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Why Being Smart is Not Enough for Success

Updated: Oct 9, 2022

Temüjin was nothing more than a teenage slave.

But somehow ended up the most powerful man in the world.

How could this happen?

Life is already hard, and being a slave makes it worse. So it's difficult to believe such a change in fortune.

But this story is true.

Temüjin had a rough start to life. But found wild success later. And I'm not talking about him starting a successful business or getting random luck.

I'm talking about becoming something even rarer where Temüjin is the only recorded human being to have a claim to it.

And what's that?

He was the founder of the largest contiguous empire of all time.

This teenage slave turned out to be Genghis Khan.

And to achieve this stature, he had to overcome various enemies. He could not only rely on his knowledge.

Taking on the world would present many new challenges to him. As a result, he used whatever or whoever was necessary. Such as Persian/Chinese engineers, gunpowder, Greek Fires, etc.

Genghis Khan had an incredible goal.

And he couldn't let this ego blind him to reality. He realized that he had to adopt new solutions. And accept that what worked for his past victories was not always enough.

And for us nerds, we need to accept the harsh truth that our intelligence is not enough to succeed in this world.

Why is that?

For nerds, we tend to be academic. We are not the most physically gifted, popular, or exciting people per se.

But we do have our smarts.

So we rely on this trait, thinking it will take us far in life, whether for our careers, money, etc.

Yet, we realize our intelligence is not enough when we go into the real world. We realize there are a lot of less intelligent people that go much farther than us.

It doesn't make sense.

But if you pay a little closer to life, history, and human nature, you'll see that it does.

The world is complicated and needs various solutions. Intelligence helps, but only in specific contexts. And when you over-rely on this trait, you are limiting yourself because you don't want to venture out of areas that don't need or value intelligence.

So you stay in places that do.

But this is limiting, and you'll live far below your full potential.

Yet, there is a way to overcome the overreliance on intelligence.

Becoming well-rounded

If you notice people who get a lot done in their lives, they do many things well.

They are intelligent, social, courageous, honest, etc.

And if you had to pinpoint what was the single trait leading to their success, you would be dumbfounded. Because there is no single trait that leads these people to win, but all their qualities.

All these traits lead these successful people to become well-rounded. And the reason for this is that you need various skills to navigate the world.

No one trait will ever lead you to where you want to go. You have to be well-rounded to adjust or adapt to life's changing situations, giving you much more than you expect.

What exactly?

You will have a life filled with various experiences where you'll attract people and find countless opportunities.

And over time, you will come to have many stories. People will think you are unique, but that's the furthest thing from the truth.

You made yourself someone who can deal with the number of curveballs life throws at you.

If you look at the heroes from the past (fact or fictional), you'll see that they were well-rounded. They were no different than any other human. They developed themselves and went out into the world.

And the same can happen to us.

There are a million ways to become more well-rounded. But I will give you the starter pack, and you can tailor it as you see fit.

Nassim Taleb's idea of being well-rounded:

The classical view is to build mental capacity, physical strength, and moral fortitude to face the world

Physical Strength

There is no excellent way to put it. Your body and mind are connected. And when your body is faulty, your mind will be handicapped. So get fit (not super duper ripped), and your mind will be correct.

Plus, you never know when you need to rely on your physical strength and fitness. You don't want restrictions, whether playing with kids or doing fun physical activity.

So make working out more serious.

Moral Fortitude

In the modern world, morals are something that is in flux. So many things have changed for human societies that we are all winging it to an extent.

But, when you read the classics from all the golden ages of societies (Greek Golden Age, Islamic Golden Age, Spanish Golden Age, etc.). You start seeing a similar pattern of what type of morals succeeded.

And the possible reason for this is that humans at the core are the same. And we value the same core things.

Understanding this helps you recognize timeless morals, and living by them will help you live a prosperous life. Leading you to become a person with integrity.

A person who is willing to stand by their morals.

Regardless of whether it leads to conflict, awkward moments, etc., funny enough, this also shows you to be a courageous person.

And we all know what a courageous life produces. So read classical literature and start developing your moral fortitude.

While everyone is getting their faulty morals from social media, you are getting it from the best of what humankind has produced over the ages.

Mental Capacity

Alright, this is where your intelligence comes in—not going to spend too much time. But with physical strength and moral fortitude, your intelligence will play its appropriate part. Leading you to become a well-rounded person.

A well-rounded person that can take on the world.

Charismatic Nerd Add-On

Although Nassim Taleb has the core of being well-rounded, let me add my unsolicited two cents.

Be Social

Go out and be social every week. Get a weekly social hobby or two. Initiate hangouts with friends/people.

The more you do this, the more you will see which people want to hang out with you. And you will have a fun social life.

Leading to better dating life, career, etc. Remember, if you want anything in life, you must realize that it is attached to others.

And when you are socially sound, people will want to help you get your needs and wants. This is not Machiviellan because it goes both ways. You will want to help others as much as they want to help you.

Personal Mission

You should have a personal mission, so you don't get lost in the grind of everyday living. Your mission will be your north star.

So please find it and work on it for as long as possible.

Because in life, people will come and go. Opportunities will come and go. But your missions will be there.

Yes, you will have a typical career, friends, lovers, etc. But having that mission will help you see there is more to life than the traditional way.

I'll write about how to find your mission in another newsletter. But let me tackle a thought some of you may have.

What if this is too hard, and I'm comfortable being the intelligent guy?

For us nerds, getting out of the comfort womb can be challenging. We are so used to being smart and thinking that is enough.

So when we try to be well-rounded, it feels foreign and challenging. And then we quit.

I've been there before, where I tried to recreate myself and stopped. But let me tell you something: you will experience a temporary discomfort or a lifetime of misery.

Let me explain.

Suppose you choose to rely on your intelligence and nothing else. You are setting yourself up for a good life, but not a great one.

You might get a decent job, but rarely will you get your dream job.

You might have some decent friends, but rarely will you have a fun social life.

You might have some exciting experiences, but rarely will you have an interesting life.

Overlying on intelligence will cut your potential short. And the worst part is you will feel it. You will wonder why you didn't do more in life. Everybody told you how smart you were. Yet, you fell short of your expectations.

And that personal disappointment will hurt you more than you can ever imagine. It almost feels like you wasted your potential and life to an extent.

But, when you choose to be well-rounded.

You will feel uncomfortable for a time.

You will embarrass yourself for a time.

You will feel lost for a time.

But the fact that you kept moving forward despite all this will add to your experience and personal story.

The fact that you transversed the problematic parts of becoming well-rounded will give you added insights. As a result, you will have a deeper understanding of yourself and human nature.

When I committed to being more social, all my mistakes gave me an understanding of the nuisances of being social.

When I committed to working out, all my mistakes gave me an understanding of their pitfalls and benefits.

When I committed to reading, all my mistakes gave me an understanding of how and when reading is adequate.

I can keep going.

But when you choose to be well-rounded, you get a better idea of yourself and life. And this helps you navigate the world and deal with complex challenges.

Yes, it is not easy, but that is only temporary.

Because you will get more comfortable dealing with all the challenges. Which will only lead to a more exciting and engaging life.

And don't take it from me; take it from Aristotle.

Aristotle's virtues

Aristotle understood that you had to be a well-rounded man to live a happy life. So much so that he lectured about it.

These lectures are the Nichomachean Ethics.

And in this book, he discusses the virtues needed to live a happy life. When you read this book, you will see that he has 12 traits he says are required.

I will not go over them as Nassim Taleb and I have already discussed a few. But the point is that Aristotle knew that you could never rely on one trait.

Even when he mentions that courage is an essential trait, he says it was the foundation for all the other characteristics, which means that different qualities were needed, too, for a happy life.

This advice is over 2,000 years old, and it still holds up. So don't get caught in the hype of thinking your one trait will give you everything you want in life.

Instead, become a well-rounded person that takes inspiration from the classics. And this alone will help you not only live an extraordinary life but stand out as well.

But we need to avoid simple mistakes in the process.

Which happens to be us nerds going overboard on an improved part of ourselves.

Because when we improve one part of ourselves and see new results (more attention, opportunities, etc.). We think this new, improved part is the only thing we need.

We are making the same error.

Instead of intelligence, we think another trait is needed for success in life. It's an honest mistake since the new and improved attribute gives us things we rarely get.

Nonetheless, it's also an easy mistake to fix.

You have to remind yourself that no one trait will give you everything. You have to commit to being well-rounded for life. As new challenges or opportunities come your way, you will be able to handle them.

Quick story:

When I committed to working out, I became ripped.

People were amazed by my transformation from a skinny kid to one that had excellent muscle definition.

My friends started working out because of me. I started getting more attention from girls.

Seeing all these positive results made me think that being ripped was the only way to get the things I wanted in life. So I became obsessed with my workout schedule, diet, supplements, etc.

It was a full-time job.

And then, slowly, I was losing the attention I was getting from others. My friends stopped caring how great I looked. Girls started to see I was just another needy boy. And in the end, I was left with the same problems I had when I only relied on my smarts.

The same cycle happened with reading.

Where I found some new results but then they dried up later. I was, again, dealing with the same problems I originally had.

I learned that the hard way.

But you don't have to. Pursue being well-rounded from the get-go. And you will be able to create a fun and exciting life.

And to keep this article fun and exciting, let's get to the summary.


  • Intelligence is not enough for personal success since the world is complicated.

  • Being well-rounded will help in tackling the various problems you find in life.

  • By becoming well-rounded, you will live an interesting and exciting life.

  • You become well-rounded by being fit, having moral fortitude, and having mental capacity. And by being social and having a personal mission.

  • It's comfortable being the smart one. But refusing to become well-rounded will lead to not living a great life.

  • Aristotle mentions a dozen traits for a man to live a happy life. And he doesn't over-rely on one.

  • A simple mistake is to over-rely on a new and improved part of yourself. But this leads to a similar error as relying on intelligence.

This was a lengthy article.

Because it covers an important topic, it's easy to get caught up thinking one trait can help your entire life. With ads and influencers telling us this 'one thing' will make the difference, it's hard not to fall for it.

Yet, when you choose to become well-rounded, you will see the world as a place to conquer. Yes, there will be a variety of problems to overcome. But like Genghis Khan, you will use the necessary knowledge to reach your goals.

Until next time,


The Charismatic Nerd

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