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.