One of the most unfortunate things about growing up in America is the rather narrow definition we have for the word “smart”.

Picture the “smart kid” from your high school days.  If you’re around my age, you’ll remember the wimpy, nasal whines of that character in every teen flick, begging not to get beat up. The Peter Parkers who were never bitten by radioactive spiders.

I was no whiz kid, but I fancy myself intelligent. Not just because I got good grades and got into a good school. Because to this day, I’m studying. I’m nearing the end of “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe. Why? So I can say I did. Ego runs deep. Somewhere between outgrowing candles on my birthday cake and now, my curiosity snuck his dark side in the back door.

It was well into the third decade of my life before I found out about Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory.  It wasn’t that I severely lacked any of them that was the problem though. It was that I valued one specific kind so much more that it threw everything out of balance.

This week in the Artist’s Way, there was a series of “don’t think, just answer” questions.

My favorite childhood toy was…
If it weren’t too late, I’d…
If it didn’t sound so crazy, I’d write or make a…

Of the 20 or so questions, my answer for at least 5 revolved around dance. I used to approach dancing, exercise, sports, anything physical the way I now approach intellectual stuff: just doing it to see if I could.

But it was different.

I wasn’t trying to do a split because I needed to prove something. I wasn’t moonwalking across my grandmother’s linoleum kitchen because I had a chip on my shoulder. I was studying. I was playing. I was learning.

Then I stopped showing up to class every day. I missed whole weeks. Before long I had changed my major from multidisciplinary studies. To what I don’t know. But before long, exercise became a means to an end. I listened to more business and science podcasts than music. I dieted not because I was following my body’s cues, but because of a Youtube video on brain foods.

That’s how I became one of the dumbest smart people I know. Recently on Patreon, I wrote about arete, the ancient Greek concept of excellence. It is tough to define, but the term “human excellence” is just vague enough to hint at its breadth, but specific enough to be a catalyst for specific actions.

Humans are a mind, AND a body, AND a soul.


We combine base animal instincts with a supernatural creative agency. We can explain how our blood clots to form scabs down to each millisecond’s events, then be left speechless by the routine descent of the sun behind distant piles of rock.

Human excellence means integrating every part of this ridiculously intricate life, and ..finding balance? Achieving balance? Scientifically extrapolating balance? Literally balancing on pointed toe?

All of the above and so much more.