What Happens if A Child, Once One of the Smartest in the World, Chooses to Lead a ‘Normal’ Life?

Kim Ung-Yong

Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in April 2017 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.

When one is discovered to be a genius immediately after birth, it is expected for him or her to do things beyond the normal age like learning mathematics, speaking several languages, and attend the university way earlier than the rest. This means not living a regular life and dealing with different matters prematurely.

Former child prodigy Kim Ung-Yong wants to tell the world that while he did not choose to live the advanced life when he was young, he realized later that “being special is not as important as living an ordinary life.”

The South Korean civil engineer wants to emphasize that happiness beats IQ any day.

Kim was a gifted boy. He was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Highest IQ” with several proofs.

At only 6 months old, he started to speak. Two months later, he already understood algebra.

When he was 2 years old, he was fluent in 4 languages – Japanese, Korean, German, and English. At the time, his IQ is at 210. Another year added to his age, he mastered even more languages.

via Getty Images

His parents did not waste any time and sent Kim to a university at only 4 years old. For that, he reached the news headlines and made several TV guesting. In one Japanese TV show, he solved intricate mathematical equations on a live audience.

via Medium

Being able to start early at school, he also finished early at 15 years old.  Kim was scouted by NASA even before he graduated, so he was able to serve the space agency for four years as a researcher.

It was in 1978, at the age of 16, that Kim felt a sense of emptiness and void in life.

“When I was in NASA, every day I just repeated daily equations and research. I had no friends, I was lonely and exhausted. I lost a sense of purpose along the way. And I discovered that there is really nothing special about being special,” Kim revealed in an interview as an adult.

No longer happy in his stint at NASA, he decided to return to South Korea only to have his people call him “a defective genius”.

Despite the criticism that he got from the public, he decided to pursue his education at a local university.

Kim got the life that he dreamed of, at least in his adulthood, away from the spotlight of being a former child prodigy.

In 2007, he served as adjunct faculty at Chungbuk National University. And in 2014, he became an associate professor in Shinhan University and the vice president of North Kyeong-gi Development Research Center.

Now content with how his life is going, Kim wished that he could take back the time he spent when he was not yet able to decide for himself. For that, he offered an advice to parents to let their children decide for their fate and not push them to become geniuses.

“Every individual has their own learning to do step by step. The best thing you can do for your children as parents is to support and guide them to achieve their goals one by one, on their own. By going on their own journeys, they will eventually discover what they would like to achieve in their lives.

“A parent’s primary focus shouldn’t be about pressuring their children to get straight A’s or to follow all the social orders. Just keep watching them and let them find their own meaning in life,” he shared.

When it comes to having a high IQ, Kim insisted that it is pointless when one misses the ordinary life experiences like building human relationships.

He said, “People always try to be somebody special by neglecting their ordinary happiness. But they should know happiness means ordinary things that we take for granted, such as nourishing friendships, sharing memorable moments with friends at school and so on…I couldn’t have these things even if I wanted to. This is why I know that what I’m saying is important.”

via Korea Herald

Kim added that it’s not only about the educational background for one to prove his or her worth.

“We are doing unnecessary things to become a successful man or a so-called ‘genius’ to be accepted by our society. Having friends, attempting something new or even failing something is already a meaningful life lesson. Unfortunately, people only focus on results rather than their experience of going through the process.”

Source: Korea Herald 1 | 2

31 thoughts on “What Happens if A Child, Once One of the Smartest in the World, Chooses to Lead a ‘Normal’ Life?”

  1. I remember you when you were 2 years old, I read it in the newspaper here in the Philippines. Good to know you are happy now!
    I’m old and happy too thinking about my theory of Omniverse, billions of bubble universes with a central core and this core has an Omniversal Black Hole. You think it is possible that dark energy could be the massive gravity of the central core? That’s why the Universe is accelerating positively? I could be more specific if you give me time to explain, I’m a layman in cosmology but I think it makes sense. Regards, Ernesto

    1. May I learn more about omniuniverse from you? 🙂 I was astonished by your explanation!! Im currently in senior high somehow studying Atomic Physics :)) I hope you read my reply

  2. My child was once gifted, but considers himself a failure since he experience poverty and helplessness in the past. Being a teenager now, he is still struggling.

  3. Yes, I do agree with him. Happiness is the truth. What is success without happiness? What is intellect without emotion and will? What is the value of truth without the value of beauty and goodness? What is fame, without the freedom to enjoy the simple and ordinary life? What is public approval, when one can’t enjoy a moment of peace, or family relationship, or friendship, or enjoying the nature? To conclude, the quality of our life can be measured by the values of freedom, peace, unity, love, happiness. Truth, goodness and beauty are all indispensable qualities in order to live a good life. – Prof. Jalipa 06-16-2020

    1. That’s why it is important to develop what Howard Gardner refers to as Muktiple intelligence (The framework of mind): emotional, physical intellectual, visual arts music etc.

  4. Nelia E. Pastorin

    Absolutely true sir..all the things that you say is true… either you fail or succeed to your life that is the true purpose and meaning of life.

  5. Rebecca M.Cabrera

    Very good insight..
    God’a gifts can be harnessed together with personal happiness in relationships. Deeper meaning of life’s purpose can be equated with life’s daily leasons and an inner deeper meaning of selfhood. Unfolding the divine amidst God-given talent towards life’s purpose.

  6. Nasasabi mo lng yan kc pinanganak kang matalino at may parents na concern sa future mo…
    You woundnt think that way if your in my foot

    1. …and that is why he is letting you know now that there is more to life than striving to become knowledgeable about almost everything just to get ahead of everyone.. he meant ‘find your purpose in life’ and be happy..

    2. Nasabi nya ang na experience nya di sabihin mo rin ang experience mo. Ang mga hirap mo sa buhay. Iba iba naman talaga ang karanasan ng tao. Sa kanya yon. Ikaw iba. Kaya tama ang nasabi niya at irespeto natin. Ganon din sa yo. Respeto rin ang gusto mo.

    3. Michael Eric de Asis

      Kaya nga may emptyness siyang na raramdamam. Ganun talaga…. That’s the real nature and meaning of life… Ako naintindihan ko Ang pangyayari na nakikita ko sa aking Mata na fifeel ng emotion ko dito sa mundo . If you are a person that are only looking for something that is wrong to a certain picture… You will loose focus in understanding life in nature. Just be open minded let loose be calm meditate and pray so you will find the answer on your question

  7. Great story from a person with a great mind, but just like king Solomon have said after having so many achievements everything is in vanity, striving after the wind….

  8. Once, he was just intelligent, then found wisdom. He was just a genius, till he became a philospher. When he was young, he was more like a computer. Now, he sounds more like a human..

  9. Y is it that my husband is having good IQ but low EQ.but my son has low IQ high EQ.they r difficulty to get along
    Any solution (im the mother who cant handle this) what to do

  10. Isabelita Asuncion-Torrella

    It is admirable that you had the courage to seek and have the happiness and peace you wish, and defy social pressure. That in itself is a big lesson learned.

  11. Knowing what you really want, pursuing it and enjoying what you have big or small for me is already success. Decisions on how to pursue happiness is personal. Nobody’s opinion matters except yours.

  12. You’re absolutely right. Let the child learn by his own steps by steps. Not to force hin/her. Let the child enjoys the childhood.worhtiness cannot be measured how high your educational attainment in life. Nowadays some educated men has no values anymore and become wicked.

  13. Life is not about what people say of you all the time but how well you live it.

    Happiness is not just from without but must come from within.

  14. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Life on earth, whether how it turned out for you or how you make it, will end. We discover meaning and purpose of life in God thru his Son Jesus Christ. God so loved us that he gave his One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. God demonstrated his love for us in that while we are yet sinners Christ died for us. World history as we know it will one day close when the Lord Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will then usher in His eternal kingdom wherein righteousness and justice will reign forever and ever. God bless us all. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. God bless us all! Peace to everyone.

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