Intelligence — Do You Believe You Have It?


‎I’ve recently been thinking a lot about ‎intelligence — smarts, talent, whatever you’d like to call it.

It’s interesting that no matter how intelligent you may be in reality, if you don’t believe or perceive that you are, ‎you’ll be stuck.

Stuck doing the minimum that you think you’re only worthy of doing — whether it’s the kind of job you go after, ‎pursuing certain interests you wish to develop, or anything else that requires self-belief.

I see someone I know going through this now and it breaks my heart knowing they are capable of so much more. ‎But somehow, over the years, they seem to have lost the confidence that this is the case. And so, they settle for less.

I’ve been there. I know exactly how it feels to not believe in your own worth.

There’s been two main things in my younger years that led me to experience this same way of thinking about myself.

But before I get into that, I want to explain that I was always smart when I was very young. I did advanced math and was in my school’s gifted program. I was also very creative and read a lot of books and wrote stories and poems. ‎So objectively speaking, I was an intelligent kid.


But the first thing that started me down the road to thinking less of myself was that I got into the cycle of working low-paying, survival jobs for many years.

I worked long, hard hours and usually multiple jobs at a time — but at the end of the day, I felt like I was working constantly around the clock towards a dead end as my destination.

It started when I was in high school and my family had to go on welfare. Aside from attending school, I was also usually working a couple of part-time jobs to help out with money.

When I moved out on my own, right after I graduated high school, it got harder having to fully support myself. At that point, I felt as though I couldn’t rely on anyone else.

There was never enough financial stability in my life to have the luxury of “taking time off” to gain experience towards some kind of meaningful career or to build up the skills I was lacking. Or to apply carefully to jobs and wait for the right one to come around.

It was “take what you could get” and, moreover, take it right away or you wouldn’t be able to pay rent the next month.

Living this kind of life meant constant physical and mental stress, It meant living in some pretty awful places that never felt like home. And it led me to feel a sense of hopelessness that would come crashing down on my optimism.

Even though I dreamed to have more for myself, that’s all I felt I could achieve because that was simply life as I knew it.

The second thing that got me to a point where I doubted my intelligence was that I was in a relationship for a period of time where — whenever he was mad — this guy would tell me that I was fucking stupid, an idiot, loser, retarded, pathetic, worthless.

Even if I objectively knew that he didn’t really think so when he wasn’t angry, it was hard not to internalize it after hearing it yelled at me again and again and again.

After a while, I seriously started questioning whether I was actually stupid. And it eventually got to the point where I felt so much helplessness and despair when he’d shout those things at me, that I would punch my fist into my computer screen or bang my head against the wall.

I think it was the innate, visceral reaction of needing to fight back, except I had been so conditioned not to hurt him that I hurt myself instead.

I had come to feel very worthless — just like he said I was — and as though I was in the bottom of a deep, dark hole, unable to see a way out.

How could this be the rest of my life? I wondered.


With all of the repeated instances where people put down your intelligence, and with all of the actions (or omissions) you make that reinforce the idea that you aren’t deserving of a better situation, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle where you stay stuck at the bottom.

‎And when I say “bottom”, I mean at the bottom of your potential. You never aim higher. You stay fearful. You don’t ask questions or reach out to people who could become your connection or knowledge base to “better” things.

And so, you never find out just what you’re capable of.

If you don’t believe something is possible and within your reach, why would you even try to take the steps to get there?

* * *

Since that time, I got accepted into a very competitive Master’s program and graduated with a 4.0 (out of 4.0) GPA. I have worked higher-paying, salaried positions. I have been a manager‎. I have proven to some of the most brilliant minds in my field of study that I am unequivocally deserving of their reference any time I’m applying for a new job.

I have also gone on three solo backcountry camping trips with zero fear.‎ I have learned how to play the piano and guitar. I have composed my own songs.

I clearly am an intelligent person. ‎I always have been. It just took some time, a whole lot of sweat and tears, and an enormous amount of love and support to actually see it.

And now, I believe I can do anything I put my mind to.


The road that led me down the deep, dark hole was long and complex. And thus, it was a long, complex process to get out of it.

One part of that journey was creating a new cycle in my life — one of continuous, positive reinforcement that told me: You are worthy to have better for yourself.

That positive reinforcement came in the same two ways that conditioned me to ‎grow my self-doubts:

In the same way as my ex continuously put me down with words to the point where I internalized his negative image of me, receiving constant messages of encouragement and belief in my talents ‎helped me to view myself in an alternative light.

Two further things on that: It meant choosing to surround myself with positive people who brought out and saw those good things in me. And while most of that validation came from others initially, I had to eventually find it in myself. This is still a work in progress and I imagine it always will be.

Secondly, just as fearing to aim higher resulted in me staying stuck in a cycle of insecurity, taking small (and eventually big) steps that resulted in personal successes gave me tangible proof that I could in fact accomplish things I once only wished for but never thought I could do.

The journey towards greater self-worth also involved a lot of other things, like going to counselling and finding ways to cope that were healthier than my defense mechanism of drinking.

It included building the social and human capital that we all need, but that I hadn’t learned to develop, in order to navigate the system.

It included finding a more stable living situation so that my mind could find greater stability. And it included having friends and family who gave me unconditional support through all the not-so-great decisions I made.


It’s been a long road — it took many years — but it brings me an immense, unexplainable joy that I can now genuinely tell you how much I do truly believe in myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still and will always be a work-in-progress. But the distance I’ve come so far gives me hope that if I could get here, others who may not think it’s possible can too.

As much as I resented having to go down this road at times, I’m truly grateful for all that I’ve learned and for all of the people who stuck by me.

Because if it wasn’t for them, I would’ve likely stayed stuck at the bottom of my potential.

I would have likely never contributed my skills and talents to the places I’ve worked at or the groups I’ve volunteered for that serve to help others through their own challenges.

I might have lost all hope in finding my spirit and struggled to pass on the positive messages and energy every person should strive to add to this world.

And that would have been a serious waste of intelligence.

~ Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3


On mental health awareness and stigma: I think as a collective, we really need to open up more about mental health and talk about the hard issues we all face. Too many people feel alone and ashamed about their mental health issues. Let’s change this.

The discussion that happened on this past post I wrote really gave me hope that people want to talk about mental health. And that no one is alone in their struggles!: On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”.

As I said then, thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

Photo #3 Credit: Sad woman
Photo #4 Credit: Storm clouds gathering
Photo #5 Credit: Thanks, Amy! :)

17 thoughts on “Intelligence — Do You Believe You Have It?

  1. Whenever I have self-doubt or feel intimidated I think

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleasnor Roosevelt

  2. Pingback: On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal” | Your Daily Dose

  3. Oops, replied to the wrong comment box (out of practice). Cut and paste my comment down here. Sorry.

    Hi Janice;
    It never occurred to me that you were not a smart cookie. But since I started reading you about the same time you were trying to break your addiction to the internet, I figured you were showing the signs of being hooked. I saw how destructive television was on my generation — many just stopped thinking, stopped being active outdoors and started believing the junk commercials on TV and became the excessive consumption generation. Or they became greedy workaholic materialists and couldn’t stop because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. It was a pleasure to read your post because it distinguishes you from others, especially those who are in great danger — many people would go absolutely nuts without their mobile phones, internet, guns or high-tech toys.

    I found a lot of truth in your readers comments above and in your observations. All I want to add is that our generation help cause a lot of the serious problems society face today. While young, we had a lot more support from family and teachers who were not distracted by the media and took time to read, listen, study and talk. Nowadays, it seems like everyone’s first priority is rush, rush 24/7 to be in the top earning brackets and push and shove to get there — no wonder you young people feel abandoned or exploited. Our generation became masters at fostering this on anyone they could — any hint of generosity, understanding,help or even sharing was considered a weakness and hence exploitable — and they became super-rich while everyone else struggled. I can’t believe the difference between earning $15 an hour and $150,000 an hour has anything to do with respective intelligence — it’s a rigged pyramid system that has been established in the name of free enterprise.

    No, your essay proves you are plenty smart; in a book sense you’re probably smarter than I am :), the difference being that I refused to let the others get me down. Like you, I believed in what smart people told me and spent a lot of time thinking about what to do to keep myself learning and not get caught up in stupidity — that your ex could treat you that way is an abomination.

    No, I never thought I was intelligent, so I had to learn to be smart and clever and mobile so than I didn’t fall victim to a system which wanted me to be just another earning cog in their wealthy wheel.

    Hey kid :) I’d really like to share a café with you someday.

    Cheers, you sound great today, you’ll on a roll. It’s a downhill ride from here.:)

    • Hi Whitt!

      No worries, got your comment all squared up :)

      It’s really interesting to read your thoughts on how you feel your generation has influenced following ones. But yes, there is definitely a huge difference in the way youth get raised these days. I always say that it’s odd for me to have grown up during the time of rotary telephones and to also be “young enough” to have gotten sucked into the digital world and social media craze. Yes, I am nostalgic for the past at times — at least nostalgic for that sense of community and freedom to play outdoors.

      Anyhow, you are truly an inspiration, Whitt! And I always appreciate your insights and kind words here. Thank you so much for stopping by and also – Happy New Year! Haha, no way! Definitely onward and upward from here on out!

      *Cheers from my coffee cup to yours*
      ~ Cafe (Janice)

      • Clever as you are, having one finger in the rotary dial era and another on the smartphone gives you a perspective on coping with change that is highly valued in good teachers and professors. There will be a time soon when smartphones are as old-fashioned as the rotary – I bet you’d like using your skills to prepare youth for satisfying, productive and healthy futures. Café? anytime. And cheers.

  4. It’s sad how we human beings are not only capable of bringing others down, but even ourselves. It’s understandable because of all kinds of pressures. I think we have all experienced to a lesser or greater degree, what you write about here. And you conclusion is very right. If we start believing in ourselves, there is no limit how far we can go. Great that you managed to get out of the rut. And yes, we should help others who are struggling to find their own way. Great post, Janice.

  5. It’s like the baby elephant syndrome:

    When an elephant living in captivity is still a baby, it is tied to a tree with a strong rope or a chain every night. Because it is the nature of elephants to roam free, the baby elephant instinctively tries with all its might to break the rope. But it isn’t yet strong enough to do so. Realizing its efforts are of no use, it finally gives up and stops struggling. The baby elephant tries and fails many times, it will never try again for the rest of its life.

    Later, when the elephant is fully grown, it can be tied to a small tree with a thin rope. It could then easily free itself by uprooting the tree or breaking the rope. But because its mind has been conditioned by its prior experiences, it doesn’t make the slightest attempt to break free. The powerfully gigantic elephant has limited its present abilities by the limitations of the past.

    Human beings are exactly like the elephant except for one thing—We can CHOOSE not to accept the false boundaries and limitations created by the past…

    ” Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you become.”

    – Anonymous

    Glad you were able to break free :) <3

    • Pantalons!! xoxo

      Your elephant story reminds me of the “learned helplessness” concept that I learned in Psychology 101 back in the day.

      “Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.”

      So, that was the elephant :(

      People can also experience learned helplessness and I think in some ways I developed it myself — as you alluded to :) Even though I could have technically left at many points, I had come to learn that it was pointless to do so. (For brevity’s sake, I won’t get into the whole explanation of that here!)

      I love the quote about not letting the past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you’ve become. It’s like you’re honouring all those experiences you’ve had, but not developing the survivor mentality or self-identity — which I know I’ve hung onto for too long and it has done way more harm than good.

      This is something I’ve only recently started to understand — letting go of a focus on both the past and the future (and not the present). It is a freeing, wonderful thing when you start putting into practice :)

      Novels galore! Thanks for being here, Pants. Miss ya xoxo

  6. I strongly believe a lot of people are just in the middle of their respective journeys toward their ultimate finish lines. Just because you’re not somewhere yet does not necessarily mean you won’t get there, or better yet – an entirely different finish line you didn’t even consider.

    Eventually. That’s the key word. Eventually. It just takes time.

    • Hey Nhan, I agree about being in the middle of our journeys — actually, I think every one of us are. Even though looking back now, I can see what seems like a start and end point to the story I mentioned in this post, it is only part of my journey. And things like self-validation are a continuing work-in-progress for me and may always be.

      That being said, reflecting on each milestone we get to along our journey is so important because it gives us that tangible proof I spoke of that we can then achieve the next seemingly insurmountable challenge.

      Like the things you write about on your blog — it is your journey of your highs and lows, but in there are certainly your accomplishments. You HAVE come a long way. What you said in one of your posts about wanting to dash off to the next stage in life really resonated with me because that’s how I felt all the time for many years. I know we all just sometimes wish to get to the next step that will “make us happier” — but what I’ve learned through all of this is that even when we get “there”, we will always want to be “somewhere else”, “somewhere better”.

      I think we only gain true peace of mind and happiness when we’re able to accept and adapt to our current situation. Accepting doesn’t mean not doing anything about it — if we have dreams for the future, we should work towards them. But every single day, there is a “today” that we’re presented with — and if every single day we are just wishing for and thinking about the next “today”, we spend all of our days never actually living our life right now.

      When I think back to pretty much my entire youth, I feel it passed by in a big blur of stress during which time I just wanted to live in “the future”. Time is too precious to be spent that way, I think!

      Okay, sorry, might have gone on a ramble there…!

      I like what you said about an entirely different finish line you never considered. Well, I do think the “finish line” is when you pass from this earth — not to be morbid or anything, but as long as you are still here, your journey will likely keep changing and yes, taking you to places you didn’t expect. Life is so unpredictable!

      Sorry if I wrote another post within the post lol. But you got me thinking… Thanks for your presence here as always, Nhan :)

  7. I have been at the bottom (as you described) for many years until now. I’m struggling to get out of that, sometimes I’m very positive, but sometimes I’m skeptical.I have a big problem in self-confidence or self-belief. But I don’t know if I’m too old to adjust something innate in me? At what age you realized everything was going wrong and began to positively change yourself? Thank you so much for your sharing.

    • Hey Trang :)

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling like you’re at the bottom :( And I know what you mean about being both positive and skeptical about things. It was somewhat always strange to me that I could have such deeply negative ways of thinking, but also feel some kind of undying optimism that things had to get better — even if that got buried at times.

      I think what I’ve learned from my personal experience at least — and what I was trying to emphasize in this post — is that perception is such a powerful thing. And perception can change no matter what age you are. So, I don’t think you should feel limited by your age.

      And besides … unless you’re in your 90s and got some super SUPER Asian genes, it looks like you still got lots of time left in your life journey! :P

      I don’t believe that a lack of self-confidence or self-belief is innate. It’s learned in each and every one of us — oftentimes at a very young age so that it may seem like it was always there. It’s very difficult in today’s society to not feel insecure about yourself or that you’re not measuring up to certain standards. But that’s all been taught, imo. Which means it can be untaught.

      It’s true that the longer you’ve been in that cycle of self-doubt, the more time it will usually take to replace that thinking with a more positive self-reflection. But it’s not impossible. It’s actually very possible! I am living proof! :)

      I actually realized that “things were going wrong” at a pretty young age. Ironically (or not), I was always on a mission to self-improve, even while I was going through all of the crappy things I talked about in the post. Even before then. I think I always had some kind of mild depression since I was very young. I had a lot of insecurity and self-doubt as well. And I recognized these things, but it was still always a work-in-progress and I may not have known then how best to deal with things.

      When I left the verbally abusive ex, I was in my mid-20’s — perhaps you could say that’s when I “started” another stage in my life of positive change. It took many years to get to the point where I can write this now (I’m 33). And during that time, I have experienced highs and lows, but things moved forward so that I was experiencing more and more highs as time went by.

      Even now, there are things I still need to actively work on. And that’s something to remember — that the journey, even if it gets better, always continues. I think the more we can let go of the fact that we never arrive at a “perfect” destination, the more at peace our minds become and the more we can truly be happy in the moment.

      I hope you keep working towards what you want for yourself. You have a beautiful spirit and I can feel the positivity (and yes, even self-confidence!) from the things you write. I read this post of yours and it is testament to the deep fears and insecurities you have already overcome!:

      I have absolute faith in you!! :)

      – Janice xoxo

      • Thank you so much for your kind words, Janice. Your post means a lot to me. I think I should write more about my own similar experience because I believe that I can pave my own way to a new stage after I figure out the roots of my fears and insecurities.

        • I’m glad if this post could touch you in any way, Trang :)

          I believe you can pave your own way too. Sometimes we need help, people we trust to talk to, but at the end of the day we know ourselves best and have the strength to decide what’s the right path for us.

          I definitely encourage you to write about your experiences if you feel safe enough to do so. Writing has always been a great therapeutic and self-reflection tool for me and I’m sure for many others.

          Look forward to reading more of your journey, Trang. Will pay a longer visit to your blog soon!

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