Brownie for Life

[box options]This is a guest post by an amazing writer, actress… and wife! The fantastic Sarah Zahn is an avid learner and Mindy Kaling fan.  She likes coffee, fun writing games, and bags of Doritos.  She’s also the founder of Sugared Beauty, LLC, a line of skincare made with organic ingredients.  Follow her adventures here: @SugaredBeauty.[/box]

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy learning.  Like being from a small town in the Midwest, learning stuff and getting good grades just seemed like my lot in life.  This didn’t exactly grant me a lot of friends in school. In 7th grade I remember a kid in my class introducing me to the cute new boy as a brownie.  I’m ashamed to admit I thought it was a compliment.

As a result of this and other name-calling incidents, some of the first interpersonal relationship lessons I heard from my mom was that I should “get a sense of humor” and “bury the hatchet.”

I am still figuring out how to do this.

It’s not that I was any smarter than anyone else, I just got a kick out of learning things.  Throughout grade school I would toe the line between first and almost-first in class…until I hit puberty.

By that point all the name-calling and had started to chip away at my confidence.  Being smart in school is so uncool in America that you can call smart kids names and still get away with it.  It’s considered “good” for us.  It’s supposed to give us a “sense of humor.”

Here’s the breakdown:

Brownie: A kid who appears to get special treatment from the teacher, even if it’s just because they’re they only one who raises their hand in class.

Smartypants:  A name for someone who excels in school, but may not have the social skills to keep them cool enough to have a lot of friends.  This name is usually accompanied by a sarcastic tone after the subject shares a fun fact that she thinks everyone will want to know.

Brainiac:  A kid who definitely lacks the social skills to support his excess of knowledge.  This is the kid who will someday make an amazing discovery and possibly cure cancer.

Teacher’s Pet:  One who seems to get special treatment from the teacher.  Whether they actually do get special treatment is debatable, and probably depends on whom you talk to.

Know-it-all: Also known as the “smart-kid-with-no-filter”.  Someone gets this name when they can’t hold back their great fount of knowledge.  Even I know that no one likes a Know-it-all.

Regardless of what the report card said back in school, all creative people are learners.  You learn more about your craft every day and are honing it into something unique and special.

I still love learning things, and I like to think that I’m getting better at burying the hatchet.  I also like reading about other smart kids, like Mindy Kaling, who used her sense of humor to write a very funny book about her childhood and beyond.

This post was written in the style of her chapter “Chubby for Life” from her new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), available in a variety of formats (it was the first book I read on my Kindle Touch!).

Thanks for the inspiration, Mindy!

Question: What were you like as a kiddo?


Author: Andrew Zahn

I'm a son, husband, dad, business owner, actor and good sleeper/eater. On this blog, I pave a highway for creative growth by providing food, water, and shelter for those wishing to live, work, and play with creative zest.

  • Ken Stewart

    I’m sure I was called some of those things. Of course, at my advanced age I have to delete things from my brain to make space for new knowledge. But just about every day I wish I could count on another 55 years of learning; there’s so much I don’t know about yet! Delightful post, Sarah! (Andrew, um…let’s have Sarah post more often, ‘kay? ‘kay.)

    • Andrew Zahn


    • Thanks, Ken! I really enjoyed this little exercise (and for occupying some space on one of my favorite blogs!)

  • Constance

    Ooo – I might have been a combo, but going to say smarty-pants and early adult know-it-all. Luckily I married someone who thinks know-it-alls sometimes do really know what’s up (and I’ve matured in our communication with others, which sometimes gets me misidentified as a brainiac). I was also in a school district (public American, I promise) where plenty of things could get you labeled as uncool, but being smart or doing well in school wasn’t one of them – phew b/c I had enough of the other things!

    • Kristen Cook

      Loved this! I,too,loved learning as a young child. Sadly, I attended a school that taught me that I was not smart and therefore labeled me one of the worst things I can think of: mediocre. Since people only live up to your expectations of them, I quickly became a student who did only enough to get by. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that I actually AM smart! I’m now an educator and I make sure that all of my students know that they are learners, they are smart, and they are talented. My expectations of them are HIGH…..and every single one of them lives up to those expectations. 🙂

    • Constance, your husband has got it right: sometimes know-it-alls really DO know what’s up! 🙂 You’re fortunate to have gone to a school where it was cool to learn stuff and do well. xx

  • Jim

    First off I’d just like to say both Andrew and Sarah are really nice folks. Sarah and Andrew make me want to visit PA. Well that I could visit HERSHEY park! 🙂

    What was I like as a kid? Pretty much like I am right now. Just not a daddy or husband. I did play guitar, but I just refused to take lessons, b/c Elvis never took lessons. This was also before the internet and I was too busy buying baseball cards to buy a guitar lesson book. 🙂

    • Thanks for the nice comments, Jim! You bring up a good point: learning is definitely not confined to the classroom!

  • Hi, Sarah! Nice to meet you.

    For those of us who were marginalized in childhood, adulthood presents the ultimate comeback. Not being a jock, a joiner nor symmetrically featured (my preferred term for pretty), my avenue for asserting my personhood was academics. That, plus the Drama Guild, the church choir and the Dance Troupe. I didn’t see the last three as “joining,” though. I was in it for the projects, and the camaraderie was incidental. I hadn’t learned to filter my bluntness yet.

    You’re so right, a passion for lifelong learning is what drives creatives. To add to that, I think what distinguishes a creative from a “multipotentialite” (someone who has an unusual number of interests and abilities) is focus. At times I am in frenzied pursuit of nuggets of knowledge like Pacman (I just dated myself!) If I don’t make myself settle down and pick one thing, I create nothing.

  • I was bashful and didn’t know how to handle kids making fun of me. I kind of always felt like an outsider. The first time I ever felt like I belonged was after my junior year of high school when I worked at a grocery store. I think that is what everyone wants….just to fit in. Even adults.

  • I was the Smarty Pants of my class. I went to a Cathokic grade school and didn’t have many kids in our class, so if you liked to learn, you stuck out like a sore thumb. I still love to learn!