Eric Eberwein was smart. Scary smart.

The moment he walked into Algebra II/Trig I knew he was a curve killer – the yardstick by which the rest of us would be compared.

And he looked the part.

Off-brand sneakers, tube socks pulled up to the knees, cargo shorts, a faux football jersey – all topped by a mop of hair that never met a comb or dollop of styling gel.

The prototypical high school math nerd.

It wasn’t long before Eric got a chance to demonstrate the power that lay in his overdeveloped cranium.

“Would anybody like to take a stab at this problem?” Mr. Hughes asked, pointing toward the chalkboard.

Eric instantly raised his hand.

“Ah, Mr. Eberwein? Please come on up.”

Eric strode to the front of the room with confidence. He took a dramatic pause, then turned to address the class.

With an authoritative tone and the cadence of a computer, he broke down Mr. Hughes equation.

“Taking into account the concepts of the quadratic equation and the corresponding numerical coefficients, we can reduce these factors to their lowest common denominator.”

The class was mesmerized.

We were watching the next Newton. The next Einstein. A man whose name would one day be spoken with the same reverence as that of Euclid, Archimedes, and Pythagoras.

There was beauty and grace in the way he dismantled the equation - arms waiving to punctuate points, hands slashing across the board, ex-ing out unneeded variables – like a conductor directing a symphony.

Then, as his performance reached its crescendo, he threw back his shoulders, tilted his head skyward, and closing his eyes as if about to experience the rapture, exclaimed…

“The answer is 3x – 7.”

The room fell silent.

Mr. Hughes got up from his desk, walked over to chalkboard, gently laid his hand on the should of this budding genius, and said, “wrong Eric.”

It was just the first of many times this same scenario played out over the course of the semester.

“The answer is 3 over π.”

“Wrong Eric.”

“The answer is the hypotenuse of a triangle.”

“Wrong Eric.”

“The square root of 747.”

“Wrong Eric.”

“Seventeen.”

“No, wrong Eric.”

Eric Eberwein was smart. Scary smart.

Except he wasn’t.

Realizing someone you thought was brilliant, isn’t, can provoke a variety of reactions.

If they’re a casual acquaintance, maybe it’s an odd curiosity.

If it’s a close friend or relative, you’re disappointed

If a parent, it’s unsettling – especially if you’re still a kid.

If it’s someone who gives you advice about money it’s infuriating, and if it’s someone who manages your money, it’s terrifying.

If the last two years have taught us anything (again), it’s that those who profess to be the smartest are ones whose advice we should value least.

That goes for politics, public health, financial markets, and most other things in life.

But don’t let that worry you.

You’re smart enough.

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