yourself time to learn how to study. Remind yourself that you’re capable but this is just a new experience after years of having it easy. It’s normal to feel anxious. Give yourself time! If you read more of my posts, it could help you to feel more understood. I’m glad you’re here!


  22. I found this after panicking over not understanding a math question on high school summer homework, and this describes me. Honestly, panicking over not getting a math question may seem so inconsequential, but it’s a lot. It’s knowing I can’t figure out something by myself, that I don’t know it. Anyways, this piece is extremely true in general for me. Though future me in terms of college. Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Pingback: If I’m So Smart Why Am I So Dumb? – Beyond the Fog

  24. oh my god. so I AM still gifted. I thought somehow I had lost it or something. this describes me so perfectly. I can’t tell you how relieved this makes me.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Everyone has said everything i could say but i just need to know what to do about this i need a solution. Ps this couldn’t have described me more

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I’m glad i found this…my grades dropped miserably but then i got admitted to study physiology when i wanted medicine i feel less smart because my grades where low and even more sad that i feel like a dumbass for not being able to make my dreams in a confused state right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Dear Paula. I need to say thank you for averything. Now Im an adult woman and I just discovered the essence of myself. All my life I felt diferent, sad, “too sensitive” (even when this is a contradiction in itself), awkward and silly, sometimes. Deep inside, I allways knew I had a diferent spirit and energy. Now, I’m in a new process to find and understand so meny things about myself! this space is very important. So thank you again, and I apologize because my english is’nt very good, i’m still learning .

    Liked by 2 people

  28. encontré esto después de salir de clases siempre pensé que era el único en pensar así, acabo de ingresar a la universalizad y jamas me force demás en el colegio pero siempre sobresalía, ahora ni entiendo la forma de mi propia sombra todos me dijeran que podría fue tonto creerles ? es tan difícil crecer y ver que las palabras de animo eran solo eso, palabras, y no las verdades que creías.
    casi nunca me identifico con nada pero esto es lo mejor que pude leer no es tan tonto sentirse mal verdad, en fin solo soy una persona de 17 años que pensó nunca despertar su propia ignorancia, y ahora se cayo y el golpe le demostró, lo difícil que puede ser estar despierto.
    gracias a tu publicación entendí que no soy tan torpe al final de todo, pero aun me siento que no conozco nada en realidad

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Dear Paula,

    I am drowning in my own tears after reading this article. I am 31 and I am still struggling to find my “call”, all of my friends are much more established in life than me. I am currently studying a master’s degree and looking out for the job for me. In the past I was constantly told I was too distracted, too much surfing the clouds. I always feel so restless, one day I want to be a writer, the other a nursery school teacher, another I want to be an economist. It is not easy to live with a rainforest mind at all, but I am very glad to know I am not the only one. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

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