Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Dear “Gifted” Kids,
In the third grade, I was placed into what they called the academically “gifted” kid program. I was excited about it. I learned a little quicker than others and it made me feel special to have to leave our normal classroom and go to the “gifted” class. The recognition from older family members and teachers was another bonus. Fast forward to middle school where learning gets a little bit old. The topics don’t interest me as much, but I work for the good grade anyway. In the subject of math, we had individual tracks for each student, and I was determined to be the first to finish all of the lessons. Why? Because I needed to compensate for how bored I was, and the only way I knew how to do that was maintain my gifted kid reputation. Surely, receiving external validation from teachers and parents would make it all better.
Fast forward once again to high school, where everyone told me to start preparing for the real world. I don’t know what about high school was any more real than my other school years, but it was definitely harder. The classes got a smidgen more interesting, but the topics started reaching outside of the realm of my parents’ knowledge. With their acknowledgement of how difficult school work had become, exceptionality was no longer required. I didn’t have to do A+ work, I just needed to work hard. The novelty of their validation, too, had worn off. Suddenly the only person expecting me to be a gifted kid was myself.
In senior year, I took a calculus class. I hated every moment of it. Simply walking past the classroom sent shivers throughout my body. I cried myself to sleep before an exam because of how anxious I felt about it. The taste of failure was bitter, leaving me upset that I couldn’t be as smart as other students. I felt weaker than the other students as well, for surely they were just as nervous for the exam as I was, but I was the only one that couldn’t handle the pressure. I was the failure, not the exam.
I watched as the superiority complex I had built as a gifted kid crumbled to dust around me. I wasn’t new to Honors and AP classes, so why did this one destroy my entire concept of self? Somewhere throughout my years of schooling I had adopted academic excellence as an identity. I felt lost as academic excellence shifted into academic anxiety. I was suffocating under the pressure of doing well, not for the sake of doing well, but for the sake of being recognized as worth something.
I struggled with this imposter syndrome even after graduating high school. They allowed me to drop the class, I still graduated with an Honors diploma, I even got accepted to several colleges, but the consequences of being a burnt out gifted kid left scars that I still work through at this moment. It’s more important than ever that I break this cycle of setting impossible expectations for myself and then implementing a punishment on my self-worth when I inevitably fail.
No grade is worth selling your soul. No academic opportunity is worth putting your wellbeing on the backburner. Acing an exam isn’t so important if it drains the life out of you. It feels good to get a high mark in class, I’ll admit it, but think about it this way: once school ends, what do you have left? Maybe college is your next step after high school, but after that? There aren’t any more grades or teachers that are going to validate you, nothing left for you to put your worth in.
A pretty report card seems dull when compared to the backdrop of opportunities that school has to offer. High school doesn’t have to be a painful experience riddled with stress and anxiety. Students should be having fun. Having an academic goal is great, but it’s necessary to balance that goal with passion. Commit to a non-academic hobby to give yourself a break from the grind of studystudystudy and workworkwork. Hang out with some old friends or make some new ones by joining a silly club. Give yourself a chance to be creative, a chance to express yourself. “Smart” or not, you’re a gifted kid. I don’t want you to burn out, I want you to enjoy everything your youth has to offer.