(The following is excerpted from Whiskey Wisdom: A Bartender’s Guide to Living Ravenously)
You can spot her from a mile away, the smartest person in the bar — or, if not quite from a mile, nonetheless from very far.
She doesn’t necessarily think of herself as smart.
Still, her brain is carefully crafted — self-crafted and stylized — like a work of art.
Her eyes are alert and bright and lively. They twinkle.
She’s relaxed and polite, with a well-modulated voice that speaks to you in the appropriate tone.
Her smile glows like expensive stone.
You do not quickly forget that smile.
She walks purposefully, and yet not aggressively, or with an overbearing style.
She has a sense of humor.
You can see that she knows there’s a kind of dignity in loneliness. She doesn’t go out of the way to seek friends or groups or any kind of crowd.
In general she prefers quiet to loud.
She gives and receives compliments gracefully, can be strong and assertive, quick to stick up for herself, but she can also speak of her shortcomings and accomplishments with an equal ease which you envy.
When communication or clarification is called for, she’s never dismissive or inexplicably silent — never, of course, in any way aggressive or violent.
What’s her trick?
What’s the secret?
The secret is this:
First, develop a total disregard for where you think your abilities end.
Aim beyond what you believe you’re capable of.
Do things you think you’re not able to do.
Nothing is impossible, in this regard. The will to believe is the most important ingredient in becoming what you want.
The discipline to follow through is next. It is also the most difficult.
Why most difficult?
Because it requires hour-after-hour, day-after-day practice.
It requires diligence.
Second — unless you’re in a technical discipline like medicine or mechanical engineering — drop out of college immediately.
College stunts the mind.
It’s a breeding ground of mindlessness and unoriginality and an exercise in non-thought. It’s a snake-infested swamp of dogma — and, like all dogma, it will corrupt you and scar your soul irreparably.
College is conformity.
The cost of conformity is colossal.
Individuality, on the other hand, is a prerequisite of genius.
Genius is the cultivation of your living potential.
The deeper your cultivation, the deeper your genius.
Cultivate, therefore, a durable purpose (not food, not drink, not cigars, or other ephemeral things) around which you can construct your life.
Passion is largely willed: the more you do something, the deeper your understanding of it grows, so that after time your passion for that thing develops and spreads like a gorgeous soft surge of water-ripples.
Whatsoever thy hand findest to do, do it with all thy might.
Third, be observant.
Attention is the seat of human will: the fundamental choice we face, all day, everyday, is the choice to pay attention or not.
What, after all, does it mean to be smart?
It means to self-stylize your brain, like a work of art.
It means to observe the universe around you, as well as the one within: to introspect, as thoughtful people do.
It means to be intelligent, like you.
Intelligence is your mental capacity to deal with a wide range of thoughts and ideas.
That’s why it never mattered to you when you were voted least likely to succeed — why it never fazed you when they called you a misfit, a malcontent, alienate, disaffiliate, deviant, recalcitrant. And it’s why your natural-born predilections and proclivities and predispositions are and always have been irrelevant: because intelligence is an acquired skill.
It must be developed by each person’s own desire and activated by each person’s will.
It must be habituated and automated by each person’s own mind.
Which is why it’s quite rare and beautiful, and rather difficult to find.
This, incidentally, is true for both children and adults: the cultivation of intelligence requires effort — or, to put the same point in a slightly different way: thinking is an act of choice.
Thought requires work.
Whereas to be stoopid is relatively simple: all you have to do, in essence, is do nothing. If you do nothing, stoopid will naturally occur.
Being smart, however, requires a different sort of action.
It’s not passive.
On the contrary, thinking is an entirely active process the undertaking of which is, when you consider it at all, massive.
She’s intelligent, yes, but in a highly unorthodox way (they say) hard to pinpoint why: bookish but not book-smart, introspective, certainly, and everything she does — yes, everything — she does with all her heart.