Redefining Smart: Taking Pride in Our Choices, Not our Gifts

Is Kylie Jenner deserving of her title as the youngest self-made billionaire?

This was the question posed to me by a fourteen year old over lunch. The implication, I believe, was that her fame and fortune as a Kardashian gave her an unfair advantage at the title, 'self-made'.

I responded by asking him how many other Kardashians have built a billion dollar business with the same advantages. How many other children of celebrities have built empires?

Nobody asks if rappers Eminem or Jay Z’s success was due to the lucky circumstance they were born into (poverty and absentee parenting). Statistically speaking, it is much more difficult for a wealthy child to become a famous rapper than for a poor child to become a successful entrepreneur. It is very difficult to rap about the ghetto if you have never experienced it.

Paradoxically, Jay Z and Eminem may really have been the lucky ones. Growing up poor left them with few choices but to pursue their musical gift as far as it would take them. It was very much an act of survival. In Kylie Jenner’s case, who would have faulted her if she wanted to relax and enjoy her fame and money instead of becoming a CEO? What difference would it make to her quality of life, reputation, or wealth? Her brilliance is that she saw an opportunity, decided to pursue it, and executed brilliantly. If we define smartness as a measure of decision-making, it is genius to delay short-term gratification for long-term prosperity

So why do we give rappers slack and Kylie Jenner criticism? My working theory is that if we attribute the success of people like Kylie Jenner to inevitability, it lets us off the hook for the decisions we make in our own lives.

It astonishes me how often smart people, especially teenagers, use their intelligence as a reason to work less hard. Schools have taught children to dislike work. Furthermore, the promise we were told growing up is that technology would free our time to choose leisure. But at the same time we gained technology, we have also gained instruments of social media that amplifies the success of everybody around us.

Humans beings, as comparative creatures, see successful people and effortlessly make stories for why we are not more successful ourselves. We have a psychological imperative to view ourselves as smart and if opportunities aren’t knocking on our door, then success must be something that is outside our control.

The truth is that social media is constantly giving us new visions of success that are becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish. As author Robert Greene observed, a natural response when people feel overwhelmed is to retreat into various forms of passivity. The less we can make it look like we are not really responsible for what happens to us in life, the more palatable our apparent powerlessness. The key to becoming smarter is to find your way to your inclination and exploit the incredible opportunities of the age you were born into.

Kylie Jenner was undoubtedly born richer, prettier, more popular, and more famous than the rest of us. But we also have areas where we vastly outshine other people looking at us from behind.

We are all born with gifts. You may choose to take pride in them or compare yours to those of others. But if you are smart, then you can make a choice on how to use them. Smart people choose to work harder, study more, and practice. Smart people set achievable goals and use their gifts as a starting point for a larger contribution. And because they are constantly on the look-out, they are better equipped to seize lucky opportunities.

You can celebrate your gifts, but it doesn't make sense to take pride in them. They were given to you, after all. -Jeff Bezos

Hat tip: Robert Greene

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