The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
About two years ago I was participating in a continuing education course for work when my instructor commented, “You're really good at math.” I remember thinking — Really? Could he be right? Could it be true that I am good at math? Because I can pinpoint the moment when I began to write the script that I wasn’t. In 5th grade, when we started word problems, I wrote a first draft. In 6th grade, when my teacher told me to stop asking questions, and just figure it out on my own, and I thought I couldn’t, I finalized the script. It read: I'm bad at math.
The “I'm bad at math” script wouldn’t be so problematic except that girls and women in the U.S. have a tendency to believe we are bad at math, and boys don’t. Meanwhile we live in a society whose systems and social structures value math skills. The script was problematic for me specifically because it wasn't entirely true.
Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it were true, that I have always and will forever struggle with math. Does this mean I’m dumb?
Howard Gardner, in his book Changing Minds, would argue absolutely not. He posits there isn’t a single intelligence that we either have more or less of. There are instead multiple intelligences, which include not only linguistic and logical-mathematical (the two forms of intelligence most highly prized by our society), but also musical, spatial, kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential.
So if you’ve gone through school and even some of your work life feeling dumb (as I often have) because you weren’t particularly strong linguistically (being adept in written AND spoken language) or mathematically (good with numbers), and these were the two intelligences that most schools and standardized tests measure, it’s time to re-view, to see ourselves with new eyes.
And to recognize just how smart and capable and competent we are.
This isn’t just about composing music, playing an instrument, singing well/or even learning a new language. Gardner writes: “the principles of organization involved in almost any kind of public presentation, whether organizing a conference or event, producing a play, or giving a speech have their origin in musical structure.”
Now I know why I can sense how an event or a speech should be organized; because of my musical intelligence and training.
Are you comfortable with architecture, interior or landscape design, organizing physical or cyberspace? Do you design tools, furniture or toys?
Puzzles, Rubik’s Cube – no thank you. But my daughter Miranda loves puzzles, follows the diagram, assembling Lego toys easily. One of my friends , a professional space planner, was able to look at my garage, and immediately visualize what needed to be done to organize it. Which is why I hired her because I can't see it.
Do you create products using your whole body or parts of your body, like your hands? Do you paint, build furniture, scrapbook, sew, dance, play tennis?
My friend Carolyn instinctively knows what to do to remodel a room or build furniture. My sister is a beautiful dancer. When her body moves, she tells a story. And my young friend Sara – at 9 years old – would race 12 year-old boys across the pool and win. Her body just knows what to do.
Can you tell the difference between one flower or one animal and another? Anyone involved in the preparation of food, construction of dwellings, or protection of the environment, draws on their naturalist capacity. And in our consumer society, do you have a heightened sense of discernment when it comes to the details that distinguish one shoe or one purse from another
My friend Margaret is a self-described brand junkie. She’s the kind of buyer I’d want to hire if I were a retailer. Margaret has a knack for choosing just the right shirt, shoe, and especially purse. Another friend, Bator, with whom we just spent Thanksgiving, draws on her naturalist capacity as a cook. Her gourmet Thai twist made our Thanksgiving feast extra special.
Can you look outward, toward the behavior and feelings of others, figuring out their motivations and working effectively with them?
Are you able to understand what children or your colleagues want and broker win-win situations? I haven’t known too many people with this intelligence in the workplace, but I have known MANY mothers with this intelligence. Daniel Goleman popularized this concept in his book Emotional Intelligence.
Can you identify your personal feelings, goals, fears, strengths and weaknesses?
Here's how I gauge this one. Do you find that because you examine your life – see what’s working and what isn’t – and make changes, you are happier today than you were five years ago?
Can you pose and ponder the biggest questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is going to happen to us?
Many of the world’s great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill have addressed these questions, helping us to make meaning of life’s experiences in uplifting, redemptive ways. Filmmakers tackle these big questions too. Remember Schindler’s List or Star Wars?
Is it really possible to see our selves, our minds, with new eyes? I believe it is; it happened to me just last week. In the process of organizing my home (under the direction of my friend who possesses spatial intelligence), I found a media-training videotape of myself. When I first saw the tape six years ago, I remember perceiving myself as dumb, tongue-tied, fat – all negative. With time, I’m seeing with new eyes, and am finding things to be proud of in that tape.
Shall we read through the list of intelligences one more time?
Did you discover one, two, or even three of your intelligences?
Now write one down.
Say it out loud.
Then tell the dumb woman you’ve been keeping company with to kindly move aside, because an intelligent woman has just entered the room.