“Better to remain silent and be assumed a lazy genius than to speak and prove yourself an impostor.”

– Not Abraham Lincoln

I won’t make the leap in assuming this was the case for every kid who was “smart but lazy,” but I do feel like this was the case for myself when I was younger. As someone whose self-identity used to hinge (and still does, to an extent) heavily on others viewing me as intelligent, it always gave me a huge boost in self-esteem whenever people would just go ahead and assume I was based on little actual evidence. Granted, I was a quiet, bespectacled, Asian boy – and generalizations based on those qualities have their own problems – but Little James was just happy that he was able to coast for the time being.

Of course, this also led to me being unwilling to put myself into new and challenging situations, for fear that if I was seen visibly struggling with something, it would shatter the illusion of my competency. And for any challenges I couldn’t avoid, if my talent didn’t come naturally, I would end up self-sabotaging by putting in even less effort to succeed – that way, I had the built-in excuse of “I wasn’t even trying” to preempt any forthcoming failures. “But if I did try,” I was hoping others would believe, “I could do it, easily. I just don’t think it’s worth the effort.”

And it worked, sort of. People, teachers especially, continued to see me as a bundle of “potential” and I felt I had built up a mystique of, “if only he put in more effort, he could accomplish anything!” I was Gohan, the kid who could have become the most powerful being in the universe, but really just wanted to goof around with superhero bullshit.

But in the end, once you’re a full grown adult, no one really cares about what you “might be capable of.” They care about what you are and what you’re currently contributing. And those who continue to characterize themselves as “smart but lazy” just end up being disappointments. Like Gohan.

– James