Different ‘smarts’ key ingredient in success

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Educationally Speaking, By Rob MacLellan

Book or street, labels keep us from embracing the true individual

In order to be successful, you have to be smart in some way. Before you get concerned this isn’t you, let me assure you there are all kinds of smarts.

Two types of smarts you might hear people talk about are street smarts and book smarts.  I should tell you up front I don’t personally like these terms or the attitudes that go with them. At all times, we should avoid stereotypes.

Often when you see these two types of smarts named together like this it represents an either/or case, as if the one type was exclusive of the other. For those who profess an attachment to either of these two types of smarts, there’s usually a disdain for the other type. In this regard, it can be quite divisive, which is too bad, because it needn’t be.

Typically, being street smart means you have a lot of common sense and you’re able to shrewdly survive in an urban environment. Those who profess to have street smarts tend to view the education and the experience gained through books via a formal university education to be of less use in the real world. People with street smarts believe people with book smarts are bumblers in the real world lacking the common sense to deal with everyday life and to maintain relationships.

The book smart, those who have college or university educations, believe they have an advantage in that they have better chances at well-paying jobs. Book smart people have broader and deeper educations attained by much reading, attending lectures and engaging in theoretical discussions. The book smart believe the chief reason behind their success is a direct result of having attained a higher education.

The book smart people are seen by street smart people as believing themselves superior to people who haven’t attained a college degree or university diploma. People who profess street smarts believe these activities of the book smart people put them out of touch with the real world.

If you look around you, you’ll find people who seem to fit these stereotypes. Indeed, some people even identify strongly with one or the other of these stereotypes.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that, unfortunately, I’ve seen examples of both of these ‘smart’ types. I’ve worked side-by-side with folks who — not possessing a higher education — spoke poorly of those who did have that advantage, speaking of their lack of common sense and their lack of a practical awareness of the world around them.

I’ve also worked side-by-side with people immersed in academia who practiced snobbery based on their advanced degrees and their number of publications.

What I’ve come to learn is that identifying others or ourselves in such a manner is limiting. Our level of ‘smarts’ can’t define us. We’ve all had the benefit of at least some formal education and we’ve all navigated life experiences. In both of these areas, we’ve all had our share of successes and failures and we’re the richer for them. I don’t believe it’s ever appropriate to set ourselves above others based on our level or type of ‘smarts.’

Whether or not you’re successful in your life begins with how you define success. Your road to success may mean you need to acquire new ‘smarts’ or skills. Be open to learning new things, whether it’s through a higher education or through a street-wise view that can provide you with on-the-ground knowledge.

Finally, consult the people in your life. They’re a huge source of ‘smarts’ that can help you get to where you want to go. Pooling the knowledge of friends, family and valued mentors provides you with a wealth of expertise you couldn’t hope to accumulate in a lifetime on your own.

Rob MacLellan is an advocate of adult education and of non-profit organizations, a professional educator and a resident of Alton. He can be reached at 902-673-3269 or by e-mail at rob@nsnonprofitconsulting.com.


Geographic location: Alton

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