This morning, I was coaching very smart client. She’s an academic at a renowned university, and feeling a little sheepish about the possibility that she could actually be happy. She has a brilliant, highly-trained mind, and like so many in academia, tends to be suspicious of mooshy concepts like joy and happiness. Especially her personal joy and happiness.
Another client, a genius with two PhDs, spent years as an academic. For a while, he resisted some of the more imaginative exercises I gave him. Even when they helped him stop procrastinating, the issue he’d been paralyzed by and sought coaching for, he feared that without empirical proof that the techniques worked, he was somehow being stupid for relying on them. “Are there any studies on this?” he’d ask me. It seemed better to hang onto his dysfunction than to risk doing something that was possibly unproven hocus-pocus. Better to be a brilliant procrastinator than a productive dupe, I guess.
I’ve done my own time in academia, as a law professor, which carries not only the general fear of academia (the worst fate in life is that others will find out I’m not smart), but also the pessimism of legal thinking (if something can go wrong, it probably will, so I have to be prepared for every possible negative contingency). I spent a long time rejecting the possibility that I could be happy, even when I began to feel happy. I felt sheepish about it. It seemed so, well, improbable and foolish.
Ultimately, I got over it. With practice and a bit of self-compassion my client can, too.
It’s crazy really. A smart person can justify staying miserable or dysfunctional, because if others find out we’re happy, they might think we’re not so smart. Sometimes the smartest people do the silliest things, in the name of intelligence.