Define Dumb

My brother goes to Cambridge, my dad and mother were both at the top university in China and my dad got really high marks. I’m struggling to find the motivation to study, I feel like a failure

Sarah Bowman

Sarah Bowman, studied family dynamics formally and informally all my life


Do I ever understand! Family expectations are one of the most severe standards by which we judge ourselves and by which our families judge us. I was the dumbest in my family—and at the age of sixty continue to be considered the dumbest—not because I am the only one ever to get a university education but because I’m not good at playing the hostess, I am no good at housekeeping, I have no sense of just doing what I’m told without asking why the world works this way, the list goes on and on and on. I’m not even sure why I’m the dumbest, I just am. Even though I hold two university degrees, one in social work and one in theology (both help me understand people) my parents who are now deceased thought I was the dumbest, and my siblings don’t think I am qualified to help make family decisions or even to make my own life decisions. I have ten siblings, all younger than me.

You know what? We have to decide to be ourselves even if that breaks family ties. In my case, it strained them almost to the breaking point. In some cases, kids get disowned. In others, families eventually come around to see that their son, daughter, or sibling is happier by doing his/her own thing than in following the family tradition and they realize that the most important thing is for everyone to be happy. We tend to be happier and more successful if we can somehow use our natural talents and interests in life.

Some people are fortunate enough to get work that uses their natural talents and interests. Others find a job to pay the bills and in their time off (weekends and evenings) work on hobbies like gardening, raising hobby horses, writing, painting, volunteering or whatever makes life meaningful for them. You mention China. I admit that I don’t know what life is like in China or what is available. I am writing from a North American point of view but hopefully you can find some in this post that can be applied to your life. The only way I know of dealing with being the “dumbest” in the family is to first accept yourself for who you are, then be true to yourself.

It’s ironic, since you seem to be in China, but when I was a teenager I came across a line that I thought was a great Chinese proverb and it gave direction to my life: To thine own self be true. If you cannot motivate yourself for more study, I would advise to be true to yourself and find work that does not require further schooling. Many jobs “train on the job.”


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