Science shows you get dumber in your 30s. That’s a good thing for high-performing leaders.

Do you think you’re smart?

When it comes to intelligence, our educational system’s obsession with categorizing us into haves (the naturally bright, talented, gifted) and have-nots has spawned generations of adults who continue to align their views with these probably incorrect and most definitely outdated categories.

Furthermore, for those whom psychologists label as entity theorists (who tend to believe that intelligence is a fixed entity, that basically what you already have is what you get), life is even more difficult.

Fearing that they are not, and will not be, up to the task, they end up not seeking that promotion or a potential romantic partner, and even have a negative view of their attractiveness and health.

If this is hitting close to home, you’re not alone.

Fortunately, the idea of ​​a monolithic intelligence being sold in schools is incomplete. Wherever you feel you fit on the intelligence scale, you can still crack the code for a full and purposeful life. How?

Focusing on time-sensitive nurturing of what psychologist Raymond Cattell calls our fluid versus crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is probably what you already think intelligence really is. It is his ability to solve problems in the blink of an eye. It is your mental speed and dexterity in new and unknown situations. It’s about thinking abstractly and learning new skills. He is young and fast.

And it reaches its peak at age 30.

With that fall comes the rise of crystallized intelligence. That is your ability to connect the dots, notice patterns, and synthesize unrelated information and experiences into coherent knowledge. It may not sound as sexy as fluid intelligence, but it feeds off of it, and it turns out that’s what satisfies you in recent years, as many of us begin to take on larger leadership roles.

So how can you use this information to heal a meaningful life and develop as a leader?

Step 1. Collect

Do this early on, while you still have your raw intelligence. Think of it this way: fluid intelligence is about information gathering.

Pick up an instrument, learn to code, read novels in a different language, and talk to strangers. The sky is the limit. Your brain and memory are ready to internalize and store new stimuli, and mental function sharpens after engaging your cognitive and motor skills in a new action. And it is because of this bodily preparation that you feel a sense of satisfaction when you venture into the unknown.

By the way, you don’t even have to be particularly good at any of that. You will continue to reap the benefits of the aftermath of each initiative for the rest of your life.

Step 2. Synthesize

Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge, experience, and good judgment. Sounds familiar?

That is crystallized intelligence. This is where you put all the background knowledge and experiences you’ve gathered as part of your fluid intelligence to work. Because of this, your 40s and 50s are your best years to advise, teach, consult, and mentor younger colleagues.

By focusing on building on what you already know, you can create a life where your contributions feel important and meaningful. Because when we feel like we matter, we are fulfilled and thrive in our work and in life.

Opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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