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Who's the Smartest Person You Know?
On the ecstasy of influence
My friend Mitch is the kind of person who is so unusual that anyone else you meet who knows him becomes an instant friend.
It’s like sharing the experience of having grown up on the side of a beautiful, remote, and little-known mountain.
You both have been shaped by the experience, which is difficult to describe to anyone else.
Mitch (not his real name) was one of my closest friends in high school.
At the time, he was intense, earnest, studious, health-conscious and fastidious to an extreme.
It was clear he was gifted. At the time, I would not have called him the smartest person I knew. That’s because I was too young to recognize the nature of his gifts.
For a long time, I equated ease with intelligence.
How easily did someone master calculus? French? Piano?
When we were young, certain things came easier to me than Mitch.
What set Mitch apart was the passionate focus he brought to everything he did.
Outdoorsmanship. Economics. Poetry.
Over time he became exceptional in all of them.
These were byproducts of what I now recognize as his master-gift: he had learned how to learn.
Mitch’s capacity for learning, his hunger to absorb, went beyond anyone I knew.
Belatedly, from him and those like him, I came to understand that intelligence is not what you’re born with. It’s what you build.
Don’t look at prodigies. Look at those who apply their focus for 15 years. That’s when you begin to see intelligence.
Where is Mitch now?
After college, he went abroad. He is now a specialist in ancient Chinese literature. He speaks, reads, writes, and lectures in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. He hikes. Decades of care for his body have preserved his youth.
He has become, or perhaps always was, the smartest person I know.
What he understood early on was the art of humbling himself and learning from those who were ahead of him.
He’s never had an ego about anything he does; and this has allowed him to go further than anyone I know.
What I’m Working On
Speaking of learning from those who are ahead: if you’re a writer, there are some great opportunities to learn coming up.
As I mentioned before, for the first time, one of the great breakout cultural Twitter accounts of the last 18 months, The Cultural Tutor, is finally revealing who he is and sharing what he’s learned in building up a following of 1.5 million in a year.
The webinar with him is tomorrow, 9/6 at 12PM Eastern. Sign up here - Grow Your Audience with the Cultural Tutor
I highly encourage you to come, and I’ll see you there.
If you’re serious about wanting to write, these are free ways to learn from those who have seen success. David Perrell (the interviewer above, and founder of an excellent program called Write of Passage) has put together a few others coming up soon.
Tuesday, September 12th at 7pm ET - How to Start Writing Online
Thursday, September 21st at 2pm ET - Test Drive Write of Passage
My friend Chris Boettcher, a 10-time Iron Man athlete and doctorate-trained physical trainer, has woken me up to nutrition and health in a way that is far overdue. I love his content on Twitter, and his newsletter. Give him a follow and subscribe—you won’t regret it.
Who is the smartest person you know, and what has he or she taught you?
Until the next time,