I recently attended a personal development free conference. The event was targeted to a general audience, who were at the beginning of their personal development journey. Prior to the conference, I was impressed with the VERY thoughtful organization of the event. Confirmation e-mails, reminder e-mails, friendly and warm text messages from the trainer’s staff stating their enthusiasm to meet up.

In the day of the event, I managed to leave the house later than expected and arrived at the event 3 minutes past starting time. I was part embarrassed, part reassured that “I’m sure a lot of people will arrive even later than that.”. And while my initial resolution was to be open to learning something new and having a good time, it wasn’t long until something else kicked in. First, I looked at the banners displayed in front of the conference hall and immediately came up with 3 things that were not good enough. I started feeling bored. I was thinking that I didn’t get all the coffee I needed in the morning and, as a consequence, I could only feel moody and grumpy. I was thirsty. I had a general “I already know this” and even found myself rolling my eyes looking at the general enthusiasm in the room or the different things people shared out loud. I started chatting with different friends.

At some point, the volume of my own train of thoughts about not wanting to be there was so loud, that I felt the best thing for me is to just leave. Despite the trainer doing a really good job. Despite part of me that really didn’t want to make him see the exit of a person mid-conference as a sign of them not being good enough. I left the room and went for coffee and lunch with a friend 😃

That felt terribly good. But I also caught myself thinking about something else…

I realized, I sometimes (read frequently) am the brilliant jerk.

“Brilliant jerk” is a term I first heard a couple of years ago, describing the kind of employees who are super smart and highly skilled in their field of work, but who are so difficult to deal with, that the cost to handle their attitude outweighs the benefit of their brilliance.

And while the usual term defines people who are, oh well, a**holes in a team setting — judgy with others, highly and indiscriminately competitive, aggressive in supporting their own point of view and generally not interested in supporting others, I think I am a different kind of a brilliant jerk. And I think you may be one, as well.

I am talking about being a jerk to yourself. To your own growth. To your own success.

There is a HUGE trap you can go into when thinking your talent trumps the need for consistent work. It may well be that you have a long history of people complimenting you for your brain power — you stood up in school, not necessarily as someone who studies a lot, but as someone who just kind of knows stuff. You have been in a lot of situations where you managed to rise at the top of the “intellectual” food chain. You can quickly learn new things. You easily get what’s going on. You have an impressive vocabulary. Your critical thinking skills are impressive. You probably have a speed record on finding even the most obscure faults with other people’s ideas and plans. You often pride yourself on having eccentric opinions, going against whatever the trend is at the moment, and people kind of hold their breath when it’s your turn to share your two cents on something. Your overall results are pretty good and chances are you will continue to get a lot of praise.

The thing is…

If you were to be really honest, you didn’t achieve that much. Because regardless of what people say about your success, you know deep down you didn’t have the guts to follow the things you really wanted to do. You know you are wasting your potential. Others say that they admire your confidence, and quite frankly they misread your arrogance with a healthy and solid sense of self-worth. If you were to be honest, you are sick of your own intelligence because guess what? You look around and see people less smart than you achieving way more than you do. So what good is it?

You discourage yourself and others to try out new things, because daring greatly is risky, and you hate risk. You hate vulnerability. And following your dreams requires huge amounts of vulnerability. Being bold enough to say “this is what I want”, creating your own path rather than following other’s lead requires vulnerability. Your inner perfectionism is the biggest obstacle in your growth.

You don’t afford trying new things. You don’t afford people seeing there are, actually, things you are not so good at. And damn it, you long for a simplification of your life. A new way of being, where you stop spending so much time crafting the perfect, fault-lacking strategy in your head, and actually get in the playground and start doing things.

Life is not a playground for you. Life is a test, a never-ending test where you struggle hard to impress that hungry, unstoppable Inner Judge. Surprise, surprise — he’s never satisfied.

I am not accusing you. I am not judging you because I intimately and deeply know your pain. I know this is really hard for you. It is so hard to never allow yourself to make mistakes, ask for help, try things out because they light you up. I know how much you want to lighten up, and start building that meaningful life you yearn for.

Here’s the part where I feel I should offer you a way out. There’s a lot of ways out, but the first step is … well, let’s just say it’s essential AND you’re going to hate it. So, first step: can you be honest with yourself, just for a little while? Can you drop the armor when you are by yourself and admit that this is really something you struggle with? Can you let yourself feel how sick and tired of this dynamic you are?

Once you’ve done that, there is a lot of other reasonably good things to practice:

- First, come up with your own definition of success. Stop comparing, stop avoiding the topic altogether, and go crazy — go crazy in daring to look inside, to see what you really like to do and what gives you meaning.

- Second, acknowledge that success is 80% the result of the actual steps and actions you take towards your goal, and less the result of just being talented and smart. Things will not happen for you simply because you are brilliant. You need to get out and do the work. And yes, the remaining 20% can be magic, favorable consequences and people spotting your qualities.

- Redefine your values. Being perfect has got to stop being number 1 on your agenda. What else is more important than this?

- Accept that disappointments, failure and criticism are part of the deal. As long as your life strategy is solely focused on avoiding them, you significantly reduce your opportunities and growth.

- Life doesn’t owe you anything. Neither do any other people.

- Make sure that the ratio of real-life actions versus fancy ideas is balanced. (Another way of saying get out of your head and out into the real world).

- Start building a supportive relationship with yourself, where you encourage yourself to take responsibility for your life, can stomach to experience failure without feeling like one, and can pick yourself up after the many inevitable falls.

And since I cannot wrap my mind around a decent ending of this post, I will, as a respectable brilliant jerk, end with a quote:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. Calvin Coolidge

Leadership Coach & HR Leader