Awkward things.

5 Things I Learned By Getting Into Mensa

on December 13, 2014


Recently I took two IQ tests, hoping that Mensa might, you know, ask me to hang out or whatever. And, awesomely, they did! Cue party hats and kissing glasses and photo opportunities. Or not.

I was ready to write this article whether I made it, or whether the letter that landed on the mat was a big fat “no thanks,” because I knew that I was going to learn something either way. This is one of those big deals in my life that means a lot, but not for the reasons I thought it would. It doesn’t matter because I got in. It wouldn’t matter because I didn’t. It matters because I tried, and you learn a lot when you reach for something you want.

I will admit it. I took the test because a lot of people think I’m stupid, and I wanted to be like “Um, actually…” I can be blonder than Paris Hilton sometimes. I panic about filling in forms, was convinced until recently that anvils were a comedic prop created by Looney Tunes, and walk into inanimate objects on an almost hourly basis. I am also what my friends kindly refer to as ‘adorable’. I insist that they name their cars, I swear that I have seen a unicorn, and I cannot resist the allure of anything in my path that sparkles.

But I am not stupid.

I do algebraic equations for fun, I can recite the 27 moons of Uranus in order of orbital period, and I read more than my optician is happy with. I am a healthy mix of fluff and dust. I am a grumpy old man in a tutu, poring over yellowed pages on special relativity, whilst knocking back a drink that’s pink and comes, pleasingly, with a cocktail umbrella and a curly straw.

On the outside, yeah, I seem to be a bit on the slow side of the street, but a poor grasp of blacksmith tools does not an idiot make. So I took this as an opportunity to prove to people that I am not as thick as I look, and also to prove it to myself. When you are treated a certain way, if you’re not careful, you can start to believe that you are what they think you are. But I didn’t just get a shiny certificate and a metaphorical pat on the back, I got a lot more than that.

Here is what I learned…

  1. Things aren’t as horrifically terribly horrendous as they seem.

On test day I was constantly reminding myself about my question-reading weakness, and the fact that I should take it slowly, not rush and read every question thoroughly, rather than doing what I am wont to do, and giving the opposite answer because I’m not paying attention. So the first test started and I plodded through, conscious of every possible slip avoided. It was going well until BZZZ. Time up. What? WHAT?! Noooo. Head meet hands. I missed so many questions on that test. But it was ok. It didn’t matter. I screwed up super badly and left half the sheet blank, but test two saved my question-reading backside. Side lesson: Three minutes is no time at all if you’re not paying attention.

  1. I care.

A LOT. The day before the test I was terrified, during the test I was a wreck, after the test I was an emotional car crash. Suddenly getting into Mensa was the only thing I wanted in the world, and if I didn’t get in, I was an intellectually stunted moron. In fact, why was I even bothering to try? Everyone knew I was stupid, it was common knowledge. The fact that I was wasting everyone’s time here wasn’t only laughable, it was offensive. This test would serve as nothing more than a baseball bat to crack me down the few pegs that I’d mistakenly ascended. When the congratulations letter arrived, I screamed and phoned my best friends before even bothering to take off my shoes.

  1. It doesn’t actually matter.

At first it is the best feeling in the world. It’s official. You are an intelligent person. The other intelligent people want to play with you. You can visit libraries and discuss Shakespeare and do Rubik’s cubes together. All the yay for you! But it doesn’t last long. I am still me, ditzy as a poodle with a mouth full of candy floss. Except now I have a certificate. I guess it’s the equivalent of having a lifetime of low self-esteem issues and someone telling you how pretty you are. It’s nice to hear, a shock even, so much of a shock, in fact, that you decide that they are a liar, probably a scam artist. There’s a pyramid scheme trundling into your future, pulled on a cart by a man with a pocketful of magic beans. There is probably some screw up with the test. You’re not going to make anyone aware, but you know, oh you know.

  1. Nobody is impressed.

My mum’s response was to screw up her face and ask me where I came from. No parental pride from that side of the fence. My friends were more curious. The thing about having the appearance of being a few paintbrushes short of a picnic, is that once you get into the genius club, everyone else decides they can too. Rather than Mensa being a prestigious organisation for brainiacs, it becomes accessible. Which is fine and dandy and all that jazz. But it’s also a teensy bit, I don’t know, annoying. It feels like “Pfft! They let you in? That means I could do the test with my elbows, wearing my knickers on my head whilst Benedict Cumberbatch whispers breathily into my ears!” Instead of people’s opinion of my intelligence going up, I’ve managed to bring people’s opinion of Mensa’s standards DOWN. I am probably the only person in the world that could manage to do it, so slow clap for me.

  1. I am brave.

Intelligence is all well and good, but the best thing that I realised is that I am brave. I’ve been pushing myself this year to jump off all the metaphorical cliffs, and have mostly only managed to walk to the edge, shudder and scramble backwards to safety, whilst creating new and unusual swear words. But I took the test, even though it was terrifying, even though there was a high likelihood that I would get a letter saying “Hahahahahahahaha… No.” Bravery is being scared and pushing through the fear. Bravery is telling your coward of a brain to STFU. Bravery is risking your shaky opinion of yourself on the chance that someone somewhere might just agree. I took a chance and whatever the outcome, it would have paid off because I didn’t leave the chance on the shelf in the first place.

So yeah. I am smart and I can be dumb. I am scared and I am brave. I am a human being with a bucket load of contradictions wrestling inside of me like a bunch of greased up deaf guys. And that’s ok, because, I’ve realised, most people are.


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