"I feel stupid."

  • “I should hang onto this piece of paper, but I don’t want to get out the filing stuff…”
  • “I should get out the packing list and double-check, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got everything…”
  • “If I leave now, I’ll be early, so I’ll get back on the computer and try to just check one thing this time…”

I hate thoughts like these, because later, when I need that paper and can’t find it, forget the pajamas, and find myself running late, my brain remembers and says, “See? You knew better!” It makes me feel so stupid. In fact, that’s what I say, out loud and to myself: “I feel so stupid!” But there are a couple reasons why I don’t like this phrase and want to handle the situation differently:

Stupidity is not a feeling.

I know that I am fast at some things and slow at others, and that the former is generally more pleasant, but strictly speaking, “smart” and “stupid” aren’t in themselves feelings. Why is this useful to point out? Because there’s nothing I can do about my intelligence, but I can address the causes of my actual feelings. In this case, those feelings are usually shame over having made a mistake at all, and disappointment because I expect myself to be someone who doesn’t make the same mistake twice.

Intelligence is not a virtue.

I talked about this idea a little before, but it’s something I have to keep reminding myself. My worth doesn’t come from my intelligence or history of good decisions. I don’t have to earn my right to exist. The sooner I can stop beating myself up about whether I’m as smart as I think I should be, the sooner I can focus on what I can actually do to make a difference next time.

For example,

  • I can designate a place for important papers to go temporarily, and then file them in batches when I have the time.
  • I can store the packing list inside my suitcase so I don’t have to consciously go get it when I’m packing.
  • I can keep a book in my bag so it doesn’t matter if I get somewhere early.

These sound like smart things to do! But notice that these methods are all ways of making up for something that is harder for me than I wish it were, like leaving on time or putting things where they belong. In order to do so, I have to first accept that I am not great at everything, and that I don’t need to be. Only then can I hope to improve for next time.


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