Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Of Mensa and Me

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I didn’t know I was eligible to be a Mensan until I was 40. By then there were many signs that I was smarter than the average bear. I was a lazy day dreamer in elementary school, but scored at the level of a high school Junior or Senior on California State Achievement Tests when I was in the 4th and 5th Grades. I was a better student in high school, but I never had to put out much of an effort to learn, so I didn’t put out much of an effort. Fortunately, I was interested in and enjoyed most of the things being taught, so I paid attention in class just for the pleasure of learning.

My ability to learn did not impress all of my peers. I remember a pretty redhead in high school who disdainfully called me “The Brain.”

In those days pleasure, not achievement, was my motivating principle. Yours too?

In my considered opinion, I had the best childhood of anyone in any place for all time, but I can’t tell you precisely why it was so special. The combination of me living in Point Arena, a very small city on the northern California coast in the 1950’s may have been the perfect blend of person, time, and place the world only sees once in a creation.

However, I am holding open the possibility that there are and were many others who felt the same about their fortunate childhoods as I did of mine. However, if they somehow could have cognition of my feelings, they would know I was right.

My first two years of college saw my fun-loving ways placed at odds with the more systematic and applied approach to gaining knowledge expected in college. Paying attention in class was no longer good enough. In fact, there was a uniform expectation that a serious student would do much more work outside of class than in.

After two years of college I had a mediocre grade point average and was too broke to start a third year. Then I enlisted in the Air Force, was sent to learn Russian at Indiana University, and married Marilynn. Suddenly the added element of responsibility transformed me from a mediocre student to the top of my class.

Actually, in the interest of full and honest disclosure, even though there is no one to contradict me anymore, I was third in my Russian class. I earned a B in the first five units, as I transitioned into being a serious student, followed by nineteen units of A.

After Russian classes at Indiana University, the Air Force sent me to Goodfellow AFB in Texas for three months of radio intercept training. By finishing on top of my class there, I was sent to another three months of training in specialized radio intercept at the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland. Another top of my class finish got me first selection of my next assignment, Karamursel, Turkey.

All of this happened in a very exciting two-year period. I joined the Air Force, went to Basic Training, was selected for language school, got married, went from language school to radio intercept school, my first son was born, went to another radio intercept school, and then went overseas. Texas, Indiana, Texas, Maryland, Turkey, husband, father, twenty-one years old. Thinking about it still makes my head spin.

I went to night school in Turkey at the University of Maryland, and later to night school with City Colleges of Sacramento at my next station after Turkey, Mather AFB near Sacramento. While at Mather I scored high on Air Force Officer Qualification tests and was accepted to attend the University of Arizona for a degree in Accounting, after which I would go to Officer Training School and become a commissioned officer.

I completed my first semester at Arizona with fifteen units of A grades. Starting at language school at Indiana, to the end of the first semester at Arizona, I had 46 semester hours of straight A’s. Then I got greedy and added work on a Russian degree to the Accounting degree, and the string of straight A’s was snapped.

Even with working on two very dissimilar degrees, I graduated 65th in a class of 1,475 "with high distinction," with a 3.6 GPA and membership in the all-colleges honor society, Phi Kappa Phi. As a useful point of reference, only the cream of the Phi Beta Kappa crowd are eligible for Phi Kappa Phi.

Much to my delight, the Air Force rewarded me by choosing to send me to Michigan State University for a MBA as soon as I completed Officer Training School. As part of the process I took the Aptitude Test for Graduate Studies in Business (ATGSB), and scored 676 which placed my result in the 98th percentile of those that had taken the test.

It didn’t really register with me at the time, but the population that had taken the ATGSB were either graduates or students who were close to graduation, and who had done well enough as undergraduates to apply for graduate school. In other words, a pretty bright bunch.

After completing the MBA at Michigan State, I finally started working again for the Air Force. I was Budget Officer at RAF Bentwaters and Woodbridge Bases in the UK for five years, worked in Budget and Accounting and Finance for four years at Scott AFB, Illinois, and then four years at Hickam AFB, Hawaii as Comptroller and Comptroller Division Inspector.

While in Hawaii I applied for and was accepted into a University of Southern California PhD program in Education Administration, which required me to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Again I scored a total that, like the ATGSB, placed me in the 98th percentile.

Unfortunately, not long after I took the GRE in October 1978 my unit was reorganized and I was assigned to the Headquarters Pacific Air Forces Inspector General team. My new duties required me to travel on inspection trips over 100 days each year, to Korea, Japan, and The Philippines, which would not allow me to attend enough classes to satisfy the standards of the PhD program.

Before I started the travel job I was able to take a CPA exam review course and then take the two and a half day CPA test. Although I had never worked in public accounting, I passed all four sections of the test the first time, placing me in the top ten to fifteen percent.

In 1982 I was transferred to my last Air Force assignment as an Internal Auditor at Travis AFB in California. Not long after I started work in the Audit Agency there, one of my co-workers told me he had just been turned down for membership in Mensa. He explained that he had never taken a standard IQ test, but had sent scores of other tests Mensa accepts, such as his GRE scores, which weren’t high enough for membership. I checked my GRE scores against his application information, and found mine were much higher than the minimum required.

For the GRE, the Mensa minimum for math and verbal scores combined was 1250, which equates to a 132 IQ, and my combined score was 1410, almost 13% higher than the Mensa minimum.

I excitedly sent off a membership application, and soon received an acceptance letter.

Over twenty years later, with the Internet in full flower, I wondered if anyone had done correlations of GRE scores with IQ, and of course they had, as well as listing qualifying scores for IQ societies more restrictive than Mensa.

Intertel and the Top One Percent Society ask for IQs of 136 or 137 and a GRE score of 1300. The Triple Nine Society and IQuadrivium, both 99.9th percentile societies, accept GRE scores of 1460 or 1454 and IQ scores of 149 or 150.

My score of 1410 placed me somewhere between the top one percent and the top one tenth of one percent societies. Happily, the website provided a formula for computing IQ from GRE combined math and verbal scores. Using the formula, my 1410 GRE score equaled an IQ of 146.65 and a percentile ranking of 99.8, and the conversion table gives a range of 143.73 to 146.65.

Call it a 145 IQ, and change.

Now to arrive at a meaning out of this. Is there anything special about having a 145 IQ?

Yes! It indicates that I am a significant underachiever. I have wasted a lot of brain power in my life, and present trends indicate I will waste a lot more. There are several valid reasons for my underachievement. One is my aforementioned laziness. Two is the fact that when given a choice between pleasure and achievement, it took me years before I realized there was a choice. Three is that I lack natural talent for a broad range of activities, such as music and art. Four is that I have enjoyed life too much, and never felt motivated to change significantly.

Regrets, I have a few, but then again, too few to mention.

My biggest intellectual regret is I didn’t start writing earlier. Now I’m writing a lot, but without any clear purpose. I hope that by putting in a lot of effort at this keyboard I’ll find a voice and create a body of writings to mix, and stir, and ferment, and eventually to froth up into a palatable vintage I can label and sell.

Or hope there’s a market for vinegar.


Anonymous said...

Dunno if you're still revisit this post, but I just took my GRE and got a 1410. Like you, my intelligence is not realized due to my extreme laziness! However, I seem to be coming out of that phase earlier in my life (well, early enough methinks).

But hey, life is too short! Let someone else go win the Nobel prize! (If you change your mind before your mid-thirties, you might still have a shot lol)

Major Combs said...


A boat docked in a tiny Greek island.

A tourist complimented the local fishermen on the quality of their fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

"Not very long." they answered in unison.

"Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?"

The fishermen explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.

"But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children, and take siestas with our wives. In the afternoons we have a snack at the beach or go into the village to see our friends at the Kafenio, have a few drinks and play tavli.

In the evenings we go to a taverna play the bouzouki and sing a few songs, maybe break a plate or two. We have a full life."

The tourist interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you!

You should start by fishing longer every day.

You can then sell the extra fish you catch.

With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

"And after that?"

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.

Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Athens or even London .

From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?"

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years." replied the tourist.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting," answered the tourist, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the fishermen.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

"With all due respect, that's exactly what we are doing now. So what's the point wasting twenty-five years?" asked the Greek fishermen?
Anonymous, you're right. Life's too short. But as Yogi said, "It's not over until it's over," and right now I'm having a great time, particularly researching and debunking anthropogenic global warming. I was a Russian linguist, an accountant - COa, MBA - I did it for the money, I took advantage of opportunities. Now I get to work just as hard, but it's for my enjoyment. Laziness has no meaning when you're doing something you enjoy.

Anonymous said...

You're just another person attempting to reconcile with yourself the fact that you have never accomplished anything. You convince yourself that you're smarter than you really are and that you could've achieved something if only you had a modicum of velleity.

Your hubris is suffocating.

Major Combs said...

Actually I've accomplished a lot and am quite pleased with myself, in a modest sort of way. Having said that, there's a lot more I could or should do. We should always be pushing ourselves.

You presume I am arrogant and prideful. Perhaps you would change your mind if you read some of my personal stories sprinkled throughout my blog.

I don't feel the need to measure others on my scale of personal values and find them wanting. I'm pleased by and appreciative of the interests and talents of the people I've met and known over these many years. When I encounter one who is suffocated by my hubris, I think their thoughts about me are a reflection of their perceptions of themselves.

Go forth and feel adequate.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your story. When I was a graduate student at the university of pennsylvania, a wise professor said "you can be anything you want to be you cant be everything you want to be." -- we all make choices and those choices lead to different ends.

The driven investment banker may shortchange his marriage and his children, the underachieving late bloomer suffers economically. The professional woman who breaks the glass ceiling puts of childbearing until it is too late. ...

We all have roads not taken and opportunities missed.