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Ryan Johnson, Published September 19 2013

Johnson: Getting into Mensa teaches tough lesson not found on an intelligence test

I have the smarts to make it into the most intelligent club in the world, but lack the brains to be modest about it.

That’s what I discovered last week, when I finally heard back from Mensa after taking the high-IQ group’s official admission test in August.

I had prepared myself for the likelihood of not getting in – only those who score in the top 2 percent on the test are offered admission – and was ready to fail gracefully, just like I had done with pretty much every sport I had ever tried.

But I wasn’t prepared for what would happen if I actually got in.

Like most weekdays, I woke up last Wednesday to my annoying alarm clock, picked up my phone and scrolled through the emails that had come in overnight before I’d get up and get ready for another day at the office.

Most morning messages are junk – Who sends important emails at 2 a.m.? – but one stood out.

“CONGRATULATIONS!” was all I had to read to know I had done it.

I felt a wave of pride wash over me, knowing this was a big accomplishment.

I deliberated over how I should break the news. After a couple hours, I settled on posting a screenshot of the acceptance email with the caption “A smug alert remains in effect for at least the rest of the week.” Modestly funny and self-deprecating, I thought.

My head swelled throughout the day, inflated by the well-meaning compliments of co-workers and relatives who heard about it, and I started to wonder if I really was a genius.

Luckily, that’s when a couple of close friends stepped in and burst the bubble of my inflated ego.

They told me it wasn’t all that surprising – I had always done well on tests, especially the type of standardized test that could derail otherwise highly intelligent people.

They pointed out that there are many types of intelligence. I’m good with tests, but bad at understanding mechanics or creating art.

Most importantly, they reminded me that a test can’t tell the full story of a person’s natural strengths and weaknesses.

I got in, and I fully expect to join Mensa and proudly carry my membership card.

I’m sure I’ll meet great people, have interesting conversations and get more temporary ego boosts just from being at the table with legitimate geniuses.

But I’ll remember this time that I shouldn’t interpret my Mensa test performance as anything more than it is.

I have a high intelligence for taking standardized intelligence tests. I’m just average when it comes to the other parts of life, like remaining humble after a small success.

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Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587