Perfectionism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it can be incredibly harmful to our emotional and psychological health if left unchecked. The desire to control everything at all times, in a world that often is outside our control, can lead to anxiety, stress, even depression. So it’s no wonder that some people, who were gifted students at school and constantly praised for their achievements, are now severely disappointed with the lives they lead. Perfectionism is all they know. And it hasn’t served everyone well. I would know, being a former ‘smart kid’ and recovering perfectionist myself.

Reddit users, all gifted students themselves, opened up about how their lives have turned out. Quite a few shared some of the issues they faced, such as never learning to properly study or how to put in consistent hard work. Meanwhile, others noted some of the upsides, such as the ability to come up with amazing ideas on the fly and acing tests… which, of course, have their own drawbacks, too.

Scroll down to read the tales of these former gifted students and how growing up as the ‘smart kid’ affected their adult lives. Keep in mind that perfectionist parents tend to raise perfectionist kids. They can then eventually grow up and become perfectionist parents themselves who go on to put undue pressure on their munchkins to perform well at school. And the whole cycle starts anew, with stress and pressure left and right.

Bored Panda reached out to Lenore Skenazy from New York for a chat about perfectionism in the modern world. Lenore is the president of Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting childhood independence and resilience, and the founder of the Free-Range Kids movement. As she put it, control is a “figment of our imagination” and the desire to be ‘perfect’ can backfire dramatically. Scroll down for the full interview.

#1

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Since everyone is telling you you're a genius and you're special and you're capable of amazing things when you grow up... you spend the first twenty years of your life expecting success to fall into your lap. When you finally realize it won't, you're still stuck with your terrible work ethic.

Maoman1 , Harald Groven Report

DennyS (denzoren)
Community Member
2 months ago

Been there...well...still there.

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#2

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I certainly lack the organizational skills that a less intelligent person was forced to develop, because previously, I just kept it all in my head. Now, of course, there are far too many things going on, and they last so much longer, that it's virtually impossible to keep everything in my head. But I lack the discipline and skill necessary for, say, a schedule book. Intelligence is not wisdom, and it is not common sense, and it is not discernment. It is, however, unfortunately, very highly regarded as a standalone product when, as a standalone product, it does not really add value.

naery , Karen Green Report

Jo Choto
Community Member
2 months ago

That is an excellent statement. I think a lot of super smart people are lacking in executive function skills, because they really don't have to use them growing up.

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#3

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Lack of discipline, bad work ethic, started becoming more and more lazy and even falling behind everyone else. Even now, studying at the university, I fail pretty much all of my exams the first time I take them, cause I never actually learnt how to study in the first place.

sargro , Nenad Stojkovic Report

Vorknkx
Community Member
2 months ago

It is true - I was pretty lazy in college. One of my profs directly told me I could easily be the best of all student... if only I weren't so lazy and antisocial. Anyway, things still turned out fine. I am doing my best to improve my self-discipline nowadays.

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Childhood independence expert and author Lenore explained to Bored Panda that we imagine that we control everything when in reality, seeking control makes us more anxious. “The thing about being ‘perfect’ is that we never know all the workings of the universe. So to assume we can control everything and make it perfect is foolish,” she told Bored Panda.

Lenore quoted a part of her book, Free-Range Kids, that dealt with the topic. “[Control] certainly isn’t required for good child-rearing. And to the extent that we do manage to solve all our children’s problems—or keep those problems from ever even popping up— we are doing them a disservice. Not a fatal one that will stunt our children forever. (That would still be control, right? The ability to control exactly what our kids become.) But still, we are steering them away from the real source of confidence and independence, which comes from navigating the world and its surprises. Especially the unpleasant ones.”

Lenore then explained to Bored Panda exactly what she means by this. “What I mean is: striving to be ‘perfect’ can actually backfire,” she said.

#4

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Even worse was being told how "mature" I was for my age; get told enough times and you start to believe it yourself. Turns out I wasn't mature, just different.
I was mature because I did what I was supposed to in class, in reality I just didn't really dare to disobey;
I was mature because I didn't chatter with others during class, wasn't because I was mature enough to know better than others, but because I didn't have any friends to talk with.

Yet I was still always told I was "mature," which leads you into believing you are walking down the correct path -- that you have the correct mindset and there's no need to change it.

RentacleGrape , Annie Spratt Report

Sky Render
Community Member
2 months ago

Especially nasty for those who have been traumatized. No, we're not "mature for our age", we're suffering the side-effects of untreated PTSD by way of being obedient and quiet so as to avoid further damage.

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#5

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them When people start doing better than you and you become more average, you start becoming a bit disconnected with who you are as a person. For all your life you've identified as the 'smart one', now you have no idea

asexybookwyrm , whoislimos Report

Vorknkx
Community Member
2 months ago

Sad but true. It's easy to be the smartest one in elementary school, where all sorts of kids are mixed together, but as you move forward, you find yourself in the company of better and better people. Sooner or later, they will start outshining you.

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#6

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I entered a culture were everyone, teachers, parents, relatives etc valued me for my smarts and so I used that as my yardstick to value other people for a long time.

Nowadays I'm more interested in who shows compassion, loyalty, dedication, generosity, humor, etc Had to work really hard to break the filters.

Jumbie40 , Thiago Barletta Report

Liv
Community Member
2 months ago

This is a very important life lesson

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The desire to be ‘perfect’ can cause a lot of damage, whether you’re a parent or not. But it’s especially in raising our kids that perfectionism can do more harm than good. For everyone involved. The main issue? Kids need to learn to take care of problems themselves. Independence is vital growing up.

“Making sure your child NEVER has to be uncomfortable or scared or lonely or frustrated—trying to ‘concierge’ their life—means kids arrive at adulthood without much experience in rising to the occasion,” Lenore warned. “In a way, they [the kids] arrive undercooked, unready for life—and that’s not what any of us want for our kids.”

#7

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them When you don't have to work at anything (intellectually), you're completely unprepared for those things that do require work, like essays, partner projects, etc. So you end up missing out on a lot of study skills, which all have a direct corollary to "adult" skills.

naery , meaduva Report

Tami
Community Member
2 months ago

Seems like what a gifted person really needs is a passionate interest in something to motivate them. That's rough because some people just don't find anything in particular that resonates with them.

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#8

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Now that I'm out of school, I realize how much of my self worth I wrongly placed in my grades/GPA.

reddit , David Mulder Report

Vorknkx
Community Member
2 months ago

This is a valuable life lesson indeed. Your practical skills matter a lot more than the grades you got. And you have to keep developing them - being static is the highway to failure.

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#9

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I skipped a grade... So, no one saw me as the smart kid but instead as the diminutive thirteen year old ninth grader in Pre Calculus. You learn to keep your mouth shut.

It wasn't that great.

OminousOmnipotence , National Cancer Institute Report

MikeWheelerFan
Community Member
2 months ago

Imo you’re lucky you got to skip a grade. When I was still in Public School (I’m homeschooled now) the principal still wouldn’t let me skip a grade even though I was clearly bored…

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According to Lenore, being exposed to a variety of experiences can help toughen us up. That way, we can deal with whatever life throws at us as veterans. “The pain of not getting invited to a birthday party, or failing a class, or not making the basketball team is no fun. But when your college girlfriend dumps you, at least you know you’ve been sad before and lived through it,” the expert gave an example.

“We do our kids a disservice when we make their lives ‘too’ perfect and don’t let them build up some resilience. Sure, we should love and support them. Sure, we want to steer them from true, serious danger. But always intervening in day-to-day frustrations is like going to the gym with our kids and lifting the barbells FOR them. Yes, they have an easier workout. No, they don’t leave stronger.”

As such, modern parents are living with “a new and incredibly heavy burden” that they supposedly ‘should’ be and even can be ‘perfect.’ Of course, this causes a lot of stress and results in kids who are well taken care of, bright, skilled, but don’t have the resilience to deal with the realities of grown-up life.

#10

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Hard. I skipped four years in school - it took me years to come to terms with the fact that I'm allowed to do what makes me happy, not what people expect because "you have so much potential."

When I applied to music school my mother's friends openly criticised her for letting me do it, because they couldn't understand why I wasn't moving into a 'brainy' career path like medicine or law. Still get a lot of family members asking why I'm not doing XYZ job that they think I'd be perfect for.

TLDR: Just because you're smart enough to be a rocket scientist, that doesn't mean you have to be one.

mamamully , Soundtrap Report

Kanuli
Community Member
2 months ago

You always want what you didn’t get? I wish I had this kind of support. Instead I was left all by myself, had to learn that I learn for myself, and how to do this. Same with social skills, emotions, morale, household. I still truggle because I taught myself not ideally. My morale is quite black and white for example. But I can still learn and become better.

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#11

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them The correcting of other people is what I've found bothers people the most. I can't stand listening to others spout information that is incorrect, especially to smaller children that will repeat the endless cycle of stupid, so I say something. Or, when playing trivial pursuit, you know all the answers, but don't know how you know them and get the trivial or critical thought based games banned in your friend circle because, "she's just going to win anyway!"

Jaytothenuh , Jon Ross Report

Joey Marlin
Community Member
2 months ago

Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? I've opted for the latter where it's something that isn't going to hurt the other person by being wrong in some way and it may mean a row or something ensues because people often don't want to believe you.

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#12

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I used to be so proud of my intellectual abilities and saw myself above many of my peers. Now I loathe myself for that and am realizing there is so much more to a person than being "smart" or "not smart". I'm realizing I was a little jerk inside and even if I tried to be nice on the outside, I still probably hurt people.

BeLikeTheTreeAndLeaf , Joe Penna Report

Claire Stanfield
Community Member
2 months ago

This became very clear to me when a classmate of mine pointed to our mutual friend and announced, "She's in the dumb class". She was the gen ed class and we were in Honors. And this was high school. I was shocked, she was certainly old enough to know better than to say something so wrong.

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#13

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I was the typical over-achiever until University, when I had a mental breakdown and developed depression and an anxiety disorder. Turns out, being intelligent doesn't help so much when the family history of mental illness hits you in early adulthood.

joinedforafewwords , Yosi Prihantoro Report

White Paper Tsuru
Community Member
2 months ago

It was a real pissoff that I couldn't 'think' my way out of depression

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#14

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Have to say the best part of growing up gifted was the "well what'd you miss" I'd get from parents when I brought home anything less than a 100.

mckinnzj , ljubaphoto / istockphoto Report

Jaekry
Community Member
2 months ago

Toxic. Redefine your own standards. A 70 is perfect to me (I always need(ed) everything to be a perfect 100. When I'm afraid I won't succeed, I stress, stall or procrastinate. I just get stuck.) Aiming for a 70 is important (for me!) otherwise nothing happens anymore. I will not get the job/task done. Ongoing struggle. Trying to redefine standards that work for me. Hope you all ready figured out yours.

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#15

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Lonely, because few share your interests.

Lonely, because displaying (showing off?) an intellectual gift brings as much resentment as it does praise (brains are particularly susceptible to resentment because, unlike say soccer or dancing, no one says "hey, your great at that! Thinking just is not my thing lol!". everyone fancies themself to be intelligent, even though everyone can't be).

Lonely, because most people would rather not be corrected, no matter how interesting you personally find the actual accurate information. This might not be clear to you for the first few decades (Actually, did you know that carrots don't substantially aid eyesight? oh, and actually the Pennsylvania Dutch are German. Dutch is an American corruption of Deutsch and....hey, where ya going??)

Lonely, because stories/puzzles/convos that move slow enough to engage most people are interminable to you, and those that move fast enough for you are unintelligible for everyone else.

Lonely because what makes you different can't be seen, so others who're like you might walk right by, and not seek you out. There's no uniform, like a sports jersey our punk rock hair to indicate that you're in the 1%.

Lonely, because logic is your favorite tool, but it is rarely used and often misapplied. Relationships, religion, politics, social situations----it is often OFFENSIVE to apply logic to them. but...you're a logic guy.

DocGrey187000 , Alex Ivashenko Report

Purple light
Community Member
2 months ago

This is me. Using logic in all the wrong places, like when people want to be comforted by your words en you start explaining everything logically. They just want to be told what a b*stard that other person is, not why you think they might have a valid point too.

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#16

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Intellectually, I was waaay ahead of my peer group, but emotionally and socially I wasn't. When I was moved forward a grade, I ended up being the youngest kid in my classes. All of them. So when my classmates were all getting their driver's licenses, I wasn't. When they were all allowed to see the naughty movies, I wasn't. Their parents set curfews that were usually later than mine, because I was younger. And puberty, well, puberty was a very difficult time

naery , elinerijpers Report

Becky Samuel
Community Member
2 months ago

Oh, this one hits home. Try being a late developing 15 year old when the rest of your class are 17. At best they treat you with condescension as a 'pet' and at worst - well, you can guess.

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#17

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Imposter syndrome out the wazoo. Everyone is going to find out that I don't know what I'm doing/am not working as hard as I should be/am not as gifted as they say I am.

museings , Sinitta Leunen Report

Virgil Blue
Community Member
2 months ago

Ah, so it has a name then. Good to know, since I'm currently looking into getting help for that and other things.

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#18

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I wish I had figured that out while getting my aero degrees. One of my advisors even told me it would be OK for me to leave to go to music school. Now I'm 40, I left engineering years ago and I'm about to release my first album. But hey, I'm a rocket scientist too. So there's that.

VegaDenebAndAltair , NeONBRAND Report

Virgil Blue
Community Member
2 months ago

Rocket and roll on my dude!

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#19

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I used to be the smart kid. Now I'm the knows-a-couple-of-things guy.

Apollo541 , Annie Spratt Report

Samira Peri
Community Member
2 months ago

I'm "knows a bit about a ton of things".

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#20

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I had a horrific work ethic because I learned in elementary school that because I was smarter than the other kids, I didn't have to work as hard. Generally they would give us "GIFTED" work, and whatever time we had remaining once the work was complete was ours to do with as we liked. The result was learning that the other slobs would toil away all day, and by virtue of being smart, we could just d**k around with Lego or whatever. It wasn't until I got older that I learned to "apply" myself, and went the opposite direction. Now I work, arguably, too much.

thejacobvshow , Nenad Stojkovic Report

DC
Community Member
2 months ago

Uh ... cool. I was punished for looking out of the window when I was supposed to be stuck with math. When I had a concussion as a result from a fight in first grade, I though I finally got as stupid as I sometimes felt ... I was hardly ever told I was smart without any "but". Like "but you refuse to show it" - then, how do YOU get to know it, I asked after a few months. Got thrown out of class and sent home for the day for that. Uh, what? School always was about making us into equal units of economic explotability. The year preschool was different - left to do what I wanted, often alone. Year one was horrbible on so many levels...

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#21

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them You are segregated (physically and partially by choice) from average people your age, and you tend to only interact with other smart people who are in the same place you are. You might not learn the necessary social skills, especially since many of your peers don't have them either.

AgentSmith27 , Jagdish Choudhary Report

Ari.
Community Member
2 months ago

Lol in my experience being “smart” in school is being with other “smart” kids, where there’s a lot of art/music nerds, gamers, and big anime fans. So u get a lot of friends/peers who would typically be considered weird

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#22

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them My self esteem, self worth, and happiness are being sucked up by this void feeling of mediocrity creeping into my life. I feel cheated, or like a cheater. I was given a head start early in life but now I'm sort of back to average. I feel like I was wrongly chosen as "gifted" and that I am a complete waste of resources.

ILIKEFUUD , Ethan Sykes Report

Kanuli
Community Member
2 months ago

Don’t worry. This feeling is present at alot of people. The headstart can be in various levels, be it a healthy supportive family, high intellect, god social skills, physical abilities. On the other hand others have it hard, and feel handicapped, some are even on various levels. You can only try to accept your being, and go on from there. The past can’t be changed, but you can change. Nothing wrong with being average, above or below either. Don’t judge yourself on the scale of others, but accept and love yourself for how and who you are, or who you can become, and work towards being this person you want to be.

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#23

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I am a severe perfectionist. So much so that I sabotage myself because I happen to make a tiny mistake. The only thing I seem to be good at now is work, because I HAVE to have everything perfect.

Tomahwk , Covene Report

Vorknkx
Community Member
2 months ago

I know the feeling. Sometimes I've scrapped something almost finished and started over due to some irrational feelings that my work is "corrupted" or fundamentally flawed in some imperceivable way. In some cases I've forced myself to leave things as they are, only to be "rewarded" with a constantant nagging in my mind that I did it wrong.

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#24

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them The hard thing about the real world is just that life doesn't work to where you can do nothing and then ace the test. You have to do every single little step along the way. As menial, and useless as those steps may seem, the real world will always take the guy that averages a C on everything and maybe squeaks out a B- on the test over the guy that says f**k the stupid s**t, and still gets 100% on the final test. (Metaphorically speaking)

reddit , Kaylyn Mok Report

ZAPanda
Community Member
2 months ago

correct. And there's a difference between generally smart (fast processor), knowledgeable (breadth of knowledge), and specialists (depth of knowledge). Decide what you want. Do you want a 'career'? If so, then specialise. If you want to enjoy life, go for breadth.

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#25

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them One thing I missed going from an excellent student in high school to an average one in college was the attention I'd get from teachers as the 'smart one.' I'd always feel they were generally looking out for me more. Of course, it didn't help that college class sizes were gigantic, but that anonymous feeling got to me. A bit embarrassing to admit.

Silvercaster , NeONBRAND Report

Bobby
Community Member
2 months ago

I had the same experience with the US navy nuclear power school. Recruiters and RDC's kept telling us we're the elite of the navy intellectually, they brag about the high attrition rate etc etc, I get there and while I can see people struggling with it, i pass middle of the road. Meanwhile in my class we have someone who gets a perfect score on everything (literally) they tell us the program was designed for that to be impossible. That huge disparity between his intelligence and mine really was a wake up call of sorts

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#26

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them My entire life I was top of the class, and I told myself it was okay I wasn't thin or pretty because I was smart. Then I went to a relatively prestigious university and suddenly I was surrounded by people who were just as smart or smarter than me, but also hot. It ruined me, and destroyed my self esteem.

I also developed this pathological perfectionism which caused/causes me so much anxiety I'm unable to work and then feeds into itself.

fightoffyourdemons- , Shubham Sharan Report

Jo87
Community Member
2 months ago (edited)

The thing with being super smart and super hot is both those things take an incredible amount of time and energy. A lot of focus on yourself not others, a lot of effort and stress to be so perfect in everyway, when really it's all pretty immaterial to anyone but themselves. It's only a random commentor on BP's opinion, but I think finding some value in not being so self absorbed is a very strong trait ❤️ A perfectionists' 80% effort is a much higher standard than most people's 100% so you will always be impressive, even on a bad day ❤️

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#27

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them We're going to spend a week's worth of classes learning one concept. Gifted Student, you're going to get this in five minutes and sit in the back corner reading for the rest of the week while I get more and more angry and yell at you for not paying attention. I'm going to sent you to in school suspension for one day this week, meaning you'll miss one of those classes. You'll be back in time for the test and still get the highest grade in the class, which will make me hate you even more.

CrystalElyse , J. B. Report

KatKaleen
Community Member
2 months ago

I had something similar happen, but because of my ADD. To this day I zone out when somebody is talking and I have nothing else to occupy my eyes and hands with, so I used to draw in the margins of my notes. With almost every new teacher it would take some time of them asking me a question out of the blue and me being able to answer it correctly for them to figure out I was, in fact, paying attention, just not looking at them. On one occasion, my former English teacher approached me when I thought I'd bombed the first test of the year with an F and was crying in the hallway. She couldn't believe one of her A-students could drop like that and took the test to the teachers' room. I don't know what was said and done, but I got the test back with a B and my new teacher stopped being so pissy with me.

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#28

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Skipped a grade, which I probably could have used to become more emotionally mature. Cried a lot in math class.

Sloane__Peterson , Zhivko Minkov Report

Bobby
Community Member
2 months ago

They are telling me my daughter can skip from kindergarten to 2nd grade. I'm not doing it because of this

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#29

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them I have always felt an immense pressure from my family (parents and my parents close friends who are like my aunts and uncles) to work hard and not squander the gift I was born with. I will be receiving my Ph.D in biomedical science and translational medicine next Friday. My current work focuses on identifying a novel protein complex that is involved in Triglyceride metabolism. Hopefully I lived up to their expectations and can leave something behind in this world to benefit mankind....or a pharmaceutical company hires me and pays me a boatload of money.

spittingpigeon , National Cancer Institute Report

Al Christensen
Community Member
2 months ago

Sometimes I think the best thing for child prodigies is to take them from their overbearing parents and put them in a boarding school where they can function without all the do-it-for-us-and-all-your-ancestors-and-the-future-of-the-planet-and-for- our-bragging-rights crap.

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#30

30 People Who Grew Up Being Labeled As ‘Gifted’ Share How Life Turned Out For Them Not going to lie, you grow up feeling kind of entitled to good test scores/grades, and when that doesn't actually happen you start re-evaluating your life. Then, when you take classes with other gifted kids, and see that you're part of the "average" section of that group, you reconsider every academic achievement you've received, haha.

I'm still a top student in my grade, still too lazy to do my homework (not as much as others though), but I stopped getting upset when my test scores didn't surpass those of my friends.

splika , Ben Mullins Report

Om
Community Member
2 months ago

In my case I never felt special. All the opposite, my classmates made sure, or I allowed them to make me feel embarrassed of being the first of my class. I never wanted to talk about my scores with my family, etc, I felt bad when teachers showed preference for me. Many of my classmates in elementary for example, didn't put effort in getting good grades because "I was gonna be the best score anyways" but once we moved to secondary school, I learned many of those average students actually became the first of their classes. So the potential was there, but I was their obstacle in showing their true capabilities since elementary. I now understand that's on them, but for many years I felt guilty, ashamed, and totally not proud of being the "smartest kid on the class"

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