Does Being Labeled As Gifted Undermine Personal Growth?

Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, has spent her career studying the mental phenomena that lead to success. The Effort Effect provides an overview of her findings.

Why do some people reach their potential, while others with equal or greater talent fail?

The answer, according to Dweck, is attitude. In fact, Dweck has observed that believing in fixed intelligence can undermine a person’s ability to succeed.

Many people who believe in fixed intelligence also think you shouldn’t need hard work to do well. This belief isn’t entirely irrational, she says. A student who finishes a problem set in 10 minutes is indeed better at math than someone who takes four hours to solve the problems. And a soccer player who scores effortlessly probably is more talented than someone who’s always practicing. “The fallacy comes when people generalize it to the belief that effort on any task, even very hard ones, implies low ability,” Dweck says.

This fallacy leads people to view set backs as personal failures rather than opportunities for growth.

Students for whom performance is paramount want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat.

Is Being Gifted Harmful?

As a person labeled ‘gifted’ as an adolescent, this article lead me to reflect on my own intellectual development.

Has being ‘gifted’ undermined my achievement? Possibly.

When you’re ‘gifted’ expectations change. Intelligence becomes your identity. Everyone knows you’re supposed to do well in school. When you don’t surpass other students with ease you feel like a failure.

Having your identity tarnished is very threatening.

If you do live up to expectations, you start to believe you really are gifted, and that your natural gifts will carry you to immense personal success. This leads to an inflated ego and underdeveloped work ethic.

Did this hurt me? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t want to use it as an excuse for personal shortcomings.
Still, I’m optimistic. At least I’ve realized that being ‘gifted’ doesn’t get you anywhere in the real world. That’s something they should teach in schools.

  • http://www.findingyourmarbles.com Scott

    John,

    Great article, but I have to disagree with your main premise that being gifted can cause you to underperform.

    I agree that if not properly stimulated, a gifted child can fall into the rut of underperforming, simply because there is no incentive for them to perform beyond the point where they are at the top of the class. (and in most schools, the “top of the class” is embarrassingly low)

    However, in the proper environment, I believe that gifted children, and adults, can flourish. Look at Mozart for example. He was born into a very musical environment, with great teachers and access to both sheet music and instruments. It was exactly the right environment for a gifted musician.

    Perhaps the problem is not so much that gifted people are natural underachievers, but that gifted children are falling through the cracks and are not learning how to properly develop and embrace their gifts.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Yes, I completely agree that being gifted is a great advantage in the right circumstances.

    I think the disadvantage that the psychologist found was that being called ‘gifted’ can lead people to undervalue hard work and increase the fear of failure.

    I think children would benefit is schools treated failure as an opportunity for growth, rather than a sign of personal inadequacy.

  • http://www.findingyourmarbles.com Scott

    “I think children would benefit is schools treated failure as an opportunity for growth, rather than a sign of personal inadequacy.”

    On that, I completely agree with you.

  • http://www.browsebebo.com Xevia

    I had the same problem when I was thought to be “gifted”.

    All that did for me in the long run was create headache.

  • http://www.bradsbits.com/ Brad

    I think it’s possible being labeled ‘gifted’could make a person underperform.

    There was an experiment I read about recently which was testing the effects of praise on grade school children. Basically, they were a given a puzzle to solve which was graded on a scale of 1-5 in difficulty.

    After completing the test, one group was told they must have worked hard and the others were told they were smart.

    When choosing the level of the next puzzle to choose, those who ‘worked harder’ opted for a higher difficulty more often. The smart ones didn’t want to take as many risks.

    Found the article:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

    Work harder, not smarter?

  • Pingback: anja merret » Blog Archive » Blog Carnival of observations on life

  • http://www.brainbasedbusiness.com Ellen Weber

    John, thanks for this terrific post. You build a good case for lifelong learning that is sparked by curiosity and wonder – and when these sparks diminish the gifted mind slows down.

    Love the questions asked and implied in this post – great find.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Ellen, I completely agree with the need to curiosity and wonder. Those are the moments when we really feel alive.

  • bob

    //The answer, according to Dweck, is attitude. In fact, Dweck has observed that believing in fixed intelligence can undermine a person’s ability to succeed.

    I got that impression that it is belief rather than attitude from that line.

  • http://www.steve-olson.com Steve Olson

    John,

    This is a great topic.

    I was gifted and it didn’t do sh!t for me. All it did is make me feel like a weirdo. My wife describes her experience as horrible. In a normal environment, being gifted is a curse.

    Now I have a son who’s intelligence is off the map. And I am scrambling to figure out what to do. In contrast, my youngest son seems completely normal and I have no worries about him.

    As strange as it sounds, being gifted is a lot like being retarded. It’s a learning disability. But somehow it is worse, because everyone treats you like you should be competent and capable just because your smart, but it doesn’t work that way for many gifted kids. Many of them are incompetent disasters who need special help.

    Many people think there is a link between high intelligence and high achievement, but these isn’t.

    If more people understood this there wouldn’t be so many parents fighting to get their kid into the ‘gifted’ programs. Nobody is fighting to get their kid labeled ‘special’ but many parents with normal kids are fighting to get their kid labeled ‘gifted’ because they think it will help their academic career, but it probably won’t.

  • http://www.findingyourmarbles.com Scott

    Steve,

    Your wife’s experience is unfortunately all too common. I think that what a lot of teachers, parents and others forget is that gifted children are _children._ They may have exceptional abilities and they may be very very bright, but they are still kids.

    I have a friend who works with gifted kids (he also works with gifted adults) and he says that the problem with gifted children is that they are not being taught by gifted adults.

    I don’t want to sound elitist about this, but I don’t think that there is any way that someone who is not gifted can even relate to a gifted child. They simply don’t share the same frame of reference. I had a teacher who would always put me with the lowest achieving students in our class, telling them that he hoped “some of my brains would rub off on them.” They got frustrated and I got wedgies.

    My advice to you wrt your son is to do the same thing that we are doing with our son. Keep him out of the public school system and put him in a Montessori program or another “unstructured” type of school where the children are encouraged to learn their own way. And pay very very close attention to his emotions. And remember to treat him as a kid.

    Scott

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Scott and Steve,

    Thanks for the insight. Looking at the situation from the perspective of a parent brings a new dimension to the discussion that I really hadn’t considered.

    I couldn’t imagine anything more intimidating than trying to raise a brilliant child. Who really knows what’s right and what will help them succeed?

    I guess all you can do is let them decide what they really want and be supportive. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with this one yet.

  • http://www.triabulle.com/blog/author/frank Frank

    I think that yes, being gifted can ben harmful. When you have “normal” skills in a given area, you rely on your determination to improve them. When you are gifted in some area, you might be tempted to rely only on your natural talents… which is bad. Stagnation is always bad.

    Now if gifted people (which i do not think i am) decided to work as hard as determined people, their achievements could be absolutely phenomenal.

  • http://www.steve-olson.com Steve Olson

    Scott and John,

    I appreciate your support. Raising my oldest son is challenging. He is in Montessori and he is doing great. His teachers let him keep going. He’s 4 and he is reading at a third grade level, knows his multiplication tables up to twelve (and understands how it works), and is doing triple digit addition and subtraction. The owner of the school said she had to go out and buy new books because he read everything they had. This must sound like a brag fest, and it kinda is, but I am frightened wondering where this is all going to lead. I’ve never been faced with such a strange challenge.

    He just finished the PS1 game Spyro2 Riptos Revenge. His babysitter watched him in utter amazement. She used to play that game when she was 9 and it was hard for her. He knows every detail about every map and problem in the entire game. I know some kids geek out about this stuff… but he’s 4 and he’s mastered a game made for 10 year olds.

    I don’t know guys. Christine and I are taking it a little at a time, and we’ll do what we have to.

    The one thing that I want him to avoid that happened to me:
    I lost all desire to learn anything school related. School killed my passion for learning. In fact, as stupid as this may sound…
    While I was in school I had no idea it was intended for my benefit. Please understand… I mean it… I had no concept of school being intended to improve me. I thought it was some strange form of child torture. My wife did too, maybe that’s one reason our relationship has lasted 18 years.

    One thing I am intent upon, keeping my son’s love of learning and discovery alive.

    • Mae

      Our district allows grade-level students who are gifted and accellerated in subject area to take subjects at the high school level. For example taking a foreign language or advanced math when in the lower elementary grades. We also now offer dual-enrollment, where g/t students are allowed to receive credit both at the high school and college level. It basically boils down to having active, concerned teachers and a school district that is willing to work with the student and parents to find the best solution for the individual learner. Keep in mind that the federal government is steadily decreasing funds for gifted eduation and it is not mandated like other “special education” programs. Each state has to set aside money in its own budget. Luckily, I work in a state that totally supports the gifted learner from k through 12 and allocates approximatly 50 million compared to the feds last year allocating only 5 million. (even less this year, we’re afraid) Best of Luck raising one of tomorrows leaders! What a wonderful opportunity for you and your wife.

  • http://www.findingyourmarbles.com Scott

    Steve,

    Sounds like you are doing the right stuff for your son. Montessori is a great program. We haven’t started our son in it yet but we took him in for the tour and he absolutely loved it.

    My childhood was very similar to your son’s. I was a couple of years ahead of the rest of my class, but my school didn’t really know how to deal with me. I remember them giving me a ton of tests, but other than that they just gave me extra work and I spent most of my time reading.

    Personally I think that the best thing that you can do for your son is make sure you do plenty of kid stuff with him, like playing football, etc. He’s bloody smart, but he’s also still a kid and he needs that social foundation. He’s going to have trouble finding playmates, so you’ll have to take on a lot of that stuff for/with him.

    Scott

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Steve,

    I can certainly empathize with the way school made you feel as kid. My experience was very similar. It was incredibly boring, with the goal being competition rather than discovery.

    I’m not sure how the experience can be improved. Public schools simply aren’t made for the gifted. They’re mass processing plants. Trying to keep your son’s love of learning alive is the best you can do.

    Some how we all made it through with our intellectual curiosity intact, with you looking out for him I think he’ll be just fine.

  • penny

    As a math researcher who was a profoundly gifted and troubled child, I agree completely with the posted article.

    The problem with labels is that it subverts the healthy and original motivation which is a love of the task itself.

    One should do math or piano or whatever out of the original love, not out of a need to impress others or achieve external success.

    The principle is that motivation for the very smart and creative must come ( and does naturally come) from the inside out, and should NEVER be subverted by any
    attempt at motivating from the outside in.

    Otherwise, you lose touch with your self.

  • penny

    Thus, I agree completely with John!

    To amplify Steve’s comment:
    Teachers of the “gifted” have no clue.
    The difference between a very gifted child
    and the teacher is often similar to difference between an average person and a retarded person–and thus the teacher has no clue.

    It is also important not to confuse a gifted child ( or adult!!) with some scifi fantasy of a genius. The gifted make plenty of mistakes, have blind spots, screw up etc.,
    –that is: are as human as everyone else–just smarter.

    Here is a true story:
    When I was 13, I was getting perfect scores in history because of a nearly eidetic memory—yet my teacher decided
    ( on a whim) to fail me for ” Not keeping a notebook”.
    He said: ” I don’t care how smart you are, you won’t make through high school without keeping a notebook.”
    Ten years later–I sent him a note on Institute for Advanced Study Stationary:
    ” I still don’t have a notebook”.

    On the other hand, had he said: “Someday, you will be at a week long math conference, with ten talks a day, and little sleep—you really WILL need to know how to keep a notebook..”
    , it would have really helped me learn the skill, instead of terrorizing me.

  • penny

    Another problem arises when a child is raised by parents to have to be the absolute smartest—and then, as an adult meets real geniuses.
    This is devastating, because the usual skills at coping may have never developed.
    But, if the motivation in internal—based on curiosity ( and John Wesley said!), the
    person can cope.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Penny,

    Your experience with the history teacher is a great example. A lot of times, the problem isn’t with what they want to teach you, but how they go about it.

  • penny

    Dear John,
    In raising a brilliant child the important thing is that brilliant modifies CHILD.
    It shouldn’t be the defining, overwhelming
    thing.
    Freud had a concept called transference–where a person puts their neurosis on another’s blank slate. Gifted kids ( and adults) are attractors for this kind of trash.
    All sorts of neurotic hopes, hates and confusion get pushed onto the kid.

    Just remember: 90% CHILD.

    So, get a gifted kid a microscope, but also get the kid Barbie dolls, and rollerskates.

  • penny

    Dear John,
    Absolutely.
    How something is presented is the
    main thing—and a big part of being a teacher is KNOWING and using that fact.
    best
    Penny

    Teaching at its best is ZEN.

  • Pingback: Can’t Holder Tongue

  • Pingback: The Engaging Brand

  • Pingback: Emmanuel Oluwatosin: Inspiring Excellence, Realising Ambitions » Blog Archive » 2nd edition of PACE

  • Pingback: How We Can Change Our Failing Education System | steve-olson.com

  • Pingback: 28 Links that Will Change Your Life « The Optimized Life

  • Terrie

    I read some of these posts and if anyone is struggling with where to put their intelligent, curious, exhuberant child because they are afraid that their wonderment will be extinguished or they will get labelled as “gifted” I would highly recommend a Montessori school. The trick is to start them there early otherwise they are already indoctrinated into the whole external motivation schema. My children are curious, and unafraid to take risks. They actually like it when they haven’t figured something out yet and keep working at it until they do. There are no grades or report cards in a Montessori school. They do self evaluations. My kids are beyond where they should be in a traditional school by 2 grade levels. The reason is that they are not pushed or held back. They feel completely in control of their own learning process.

  • Pingback: Faux’s Blog | How We Can Change Our Failing Education System

  • Pingback: Understanding Your Intelligence - The Best Resources | steve-olson.com

  • Jesse

    This really struck home for me – when I was in 3rd grade, I was tested and placed in the (unfortunately) public school’s Gifted Program. While I had the opportunity to have some great experiences and field trips (the REAL reason “normal” kids want in the gifted program), I also had a LOT of headaches.

    I read at a HIGHLY advanced rate (was tested as “beyond 8th grade level” in Kindergarten), and comprehended a LOT of what I read, yet I was abysmal at Math because of the way it was taught. I only understand a majority of it today because of what I have self-taught myself, and because of a High School teacher who was BRILLIANT and understood that not everyone looks at a problem in the same way. He would let me (and others like me) do the problems how we wanted, as long as we wrote down what we were thinking.

    I would also say that, for me, I was ambivalent about school – I did the minimum needed, got A’s and B’s, and counted the days and years until I was out of there. My college experience was a NIGHTMARE, and one I’m not keen on repeating to get a degree. The most important advice I would give parents of a gifted child is to make sure that the teacher, child, and parents are ALL on the same wavelength. If the child is acting up in class, the teacher should recognize this for BOREDOM, and give the child something more difficult rather than think it’s a reflection on their teaching skills.

    These feelings and experiences have led my husband and I to strongly consider Homeschooling, even if she DOESN’T test as Gifted (though she IS intelligent). But the “Montessori” sounds interesting, and I will certainly check it out as well!

  • http://www.antoniothornton.com/law-of-attraction Antonio Thornton

    Hi John!

    “Why do some people reach their potential, while others with equal or greater talent fail?”
    I must say Law of Attraction is responsible for this.

    Be Good!

    http://www.antoniothornton.com/law-of-attraction

  • Pingback: Anxiety in Children | Attack Anxiety

  • Pingback: Do You Neglect The Power Of Your Mind? | Self Help Station

  • John Richard Jones

    To Every Action There Is An Equal But Opposite Reaction
    Gifted children, while at an advantage with their capabilities often experience disadvantages with respect to normal children for a number of reasons.

    Firstly it is no good being gifted if you are not given the opportunity to use you potential to the full and being subjected to the constraints of society it can be very undermining and lead to problematic behaviour.

    Therefore, with respect to society, all gifted children feel society‘s way are too constraining and need to be catered for.

    This can be overcome if the child is from a reasonably well off family who will pay for extras to maximise the use of the child’s potential such as going to private school, but I want to consider cases where the situation is worse than what a normal child experiences.

    Gifted children from disadvantaged/poor families experience the added constraint of poverty which as well as society holding them back, which holds them back even further and can lead to their intelligence being used defensively and to escape the stranglehold of the circumstances. Such children concentrate on these issues rather than their education since they are not getting the education worthy of their capability.

    Disabled normal children are at a disadvantage, so what must it be like for a gifted child who is disabled or has a medical condition? This will be a double blow to some extent. As well as the constraints of society over the gifted, the handicap subjects the gifted child to even more constraints due to the attitudes of society.

    Now the worst situation is where a child who is gifted, disabled and from a poor family.

    Children who are gifted, disabled and come from a poor/disadvantaged family experience the worst. They are often held back by society, held back through poverty and held back by their disability, and quite often the public services won’t do anything to help them maximise their potential.

    I came into this category and the local authority/public sector used my handicap to devalue my intelligence and used my intelligence to deny me support for my medical condition. As a result, I was given less support than a normal able bodied child with no care needs and was treated as subnormal.

    Although I was bullied a lot by children, they will have grown up and can be forgiven. But most of the bullying, oppression etc. I experienced was committed by adults with authority – mostly public sector workers and civil servants who neglected my rights and subjected me to constraints of such, I have performed below average in my education as well as my career even though prior to all the problems I was described as “A very capable boy who has been most cooperative during the year. He has good all round ability but is particularly good in maths at which he could go a long way”. I also became one of the most problematic and disruptive as well as occasionally violent of children due to the constraints
    I experienced. I have gone berserk and suffered a nervous breakdown as well as threatening to kill myself.

    I endured twenty years of oppression by the public sector while I was living in the Bridgend area of South Wales (1973 to 1993) and with the way I was feeling about being treated worse than average I felt suicidal on times. Could there be a link to how these youngsters who have committed suicide and how they have been devalued in life? If I hadn’t had the willpower to fight my way forward I would have killed myself in the Bridgend area thirty years ago.

    Maybe these youngsters experienced something similar with respect to having more potential than the circumstances they were living in were letting them use and they felt trapped with no light at the end of the tunnel. You don’t have to be gifted to experience this feeling of rejection and imprisonment by society.

    This reveals the problems of being gifted, living in poverty and having a medical condition which others can use to their advantage to treat you as subnormal in order to bring you down to below their level.

  • http://student-teacher-sex.com Aubrey

    I try to surf to your blog amongst my other favorite websites couple times a week, really good work on this site.

  • http://marcywrites.com Marcy from The Glamorous Life Association

    Being labeled a ‘genius’ at age 7 was the absolute worst thing that happened to me. Suddenly I had ENDLESS POTENTIAL and EXPECTATIONS.

    I will never allow my children to be given an IQ test. Although they are both in the ‘gifted’ programs at the schools insistence.

    I am writing a book on my experience….and revealing my genuis ‘secret’ to the world. I have lived in SHAME because of that label.

  • Richy

    What if you are just labeled “Special”?

  • Jane

    My children’s (public)school gave my children long written tests to test for their gifted program. Now that my child has been identified as gifted, am I obligated to agree to her being in the program? I don’t want or like the high expectations and stress that are already being required. They sent me a form home and said that we both must sign to agree to this program accepting full responsibility. I feel like they are controlling and I am losing control! This is my child, a very smart one, but still she is a little girl, who loves to play like other children and I don’t want to speed her into a little adult, into a “label”. I wish we could afford a private or Montessori school. My husband is thrilled that she’s classified as gifted but he doesn’t understand all the stress that goes with it. Am I OBLIGATED to have her be in this program during school?
    I want what’s best for my children, but I don’t believe this is best. I have taught them a LOVE for learning, but since they’ve been in school, they don’t see the school’s approach to learning as intriguing, yet when they are with me, they want to learn everything.

  • http://www.mesotheilioma.com mesothelioma

    really good work on this site

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Does Being Labeled As Gifted Undermine Personal Growth? | PickTheBrain | Motivation and Self Improvement -- Topsy.com

  • http://www.fredtracy.com Fred Tracy

    Great article. I was labeled “gifted” as a kid (whatever that means). I found that I could do most mental tasks with ease, and my intelligence became a large part of my identity. While I’m not sure if this had anything to do with not trying as hard – perhaps I was just lazy in my younger years – it’s definitely something to think about. Thanks!

  • http://www.howtolose30poundsin30days.org/ Katie

    While it’s true that being labelled as gifted can undermine personal growth, should we really conclude that this happens to everyone?

    Everything is circumstantial. If a gifted child has a supportive environment who credits his/her ability, there might not be an identity crisis to worry about. However, if a child doesn’t have others to help cultivate their genius, they will be more susceptible to fall victim to their talent.

  • http://customizedfatlossreview.net Jack’s Customized Fat Loss

    It can be true to some but not to others, but this article got some good
    points that makes us learn things, and realize that, “so that’s how is
    it”.

    - Jack Leak

  • http://customizedfatloss.com/ Jack’s Customized Fat Loss

    for some,   yes but not all. there are people that when they get aware of their smartness
    they tend to become and lazy and stop studying and sooner that smartness of
    them will be taken for granted.

    - Jack Leak
    Customized Fat Loss

  • A Gift to Be Simple

    I too was labeled as “gifted” but not per se, instead branded with multiple diagnoses of mental illness — AD(H)D, HFA, narcissistic personality, bipolar disorder, oppositional/defiant, etc. — for various reasons, not the least of which was my absolute refusal to be bullied by the teachers into doing something I did not feel was worthwhile in the long run. I was also a very asocial introvert, hence the HFA label, which I still refute and refuse to believe to this day. I think a big problem with the cookie-cutter education and mental-health systems is that they don’t allow individual learning  styles, interests, or temperaments, and just slap a general grade or diagnosis on people who don’t/can’t/won’t meet the definition of a “well-rounded” student/individual.

    I can’t do math. AT ALL. As I said, I was also very shy and hated recess. My public school system didn’t even have a gifted program, and I got stuck in the classes with remedial learners and/or profoundly disturbed kids who set fires, carried knives, cut themselves, etc. All because I didn’t fit the paradigm of the “normal” students. I nearly had a nervous breakdown because I couldn’t find a way out of a college math course (elementary statistics) I would’ve needed to get my degree; I did pass the course, albeit with so much stress I nearly attempted suicide.  I got all A’s in humanities and behavioral & social sciences courses that I took, mostly electives for a liberal arts degree that comprised 95 percent of my transcript. I’d been lucky to avoid math until the very end, because while I could both read and write at a high-school level by the third grade, I still — at the age of twenty-five — cannot convert between fractions, decimals, and percentages or remember my times tables without the aid of a calculator. Plus, I had planned on being an English major once I transferred after graduation; tell me what, exactly, a journalist or fiction writer needs to know statistics for in the first place?

    Look at China. This is what this country (U.S.) has become, only in the reverse — we expect these kids to perform as “proficient” on stupid standardized tests, so we hammer them with academics to the point where they develop ulcers and do attempt, even commit suicide — but the ones who are exceptional or “twice exceptional” and don’t do well on bubble exams but are genius-level innovators otherwise, they’re basically thrown in the s**tcan unless their parents can afford private school or home-tutoring or programs like Montessori, Sylvan, etc. Me, I just “didn’t fit,” so I went to an alternative program all right, but it was more like Bellevue than the Lycee Ecole de Paris. Talk about an infinite monkey theorem, in the grander scheme of things you’ve got a bunch of banana-brained missing links running the government, and reverse Social Darwinism quickly becoming the status quo in the education system as a whole.

    America sucks; it deliberately dumbs kids down with repetitive crap and politically correct coloring-book education, yet expects everyone to be savant-like machines or else the schools lose federal funding. Meanwhile the true “baby geniuses” or “little professors” end up clinically depressed and in years of counseling (usually by idiot psychologists at that), and not really living up to their true potential. Scott is right that a lot of gifted children/adults are falling through the cracks simply because of the circumstances they’re in. Most low-income minorities in Mississippi, regardless of intelligence, aren’t going to be Oprah, nor most single parents living in decrepit flats in Edinburgh going to be J.K. Rowling. It’s sad, but until there’s a real-life Hogwarts for child wizards from all walks of life, I fear a lot of our hoped-for brilliance in this world may simply go *poof* and disappear. We used to be #1 (or thought we were) in a lot of things, but now I think we’re #2 in more ways than one.

  • Leanne Watt

    The problem is when the “gifted” label becomes a narcissistic supply for your fragile self-esteem. If the status of being “gifted” is how you maintain a sense of self worth, then every little set back can lead to feelings of failure.  As a clinical psychologist (or therapist in Pasadena CA), I work with many “gifted” individuals that gamed their high school education– these are adults that went to public high schools where they were easily the brightest in the school. The “game” was to get the best grades with the least amount of work. Rather then enjoying the learning process, they attempted to “cheat” the system– the goal was to get straight As without trying. By the time these individuals got to highly competitive colleges, they realized that they never developed the discipline for learning, studying, preparing, and it caught up with them. They were no longer behaving like “gifted” individuals. For the first time, they received lower grades, because the work was now challenging– and now, their entire identity as a “gifted” individual plummeted, exposing them to very painful self-loathing, the nasty underbelly to being “gifted”.

  • msps

    I was told I was a genius after IQ testing in the first grade.  Unfortunately my parents did nothing to provide me with enriching extras or to find me a school environment where I would be challenged.  Like some other commenters, when I got to a very competitive private girls’ prep school, I encountered a horror–I wasn’t the smartest by miles anymore and it shook me.  That school had A, B, and C tracks and I was placed in the B track where I was completely bored.  In my second year they mistakenly placed in an A track class where, for the first time ever, I finally felt like I fit and was excited to learn.  They quickly realized their “mistake,” however, and no amount of begging convinced them to let me stay.  I got pregant the following year and dropped out.

    A few other thoughts:  The movie “Little Man Tate” pretty well demonstrates the horrible loneliness I felt.  The other kids didn’t much like me because I had this ‘genius’ label and was a musical star in our small school.  I kept hearing “you could do better” until I wanted to scream and assassinate the next person who said that.  I felt I was being manipulated– so much so that in my 30′s I took the Mensa test just to see whether they had been telling me the truth or not.

    It has been lonely. I do identify with the person or persons who said one begins to think of oneself in terms of being intelligence.  When that’s the only place where there’s any reward, it’s hard to let go of that.  Because of the social isolation that early label gave me, I think I am still socially retarded.  I struggle with loneliness and longing for someone to share my interests, and yet I feel safer and feel I need a lot of alone time to pursue my own thoughts and curiosities.

    Appreciate this post and the opportunity to comment

  • Just a guest

    Oh my god,
    this article is exactly about me. Thanks very much for writing this, at least I can see that I’m not the only person in this world who have this opinion. Thank again, really.

  • guest

    Hey, I’m an 18 year old under-achieving gifted kid in a 2 year college program right now.  I’ve done all the drugs under the sun and barely attend class. You know, it’s not the label that people make fun of you for, it’s being different. You could change that label to anything or not have one at all and it won’t make two shits different because at the end of the day, your just different than most people. This article is stupid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.stevenson.581 Jason Stevenson

    I wrote an essay on the same topic, and I would like to share how it stymied personal development.  I am not entirely convinced that being labeled “gifted” is, in and of itself, inherently “bad”.  With that said, one of my personal failures to internalize that in a more timely fashion, was in not being equipped with the ability to reconcile it with my sense of “self”.  If “gifted” programs are here to stay, I feel that children deemed “gifted” should also be equipped with the ability to exercise modesty.  I would argue, that it should be the most prominent thing they’re taught in gifted class.  Which, in my time, it was not.

                I am one of those “gifted kids”.  I don’t believe that this makes me “better
    than you”, or a “know it all”.  I surely don’t
    think that other people are stupid.  It
    just means that I learn certain things quickly. Like many, I’ve made plenty of
    stupid decisions in my life (and hopefully a fair amount of good ones to offset
    the poor ones).  It has taken a very long
    time to admit being “gifted” to myself, and even longer to admit it to others,
    because of the stigma and assumption of arrogance
    that comes with being what many schoolmates described as “one of those ‘gifted
    kids’ that thinks they’re so smart!”  “I am
    smart”, but I don’t know where you get the “so” from.

                I’m reminded of the day I became
    “gifted”.  It was Third Grade, in the
    school library.  I was approached by a
    woman in a tailored business suit informing me that I had performed “exceptionally
    well” on the assessment tests taken a few days earlier. She asked if I would
    like to participate further, with more advanced testing, I agreed.  (Children are mostly agreeable when given
    praise.)  What followed was a series of
    time-trials in putting together geometric shapes to mimic patterns, identifying
    numerical trends in number sequences, and extensive probing of my ability to
    read and pronounce large words, while demonstrating an understanding of their
    definition.  I still remember one of the
    words: “colonization”.   The evaluator was surprised I knew that one,
    for some reason. (Thank you, nature documentaries!)

    The next Wednesday, and every Wednesday after
    that was “gifted education day”, where a small handful of students from school were
    driven across town, to another school, and exposed to enriched art, science,
    and mathematics classes that “real” school generally only brushed upon.  Sharing what was learned at “gifted” school with
    friends at “real” school was generally followed by ridicule, and shaming.  Almost immediately, schoolmates made two
    things very clear, “We don’t hang out with ‘dorks’!”,
    and “you think you’re ‘better’ than us!” 
    In reproach, what was taught in “gifted class” was, generally,
    internalized.  People would often ask,
    “What makes you think you’re so special?”
    after explaining the reason I wasn’t in class on Wednesdays.

     Before
    long, I stopped participating in class discussions at both schools.  When questions were asked of the class, I
    often wondered if other students were intentionally not answering because they
    didn’t want to be viewed like “me”.  School became a subtle competition of
    pretending to be the least knowledgeable about any given subject on the surface,
    while still achieving good marks.   Even
    while trying to fly under the radar and remain inconspicuous of my “gifts”,
    students I paired with on group assignments rarely ever missed the opportunity
    to remind me of my predicament, “You’re
    ‘better’ than me, you figure it out!  I’m
    just gonna copy you!”

     

                Many would argue that there is an unspoken
    expectation for those deemed “gifted” to exercise extreme modesty.  After all,
    the idea of making the statement “I am smart” is in and of itself a paradox.  On the surface, it’s easy enough of a
    statement to make, but to declare it,
    upon deeper reflection, one cannot help but ask, “Compared to what?”, or more pointedly “Compared to whom?”  Then, by extension of that logic, pose the
    more poignant question of “Then how do you avoid believing that you are ‘better’ than others?”  It was a very difficult question for an eight
    year old boy to answer, and I suppose that’s why he chose to remain silent and
    suffered the indignity being labeled “gifted” had on his identity throughout
    school. 

    As an adult, I have been fortunate to come to
    the understanding that sometimes the only way to resolve a paradox is by reciprocating
    it with an opposing paradoxical reply.  The critic within begs the question, “How does one, who others have described as
    ‘gifted’, avoid believing he is ‘better’
    than others?”  I feel that Socrates answers this question best; “The only true wisdom, is in knowing that
    you know nothing”. (There should be an emphasis on the “know”, but I
    digress.)  In my experience, this
    translates to mean that regardless of how “gifted”
    we choose to believe we are, the only true demonstration of that
    “gift” is in diligently remaining open to others’ points of view, regardless
    of however confident we are in the methods we use to reach “pre-conclusions”.  I believe
    this message can be useful to “gifted” and “real” students, alike.

  • Hope

    This article really struck a chord – I really think that being able to easily achieve your goals with little or no effort leads to complacency. Especially at school, where everything is a lot easier, and if you reach a high level quickly, people begin to have extremely high expectations, and you tend to absorb these, expecting astounding things for yourself. Then, when you’re introduced to the outside world you come to the realisation that there are people in the world that are more intelligent, more talented, and it’s extremely disillusioning. By this time you already have a lousy work-ethic, as everything previously has been achieved with ease, and so the extremely hardworking people start to surpass you in certain things. You come to the conclusion that you’re actually not that intelligent, whatever your high IQ may say, or that the quality of true value is a spirit of determination or perseverance, which you have never before needed. At this point you either suck it up and resolve to work harder, or decide you don’t care about intelligence at all and simply resolve to be ordinary, pushing down your mental gifts.

    Not sure what happens next, haven’t got that far. I hope I continue trying, develop a stronger work-ethic, but perhaps I’ll just be the latter person, demotivated and living a life of anonymity. Fuck.