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Problems smart people have

Let’s talk about the psychological oddities of smart people.

I love them…

…but sometimes I want to slap them.

They might be really good at their jobs and have gotten great grades, but being smart also leaves people with odd problems in different areas of life.

Thanks to my exposure to classmates at Stanford and some of my CEO friends, I’ve spent a lot of time around smart people…and today, like a freaking zoological study, I get to share their weird psychological curiosities with you.

This is gonna be fun.

So without further ado…let’s talk about SMART PEOPLE PROBLEMS.

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Every so often, I speak to the military through a great organization called American Dream U.

A while back, they took us to Fort Bragg to fire M4s, ride around in a tank, and jump out of a 34-foot building (the one they use to train paratroopers).

I don’t love heights, but I thought I’d be fine. 34 feet isn’t that high, right?

As soon as I got to the top and looked over, everything in my body started screaming DON’T JUMP, RAMIT. Why? Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was the thought of being instantly crippled when I landed on the BARBED WIRE…maybe.

But of course I couldn’t say this out loud. I’m a big bad CEO, right?

So I started talking. A LOT. I started saying the procedures out loud to the guy.

“OK, first, fold my arms…neck down…NECK DOWN…keep the arms close…don’t twist…”

The guy looked at me, rolled his eyes, and sighed. As I kept talking, I could just imagine what he was thinking. ‘This goddamn civilian wasting my time when I could be sleeping, goddammit why did I get voluntold to lead these idiots around…’

I was still talking, btw.

Finally he looked at me and screamed “ENOUGH TALKING. TIME TO GO.” And out I went.

More on

Smart people tend to over-intellectualize things, sometimes to the point of analysis paralysis. Since they can see lots of angles — in fact, they’ve been rewarded for seeing multiple angles — they often can’t accept what’s in front of them. How could they? They were trained to see beyond the obvious.

This can be ideal when they’re considering complex strategies or life decisions. But when it comes to jumping out of a building, they should just shut up and jump.


Welcome to Ramit’s Lesson #593 on Losers:

No/low standards = loser
High standards = awesome
Perfectionism = loser

It’s an odd backwards-bending curve, isn’t it?

No/low standards, and you take anything you can get. Think of the people you know in this category, people who have no boundaries or standards. Ugh.

On the other hand, high standards show you have selectivity and options. This is someone who sets boundaries, knows who they are, and is unapologetic about it.


…you have perfectionists.

Perfectionism can be crippling.

I’ve come to realize that it’s the smart person’s version of Fear of Failure.

When you’re surrounded by superstars who achieve amazing things, you don’t want to put crap out into the world. And you definitely don’t want to get a B (nor should you — take the hard class and get a fucking A).

I’ve seen this a lot from people who have highly successful careers. For example, a friend who works at Google earns over $220,000/year. They mentioned they’ve been thinking about starting a business, but:

“If it’s not going to earn 6 figures, why even bother?”

It’s kind of rational, when you think about it. If you make $220K+/year and have very limited time, earning a couple thousand dollars isn’t very compelling. It’s actually a drag on the limited time you have.

Yet you still have to do it.


When I was trying to teach personal finance at Stanford, everyone seemed excited…until it came time to attend the class. (Which was free.)

Nobody came!

I later discovered that people hate going to events about money because it makes them feel bad about themselves.

ESPECIALLY smart people.

The psychology:

“I’m smart. I should already know this. I don’t want to go and ask a stupid question. I should figure this out on my own.”

And this was in COLLEGE! How the hell were people supposed to know about personal finance back then?

Frankly, it would be better if someone kinda dumb decided to learn about money. At least they’d be honest that they don’t know personal finance (and why should they?). And they’d jump into learning with both feet.



Sometimes the very best are horrible teachers.

That’s because they just can’t remember what it’s like being a beginner!
Go talk to Mariah Carey and ask her how to break into the business. She doesn’t know! She’s been a diva for so long — she requires that her music is played when she enters a room — that she has no idea what it’s like to be a beginner.

Love you, Mariah.

Smart people have spent so many years working on something that they often forget what it’s like to be a beginner.

Like my computer science professor in college who once looked at my problem — which I was hopelessly stuck on — and he told me to “Harness the power of C.”


As you get more and more advanced in your career (or relationship or business or pretty much anything), it becomes harder and harder to relate to true beginners. That’s because you’ve built your skill on a series of increasing foundational blocks of knowledge — like building a skyscraper, first sketching it on paper, then with the concrete, then on and on.

If you’re a NYC real-estate developer and someone comes to you and asks what type of wood to use in their house, you’d stare at them blankly. ‘Wood? Who the hell knows? I want to talk about complex financing to get this thing built.’

That’s why not all smart people are great teachers. (But most great teachers are smart.)

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Do you know how many people email me saying this?

Guy: “Hey Ramit, I really love your stuff but I already have a product. Got anything more advanced?”

Me (sigh): “Awesome! How big is your business?”

Guy: “The site has been up for 3 years and I’ve generated $460. I have 31 email subscribers.”

This guy thinks he’s too advanced at $460 OVER 3 YEARS. I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP.

This person wants an 8-figure business before they’ve even make $1,000 - starting a business
This person wants an 8-figure business before they’ve even make $1,000 - starting a business
Only follow me on Twitter if you want to laugh

Are you kidding me? Too many people think they’re too advanced to perfect the fundamentals.

You know who understands this?

Anyone who’s the best at their game.

Steph Curry, for example, practices thousands of shots every day.

Stop getting too advanced for your own good and stop trying to skip ahead. There’s joy in mastering the basics.

And once you get good, you’ll recognize that the very best earn the right to focus on the advanced stuff by becoming truly world-class at the fundamentals.

God. I love working with smart people, but this article makes me hate everybody.

If you have smart friends, share this article with them and see if they can tell it’s about them.


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There Are 10 Comments



Great advice but making that one decision of what to pick is the hardest part.
Recently i purchased a domain name, and though I want to pursue with it I but have another passion … dogs.

Does it make sense to buy a domain and website regarding dogs or do I stick with original idea?

Hey Ramit, I´ve found this article pretty funny but also I want to think about it. Peace!

Deep down inside, we’re all afraid of failure. As well as we may do externally, we’re still afraid of it.

When we’re not doing well, the cognitive dissonance of doing beginner things like taking a beginner class or working on “the basics” is overwhelming. It’s not that people don’t know, it’s that they don’t want to realize.

Having patience is definitely a skill you have to build over time. Especially when you are building a grassroots organization. I am a freelance software engineer and software development program/project manager. But, what I really want to do with my life is run a freelance software agency and non-profit organization for software freelancers as I find the most joy out of running software development projects and developing strategic and automated systems that make software development shops more reliable and efficient.

I have been doing market research and planning while struggling to maintain and build my client-base as a sole proprietor, putting my family into and digging out of poverty for over 3 years now.

Come to think of it, up until now, life has been constantly throwing wrenches my way. I only hope that now I am in a more financially stable position, I can start making the kind of local/industry impact that I have always wanted.

But, I digress…

Great post!

Lol, so you assume yourself to be “smart” and assume that the problems you have are the problems of smart people? hahaha!

One more thing that smart people do: jump to conclusions. I know because I catch myself doing it and my boss does it. I think I know the conclusion/answer/takeaway of a discussion before whoever is talking to me is halfway done. Often I am right, but it’s annoying to the other person, especially when I am wrong.

Can one be smart but have low impulse control? There are just some things that I “impulsively sign-up to do or buy” and then regret it…

Hahaha, this article is so much fun and I can fully relate to it. On paper, this problems look so dumb! Lets me really laugh about myself. Nice one.

What smart people do: Over intellectualize things, be a perfectionist about things, afraid of looking stupid, forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and they want to skip the basics.
What I do: Get an idea to do something and just start doing it to see where it goes even though I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m definitely not a perfectionist because I always feel like I’m always stretching just beyond my boundaries and going “all in” on things without the slightest clue of what I’m doing and no plan whatsoever, just action. I guess it looks pretty stupid trying to do something when you don’t have the slightest clue as to what you’re doing yet and you plan as you go along (or wing it), so I always look stupid, I definitely start at the beginner’s stage a lot, so I never forget what it’s like being a beginner as I always feel like the perpetual beginner. After I feel I finish something, whether it’s a book or a course, I start on the next thing that interests me, and it’s usually something I don’t have a clue about, so that’s why I’m a perpetual beginner. (I still retain and look to improve on what I feel I’ve “mastered”, I just give it a break for a while, study something else, when I get stuck on that, I come back to what I feel I’ve “mastered” to see if I can improve on it because I know I’m not smart and I probably missed something.) For that reason, I can’t ever skip the beginning stage because that’s where I go right back to when I start learning something else or seeing where I need to improve on stuff that I feel I’ve “mastered.”
With all of that said, and with me doing the opposite of what smart people do, I guess that makes me, well, dumb. All I have that drives me is a strong desire to learn what I don’t know and more of a willingness (or stubbornness, I’m not smart enough to figure it out yet so I’ll just say a little of both) to keep learning no matter how far at the bottom I really am. So knowing that I don’t know a lot of stuff, but I have the power to learn it and the ability to decide what that knowledge I do learn means, and what it will add to my life and others around me makes having “dumb” problems worth it for now, at least. Or, maybe I’m just too stupid to realize it isn’t worth it. I don’t know yet. I guess the end results will have to speak for themselves.
Anyway, that was a good article that got me thinking a little.

I was going down the list checking off things that I no longer do. Then, I hit #5. Oops! I guess I still do that in some things especially in regards to business building. Thanks for the awareness.

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