I got called an “intellectual” — Should I be worried?

It never occurred to me that there was a name for being curious and liking books.


Someone had to tell me I was an “intellectual.” I didn’t claim it. I wish I had known it was a thing — it would have saved me years of frustration while unsneakily blending in with other tribes.

It was my first year of college, my advisor — the dean of the academic advising center — had too many things on her plate to deal with some meddling small-town kid. I didn’t care. I had to get in to see her. Nobody else seemed to understand me.

I slank into her office realizing I’d probably created some egregious scheduling snafu for her when I demanded an unprompted sit-down.

In truth, she’s always greeted me with a smile and deep heartfelt acknowledgement… but this is the narrative from my 18-year-old perspective and you’ll just have to ask her for her own if you want it.

Right now, fearless reader, you’re reading my blog, your eyes are mine.

I told a tale of woe to my trusted confidante. “All these kids who seem to only care about partying and the football team,” I said (I did those things plus a skamillion other things plus sleep, so you get a life (I’m not really defensive about this point, but again, your eyes are here, and a billion years of evolution prove your eyes like drama and conflict)). “Why don’t more people want to talk about the stuff you and I talk about, like philosophy and history and the nuances of ancient French literature and…”

She cut me off with a buoyant laugh.

“Dale,” she said. “You’re an intellectual. You’re different than most 18 year-old kids. There are more like you here, just go find them.”

It had never occurred to me that there was a name for being curious and liking books.

I was stunned. My entire life all started falling into place. My tribe isn’t the jocks I play baseball with, or the math geeks on my quiz team, or the frat guys I drink beer with, or the drama kids I perform with, or the student body leaders I debate logic and reasoning with, or the church kids who couldn’t understand why I was studying other theologies… my tribe is some weird amalgamation of all those people. I like sports, math, hedonism, storytelling, argumentation, philosophy and I like them all to a freakish level.

Being an intellectual is like being a Frankenstein monster of interests.

Why does this matter? Everyone needs a group. You need a team to hold you accountable to yourself. I needed one.

Pretty soon I was traveling abroad, studying deeply and learning lifetimes of wisdom from the dry ink of dead mentors like Michel de Montaigne, Aristotle and Oscar Wilde. And instead of feeling alone, I felt sure of who I was and I knew who to look for as allies.

So if there are any closet intellectuals reading this. Stand up and say so! We need to stick together.

I’m sure there was some other point I was supposed to make about how intellectuals are inherently great and fundamental to societal change; but you probably know all that stuff anyways.

Your eyes were mine for but a moment, I now humbly release them to the world.