Career advice for brilliant people is often different from standard counsel

Standard career advice is to focus rather than dabble, network your way into a good job, and be a team player.

Very smart people often require very different advice.

To avoid getting hung up on the thorny issue of how brilliance is measured, we’ll operationally define it as people who believe they learn more quickly, reason more rigorously, and more often come up with smart, circumspect ideas than do most people. If that sounds like you, you might find this article’s advice helpful.

Be alert to your fast point of diminishing returns. We all like to do more of what we do well. Brilliant people learn well, so they like to spend a lot of time learning. They recognize that their learning in a domain soon reaches a point of diminishing returns, so they generally want to move on to something new.

Do not get unduly constrained by the standard advice–e.g., Malcolm Gladwell’s–you need to stay focused on something for 10,000-20,000 hours. You are different.Far sooner, you likely would more wisely spend your learning time tackling something new. Move on.

Focus less on networking than do most people. By definition, most people’s ability and skills don’t rise above the pack. So to land good jobs, get promotions, etc., they need to network so that even though they don’t excel, powerful people like them enough to give them career goodies.

You do rise above the pack so you needn’t do as much networking. Indeed, allocating that time to being productive and/or learning something important will likely yield more good to your career and to the world.

Avoid being on a team mainly consisting of lesser lights. On a typical team, the birilliant person is in a Catch 22 between showing-up team members and staying silent. And as Cornell University research found(link is external), most people are not smart enough to know how stupid they are.

So, where possible, try to work solo and/or on teams of your intellectual peers. Of course, some team members might have more knowledge than you in a specific area, for example, technical expertise. That’s fine. You just want to avoid teams with people that reason poorly, especially if their self-esteem well exceeds their competence so they insist on having their say or even their way.

Focus on the world-changing. You have the goods to make a big difference. So ask yourself, “What is the biggest goal to which you care to devote your talents?”Understanding brain function? Developing virtual travel? Improving the U.S. government’s computer network’s firewall? Don’t sell out for money–e.g., investment banking, insurance defense law, bond trading, or involvement with a company or nonprofit whose product or service is inferior and survives because of its marketing.

Give yourself a break. Being brilliant is a burden. People expect you to be awesome all the time. No one can be. You’ll screw up. You’ll want to veg out. You’ll say something emotionally unintelligent. See if there are lessons to be learned from your screw-up and move on. Forgive yourself. Let yourself be human.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia.

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© Copyright 2015 Marty Nemko, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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Named the San Francisco Bay Area's "Best Career Coach," Marty Nemko has been career and personal coach to 4,500 clients and enjoys a 96% client-satisfaction rate. The author of seven books (250,000 copies sold) including How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School plus over 2,000(!) published articles, including on where he also writes, Marty Nemko is in his 26th year as host of Work with Marty Nemko on KALW-FM (NPR-San Francisco.) He was the one man in a one-man PBS-TV Pledge Drive Special. Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently taught there. He is married to Barbara Nemko, the Napa County Superintendent of Schools. They have one daughter and one doggie: Einstein, whose name is false advertising: He's dumb as dirt but sweet as they come. The archive of Marty Nemko's writings and radio show plus an active blog and Twitter stream are at