Lately, there’s been a phrase running through my head constantly. A phrase from my childhood, a phrase anyone growing up in a Scottish playground has heard at least once.
Don’t act smart.
You know the one. The condescending tone, usually the speaker stood before you hand on hip, and mocked you for some slight you tried to make. The warning from your peers not to try to think above your station in life.
I never understood the saying, although I can definitely be accused of saying it more than once, a throw-away phrase to show your disdain toward someone else’s opinion. Why shouldn’t you act smart? Why shouldn’t you try to put into practice a newer understanding of your world, even if it’s not perfect? Isn’t that the essence of learning, of growing? Usually, as I seen in the playground, the person saying it was usually masking their own ignorance or at least an unwillingness to understand what someone else was trying to say.
In short, I thought it was a way to bully the people who tried to learn.
So why is it running through my head so much lately?
If you know anything about me, you’ll know I left school straight after my Standard Grades at 16. After 4 years of being my school’s verbal (and sometimes physical) punch bag, I speedy gonzaled out of there so fast I might have ran straight through a wall and never noticed. But an odd thing happened as I passed the school gates for the last time. I felt guilt. And disappointment. I knew in that moment I’d failed myself. Even without seeing my results, still months away, I knew whatever I scored wouldn’t show me at my best. I never studied, didn’t pay much attention in class, pretty much just coasted by on the natural intelligence I have without once trying any harder than I needed to. I felt like school didn’t really teach me anything I couldn’t have figured out by myself. I was bored, and instead of seeking out help from teachers to challenge me more, I fell into the trap of not caring enough, not realising that maybe the adults were right when they said these were my formative years, that everything I did in those 4 short years would reflect on the rest of my life. Oh yeah, I was intelligent, but I wasn’t smart.
When my results came, I scored absolutely average. Most of my scores fell under the “general” category. If I’d attempted even slightly to study, I would have received credits across the board – I’ve no doubt about that. But it’s too late. I need to let any and all of my employers know I am nothing but average, when I know I am anything but.
I vowed I would change then. I was on my way to college, and I’d be surrounded by people who were there because they wanted to learn. I’d be safe to act smart. But there was something I didn’t anticipate.
I was 16 and stupid.
Suddenly I was alone. Legally recognised as an adult, responsible enough to live in my own flat, pay my bills (ha!) and be capable enough to attend to my education off my own back. I went crazy with freedom. I slept in, missed class all the time. I was too busy playing grown up to actually grow up. A year passed, then another, then another. Before I knew it, my 2 year head start was gone and I was not more educated than my old classmates who were now leaving school with Highers. Again, I messed it up by not trying hard enough.
I’m 27 now. I’m unemployed. My prospects for any future employment remain the same sort of jobs I would have applied for 10 years ago, unskilled retail work. Call centres. It’s difficult; these are the jobs right now that per job, on average 250 people apply for. It’s a daily battle to even get a CV seen.
It’s my own fault. I could blame the job market for the difficulties I’ve had finding work in the past 6 months – but let’s face it, I could be applying for better jobs with better qualifications. So it’s on me. I’ve no-one to blame but myself in the end.
I don’t want to keep writing about how I know how much I’m missing out on by screwing up. I don’t want to be writing again in 10 years about how I know what mistakes I’ve made and how I’m hoping to change that.
It’s time to stop acting smart.
Just be smart.