Intelligence is a trait that is readily discerned, and intelligent children are often easily praised and pampered by those around them. But this also entails some common pitfalls for the smart ones. I have been labeled as “intelligent” since I was a child. All in all, I have never encountered any real challenge in studying.
The true difficulty I faced was the understanding of myself and the inner workings of things when I graduated from university and confronted life choices. When I was in college, there was a period when I was plagued by “self-doubt”: my grades and hobbies were mediocre, and the writing I aspired to pursue was stagnant. In such moments, I kept setting “achievement” goals for myself, fantasizing that I could excel in some domains. But reality often disappointed me, which made me very anxious. It took me several years to gradually discover the problem: I was conflating the feeling of “success” with the feeling of the thing itself.
Paradoxically, in many aspects of life, the former mindset is less conducive to real success than the latter. The first time I realized this was during a private cello lesson. By then, I had already studied for two or three years, and the goal I set for myself was to be able to perform at the year-end party of that year. But once in class, the teacher interrupted my playing and asked me bluntly: “Have you not listened to the sound of your performance? Can you really not hear the quality of the tone itself?” I realized that I did not pay attention to the sound wholeheartedly, I only cared about the progress of the etude.
This incident gave me a great shock. I slowly started to notice how other people devote their heart and soul to something when they truly love it. When dancing, they focus on the muscle and body sensations; when writing, they focus on the subtle emotions evoked by memory; when doing math, they focus on the meaning of both sides of the equation. I envy their sincere concentration, their ability to immerse themselves in it every day without letting the progress review at any time and place interfere with their minds. Not being able to calm down to feel things is the biggest obstacle to people’s advancement in any field.
For me, those effortless grades from childhood to adulthood made me mistakenly think that the sense of accomplishment equals interest. I want to try all kinds of things, many of which are not because I have a deep passion, but because I like to “check the boxes” for myself: you see I have mastered a new skill, you see me doing this and that well, everything is fine.
And the real achievement in life belongs to those who are extremely profound. They listen to a note, as if the note contains the universe; they deduce a formula, willing to spend decades like a day; they write a line of code, as if the whole world is silent… If you want to do something significant in the real world, you need to break yourself apart, forget all the past, and find the heart of a child who started climbing from the bottom of the mountain.
There are too many mountains in this world, and it takes a lifetime of effort to climb each mountain, step by step. If there is no love in your heart, there is no choice at all. And without a sensitive self-awareness, there is no real love at all. Only by throwing away all the burdens of being intelligent, returning to your original heart, and finding things that can really make you cry, can you gain the long-term strength to support your life.
May you be brave and wise throughout your life.