I can’t tell you how many times over the past 7 years I’ve wished I were back in college, if for nothing else just to have a little break from the ‘real’ world. There’s something to be said for existing in the academic bubble, away from the 8-5, and with every opportunity to actually learn before having to execute. Organizing books, binders, notes, and the structure of each syllabus was like my own personal drug. The stimulation and fulfillment that comes from being constantly engaged in intellectual conversation, ideation, and exchange — I lived for that. That was the love part of my relationship with school, but like any relationship, we had our issues.
On the other side, was the hurry up and wait. The tedious nature of step by step learning and credit accumulation that felt like a slow march towards paralysis for me. In my post graduate life I’ve learned the most by surrounding myself with people that are smarter than me, from my own trials, and the baptism by fire way of life that defined my early twenties. I am impatient at best, and more likely to take something apart to find out how it works than to consult the instructions, or read a book about how someone [I’ve never heard of] has decided it should be done, despite having never done it — you know, whatever the ‘it’ happens to be.
That being said, the reality is that despite my mid-college belief that I was destined for a PhD, I never would have made it. I am not cut out for it on any level, but my brother was.
In my family, when it comes to rankings of academic prowess and raw natural intellect of siblings, I finish in a very distant second place — out of two. This is not to say that I’m stupid — that’s not my point. My brother is far and beyond the most academically oriented, and stupidly smart person I’ve ever known. His ability to capture ideas, retain information, and systematically memorize anything he’s ever seen, heard, read, or thought makes even the most gifted ‘normal’ people default to a state of perpetual humility. I know, because I’ve been one of those people.
When we were younger I struggled to appreciate what he taught me and what a privilege it was to live in the wake of his genius. And yes, I mean the wake. Every teacher he ever had would rave of his brilliance, the (what I then thought was insufferable) way he could dismiss and intellectually dominate a debate with an adult 40 years his senior, and his exhaustive reading list [including the Russian literature he taught himself to read when he was bored in high school honors english]. I rolled up on a three year delay, fully prepared to be the disappointing non-genius little sister. I developed my own flare, but I was always jealous of how much smarter he was.
I wasn’t the smart one, but I was the gritty one; the one that learned to work just a little bit harder for everything. I knew my strengths, and I used every last one of them to grow into my own. I may not have his same IQ, but you better believe that I learned from his and I absorbed everything that I possibly could from the intellectual crumbs he left behind. I learned from his strengths, and took notes on how to develop my own weaknesses. We grew into our own people, and our personality differences merged with our experiences to really define our adult selves.
I had always hated writing because he was so (and yes, that should be a capital SO) amazing at it, and in comparison I was marginal at best. I started to write more in college because, well, I had to, and he was the only person I trusted to proof read…and still is if what I’m doing is important enough.
Ryan found his home in academia, which I don’t think surprised many of us…at all. He thrives in the hyper focused, idea ruminating, slow-and-steady environment that it provides. I, on the other hand, gravitated towards business, another obvious and predictable path if you know anything about our family [or if you’ve been paying attention at all]. Despite having never left his niche, my brother was a huge contributor to the path that led me here. The strengths I developed and the skills I learned through compensating for my relative weaknesses are what drive me every day. I learned the value of being the underdog, the resiliency it takes to not give up, and just how critical it is for me to be pushed by people that are smarter and more accomplished than I am at each stage in my life.
I still crave development from more accomplished, intellectually superior, humble leaders — and I’ve been lucky enough to have tremendous mentors that fit that description along the way. The growth that comes from being surrounded by people smarter than me pushes me to reach beyond my limits and to achieve more than I ever initially assume is possible. I always need the brass ring to reach for, and I owe that to my brother.
Last Friday my brother defended his dissertation. After eight years and two masters degrees he finally, officially, has his PhD. He’s humble and understated (almost to a fault) and is without a doubt the best of us all — and not just because he’s smarter than us all combined (though it doesn’t hurt). Congrats Ry, you definitely deserve all the praise in the world.