How Erin Kelly’s cerebral palsy helped her redefine what it means to be smart
“It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with my problems longer.”
Much has been said and studied about intelligence throughout the course of history. However, I think these particular words, made famous by Albert Einstein, carry substantial weight.
They look simple on the surface, but together, they speak metaphorically about what it means to carry a heavy load on your shoulders. That load—and the characteristics required to carry it—comes in many forms. However, I don’t think one can fairly talk about intelligence, integrity, character, and every other trait known to man without acknowledging the weight a disability carries.
This quote is one that connected with me in a very profound way because the more I read it the more I could relate to its truth.
I’ve always been told I’m smart, but I didn’t believe being smart had anything to do with my ability to put words together on a page. I never had a real reason as to why I thought that, but facing the world as an adult now, I realize it was never a matter of how “smart” I was.
I was so driven and enthralled by the fact that I always had to prove myself that I didn’t give much thought to how high or low my IQ was. I just did my thing, and hoped that it was enough. In fact, I still have trouble falling in love with the idea that my ability to write—or to figure out my own way of doing certain things—is somehow connected to my intelligence.
Somewhere along the line, however, I became a perfectionist. I readily admit that I still am one to this day, but again, I think it’s a result of the world constantly casting a shadow of doubt on me.
That’s why this particular quote stirred something inside me. If you break it down into pieces, you’ve got two very different schools of thought—perception and reality. Having a disability draws a clear line between the two, and sometimes, there’s little to no room to blur that line.
It got me thinking about how people perceive intelligence, and how easy it is to confuse it with intellect. Not only that, but it also made me think about why I’m a perfectionist. Is it because I’m in a line of work where I’m expected to spell every word I write correctly? Is it because I know I have to produce the same quality of work every time I submit a story—or is it a direct result of my childhood?
In dealing with a disability, I think you become much more aware of your own senses and surroundings and your mind becomes sharper as a result. If you want to go even deeper, the quote acts as a perfect metaphor for not only what it means to have a disability, but also what it’s like to live that world.
Einstein’s words speak volumes about integrity and character—traits that aren’t typically associated with intelligence. In fact, one can argue that these are two separate things that can be recognized and defined on their own—perhaps even to say you don’t need character or integrity in order to be smart.
I find that when you’re trying to do something simple, like taking the cap off a bottle of soda, it becomes your immediate reality. You become so focused on that task that nothing else matters at that point.
It may take the person next to you one swift twist of the wrist to get that cap off— but you’ve done it before, so you try a hundred times. Then you try again. In doing so, character and integrity become the building blocks for intelligence.
You do this one thing so many times that you become your own teacher. Your methods may seem unorthodox or even silly to someone on the outside looking in, but it’s how you’ve made it as far as you have in this world.
To me, that has nothing to do with intelligence. I think it’s more a force of habit that seeps into your soul when you’re faced with adversity. The way you handle it defines your character.
It goes to show that while you may not do things perfectly or in the “normal” fashion like the rest of the world, you’re still willing to get your hands dirty and get the job done.