How to Succeed if You are “Not that Smart”

Here are 5 people who were thought to be failures.  Do they fit the mold of a “successful person”? You decide

Never formally finishing high school after being arrested for selling drugs, he was thought to be a complete failure.  Despite being labeled as such, he went on to own and operate multiple successful companies including SMS audio, SK energy, SMS promotions, a significant stake in Vitamin Water and made many significant charitable contributions.  This is Curtis Jackson also known as 50 cent.

Struggling with the written word, he candidly admits to relying on classic comic books to barely make it through reading assignments.  As a freshman in college, he failed English classes but then found refuge in math. Eventually, he settled into economics. Despite having a learning disability, he went on to form the nation’s first and largest discount brokerage firm overseeing 500 billion in assets.  This is Charles Schwab

Failing the 9th grade 3 times before giving up and dropping out at age 17 because he could not pass his math classes.  His early practices included staying up all night reading the dictionary to write rhymes. Today considered a lyrical genius, many consider him as the greatest rapper alive and if you listen to his lyrics carefully, I think you might agree.   This is Marshal Mathers also known as Eminem.

Still the butt of many jokes because of illiteracy and lack of “intelligence”, he has a near perfect boxing record.  He was the highest paid athlete in 2010 bringing in $60 million in 1 year and the first person ever to be paid over $200 million in 1 day for a fight.  He comments “he is an intelligent businessman.” and “I would be perfect at reading if it was how I may my living to feed my family.” This is Floyd Mayweather.

All of the people in the above examples were considered “not that smart” and/or “dumb”.  They had low test scores, poor grades, lacked “intelligence” and didn’t pursue the STEM (science technology engineering and math).  Are they successful?

Some would contribute it to working really hard or dumb luck but, repeated success with a proven track record, tells us something else, they are nowhere near dumb.  They are extremely intelligent in ways that are overlooked.

So, how can you be successful if you are “not that smart?”

What is successful?

First, you need to determine what exactly is your definition of success?  Without having a solid understanding of what fulfills YOU and ONLY YOU, you will never truly be successful.  Instead, you will be working hard chasing someone else’s dreams and living a life revolving around someone else’s expectations.

To some, success is spending lots of time with their beautiful family and kids, to others, it’s no family and spending lots of time at work.  Regardless of it is you must determine this for yourself and figure out if what you are doing is truly aligned with your definition of success.

Everyone is smart

Being “smart” is relative.  Eminem failed the 9th grade 3 times.  50 cent didn’t finish high school, Charles Schwab and Floyd Mayweather couldn’t read.  (Mayweather still can’t)

How is Eminem referred to as a lyrical genius? or  50 cent referred to as a business genius? and Charles Schwab again be referred to as extremely intelligent?

There are 8 different main types of intelligence. Some include being intelligence in music, art, people and nature.  All the types of intelligence are valuable and equally impressive. Overall society places an emphasis on being book smart, what is taught in school. (mathematical and language).  Other forms of intelligence should not be neglected.

Stupid is as stupid does.  Everyone possesses a unique intelligence that may go undiscovered.

What are you naturally smart at?

Truly successful people have figured out their natural “smartness” and worked hard to increase natural talent instead of bringing a weakness to mediocre at best.

Eminem couldn’t do math but had a natural ability with words (linguistic and musical intelligence).  Charles Schwab couldn’t read but was amazing with numbers (mathematical intelligence). Fortunately, he was good at driving results through others because of his interpersonal intelligence.

Each of them pursued their strengths.  If they followed conventional wisdom and just worked hard bringing their weaknesses to mediocre at best they would not have been as successful.

Find your vehicle

Being smart alone, does absolutely nothing, it is the application of your intelligence.  Your vehicle is the application through a craft, art, job, lifestyle, career, profession, business, trade etc.

Find your launch pad

Without an environment to exercise and develop your skills effectively, time and energy will be wasted on low value tasks.  Instead of continuing on the path to greatness, your growth and development will be stunted and non-existent.

Imagine getting a job as an engineer to apply your strengths in mathematics, reasoning and problem solving, you begin working and instead of working on challenging projects, your boss gives you busy work not related to skill of engineering.  Wouldn’t that stifle the growth of your engineering skills?

You may be working extremely hard and be “successful” in that role in the company but you’re shooting yourself in the foot because you are not developing any real engineering skills.

This is equivalent to:

A painter who wants to get good but never paints.  

A writer who wants to get good but never writes.  

A doctor who wants to get good but never practices.

A good launch pad is an environment will give you direct experience in your craft, career, profession, art, etc.  Not only will it give you direct experience but also:

  • A deeper exposure to your industry or expertise
  • Mentors who have done it before.
  • Constructive feedback and training
  • Opportunity for growth and development

What are examples of good launchpads?

A launchpad can be a good company if you are pursuing a professional career, or it can be:

  • A dedicated program for your pursuit
    • Specialized university programs ie( B.S.M.D, 5yr B.S. Masters, Innovation and design programs, accelerate music and arts programs etc.
    • Sports  training camps
  • Apprenticeships/ Mentorships
  • Business Incubators
  • Bootcamps/ Full immersion programs (ie. coding bootcamps)

What’s Most Important?

Experience is more important than salary and job titles.  With experience comes money and fulfillment.

A Note on working hard

After you figured out your:

  1. What your idea of success is
  2. What you are naturally “smart” at.
  3. How you can apply it
  4. Where to apply it

Now working extra hard will increase your results exponentially.  Instead of spinning your wheels trying to just keep up, you now have traction to rocket ahead.  Hard work is essential but working hard on the right things is much more important.

There is no such things as “not that smart.”

Many people never realize these concepts and never reach their full potential.


Stephen is Mechanical Engineer, Writer and Gangster Philosopher.  He believes uniqueness is our virtue and we ALL have infinite potential waiting to be tapped into.  Find out more here.


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