Not that my grades or test scores were bad; I was just not making full use of my potential.
I had entered seventh grade wanting to make the most of my potential. I was very competitive, and wanted to be the top student in the class. But there was one student named Barbara who always seemed to do better than I did, no matter how hard I tried! If I worked really hard and got a 93 on a very tough biology test, Barbara would get a 105. This pattern persisted for a while, and then I made a bad decision. I decided that if I could not be the “smartest” kid in the class I would not be smart at all. I decided that I would be cool.
Now, one reason this was a bad decision was that, while I had a good chance of being smart, I had no chance of being cool in my high school. The other reason was that, by not continuing to try my hardest, I missed out on some great opportunities I could have had when it came time to apply to colleges.
Let’s fast forward to my first years after college, when I decided to apply to graduate school for business. To go to business school, I needed to take a test called the GMAT. And I had been out of school for three years, so I was a bit rusty.
If you are familiar with the scales used on the SAT, you will know that I would not have gotten very far with a 350! I could easily have gotten discouraged and given up on business school.
But I had learned a great deal about learning by then--both from challenging college classes and from studying classical piano. I remembered what it was like to learn really difficult pieces on the piano--what that challenge felt like, and also the process I used to be able to master them.
I would break the piece of music down into little sections, learn to play each section slowly and carefully until I could play it perfectly, and then when I combined them again into the full piece, I could play the whole thing--and it would be easy.
The GMAT felt like the same kind of challenge. So I decided to use the same process.
I spent the next four months breaking down the GMAT subject matter into little sections, re-learning all of it slowly and carefully, and by the time I took the test, just like those challenging piano pieces, it felt easy.
And I nailed it.
That result was better than anything I had done in high school, but I was not finished surprising myself. On the strength of having my own business, a strong record in college and my GMAT score, I was awarded a full fellowship to attend graduate business school at Columbia. I was told that this fellowship was only awarded to two or three students a year, to people Columbia wanted to lure away from its principal competitors.
This fellowship was another breakthrough for me, but still I wondered what would happen when I got to Columbia. Would I be at a disadvantage studying with people who had attended Ivy League colleges? I soon got my answer—it was “no”.
This experience was important to me in ways beyond any advantage I might have gained just by winning a fellowship or attending a great school.
First of all, I learned that I could expand beyond my previous limits, that I could become more. This is the kind of understanding that stays with you always, every time you face a new challenge.
Second, I gained an experience that would help me teach others. When I was unexpectedly asked to tutor people many years later, I had a sense of how to guide someone to stretch beyond their previous limits, to have a breakthrough. The purpose of MuchSmarter is to take that experience one step further, giving you a step-by-step method for becoming smarter than you ever thought you could be.
Whatever way you apply the skills of becoming smarter, they are skills that will stay with you for the rest of your life. These skills will help you to have a life full of accomplishment and fulfillment.
Because, really, fulfillment is the ultimate benefit of becoming smarter. Using your potential fully, expanding it, and using it in the service of others is one of most fulfilling ways you can live your life.
- Steve Schecter,
Co-Founder and CEO of MuchSmarter