Have you ever seen the posts about the burnt-out gifted kid and thought “Hey, that’s me”? Well, then you’ve come to the right place! We’re happy to invite you into the club of “used to be the smart kid, but now we’ve lost our purpose.” For those who have experienced the burnout experience, here is our list of real-world truths about what it’s like to be a previously gifted kid.
1. You Used To Be The “Gifted Kid”
If you’re not sure about whether you were a “gifted kid” growing up, consider this: were you in the “advanced” or enrichment program throughout school, especially in elementary school? Were you an avid reader with a reading level well above your age? Were you considered the top of your class and called the “smart” kid? If you answered yes to any of these problems, then you can definitely count yourself into the ranks of the “gifted kid” club.
Gifted kids were the ones who were academically advanced and always looking to expand their knowledge through books, clubs, and after-school activities. They probably had a subscription to NatGeoKids or owned a telescope, and they never left their house without a book. Gifted kids knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up, and were always the first to raise their hands in class. Absolute teacher’s pet, the lot of them.
2. Everyone Said You Were “Special”
The biggest motto surrounding the gifted kid was that they were “special.” Your parents, teachers, grandmas, and great aunts on your dad’s side told you that you could be anything you ever wanted to be. There were no limitations: the world was your oyster and you were prepped with crackers and hot sauce, ready to consume it whole.
But that was where the problems started. When your world is free of limitations, it can become a bit overwhelming as a whole. No one actually taught you how to reach these goals, so by the time you have to figure out the logistics of your dreams, you’re not even sure of where to start. While not having limitations can seem like a good thing, realistic goals and an established knowledge on how to reach them would have been much more helpful for our futures.
3. Now You Struggle To Find Purpose
Because the “gifted kid” was told their choices were limitless, the overwhelming need to be “amazing” or “perfect” quickly burnt out that early sense of purpose. When your options are limitless, you want so badly to be something amazing and continue that image of being “special.” That idea is what creates entire classes of elementary schoolers that want to be professional athletes, or pop stars, or even the President. But achieving these dreams is exceptionally difficult, and that painful realization leads to a lost sense of purpose down the road.
How do you handle the realization that you may never be exceptional when you’ve been taught that being exceptional was what made you important? Honestly, I’m not sure, and if you figure that out soon, please let me know. But I think part of the answer is lots of therapy and self-reflection. It’s only after you’ve burnt out of the “gifted kid” character type that you have the opportunity to understand who you actually are and what it is you really want to do.
4. You Don’t Know Your Long Term Goal
Here’s another big gifted kid problem: developing realistic and achievable long-term goals. The biggest issue with finding reachable long-term goals is understanding the inherent necessity of short-term goals. We want to dream these big dreams but aren’t willing to do the research and take the small steps necessary to achieve those goals. Or, on the other hand, we will do the research to understand what we need to do to achieve those goals, but quickly become overwhelmed by everything that has to happen before we can be the person we want to be.
It’s not that we don’t want to work – I love working hard and seeing the fruits of my labor. But sometimes, I just find myself completely overwhelmed by everything I need to do, while also entirely exhausted and burnt out by everything I have done this far. It can be hard to balance the part of you that’s hopeful for a bright future and that part of you that’s too tired to keep working.
5. The “Savior” Novels Drove Your Complex
A big proponent of the gifted kid burn-out was the rise of the “savior” novels. Think about it: back in middle and high school, what books and movies were popular? “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight,” “Percy Jackson,” and “Divergent” were some of the big ones. And what makes all these stories the same? One girl/boy/demigod will save the world. The savior prophesized, the “special” person who will do amazing things to save countless lives.
When you’re surrounded by media that continuously propagates this idea of being the “special” person, it’s hard to come to terms with your own normalness. To be reminded of this normalness as you met the real world and came to terms with your gifted kid burnout status was such a punch in the gut that we didn’t acknowledge at the time, leaving us with years of baggage that could only be unpacked through extensive therapy sessions and late-night talks with our best friends.
6. You’re An Anxious Perfectionist
Another fun gifted kid burnout trait is being an anxious perfectionist. Because we had to be perfect growing up to fulfill our roles as “special” gifted kids, we now feel an inherent need to do everything perfectly. Not to mention, we’re now plagued by a hodgepodge of mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, and ADHD, which furthers our feelings of failure as we stray further and further from that “perfect” status.
Here’s an important note for everyone to remember though, and a daily affirmation to remind yourself: you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be special. You don’t have to be anything other than exactly who you are. Stop pushing yourself to be the “hero” and just be okay living a life you can be happy in. But more on that later.
7. You Have A Hard Time Finding Motivation
With the anxious perfectionism and loss of purpose, the gifted kid has also experienced extreme losses of motivation. It’s hard to be motivated when you have no purpose, and it’s hard to have a purpose when you’re unmotivated. It’s a vicious cycle and has been especially difficult for all the post-undergraduate students searching for employment in a CoVID19 society. The lack of job opportunities or postponed employments has made it incredibly difficult for maintaining motivation, and that feeling is incredibly valid. It’s been a hard year for everyone, it’s okay that you haven’t been able to accomplish everything you thought you would.
8. You Don’t Know How To Be Happy – But You Want To
The last real-world truth about the gifted kid burnout is that most don’t really know how to be happy. They want so badly to live a life where they can be happy – and will say that their only goal is to just be happy – but don’t actually know how to achieve that goal. But that’s all most people want – they just want to be happy and live a life they can be proud of.
So if any of this has resonated with you and if you’ve ever felt or considered yourself to be a gifted kid burnout, it’s important for you to realize two things: 1) you don’t need to be special to be important, and 2) if it sounds like it could make you happy, do it! You don’t have to be special to live a meaningful life, and you don’t have to be generally meaningful to society to be fulfilled. You can live a happy life just by doing the things that sound like they are worth doing.
Want to pack up and move to Japan? Do it. Want to change your major because you think elementary education would make you happier than chemistry? Do it. You want to cut all your hair off, embroidery a leather jacket, and start an all-girls biker squad in your town? Call your hairstylist and do it. Look at the things that sound like they could make you happy, commit to walking all the small steps to reach those goals, and do it. Your goals don’t have to be big and special to be valid. Just look at the small things that seem like they could make you happy and do what you can to achieve them.