Living Up to the “Gifted” Label – Or Not

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in 'Scandal'“I don’t think I’m even close to fulfilling my potential.”

Actor Kerry Washington goes on to say, “And I think also that, unlike a pianist or a flutist, an actor has an instrument that is constantly changing.”

Washington earned a Presidential Arts Scholarship to attend George Washington University and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

Read more about her accomplishments, and see quotes by other multitalented artists including Gordon Parks, Julia Cameron, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Mayim Bialik, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch and others in the article: “Multitalented Creative People” [an excerpt from my main book].

The ‘gifted’ label & the pressure to deliver

In his book “Your Own Worst Enemy..”, psychologist Kenneth W. Christian, PhD delineates some of the most prominent patterns of thinking and behavior he has found that may lead to undermining and underachievement as adults.

“Without explicit demands and support, being labeled ‘bright’ or ‘gifted’ is akin to being conferred an aristocratic lineage — a heritage that exists independently of what you do with it.

“The difference is that the labels ‘bright’ and ‘gifted’ come with implicit demands, and when appropriate explicit demands are lacking, the labels sit there like ticking bombs.

“On the one hand, these labels tell you that merely being bright or talented is enough, but on the other hand, the longer you go being praised for talent alone, the more anxious you become about the time when you will be required to deliver.”

Hanging on to a limiting self-concept

Another aspect is how our identity and self concept informs personal development.

Kenneth ChristianChristian notes: “We can be particularly resistant to change when it threatens to alter what we believe about ourselves. In his 1948 book, The Theory of Self-Consistency, Prescott Lecky argues that people prefer retaining a consistent view of who they are to changing that view, even if the change would be positive.

“As we have seen, the idea of who you are resides at the center of your sense of reality. It is part of the glue that holds your reality together.

“You believe that if you know anything, you know yourself. And you feel you know the way you behave and what is possible for you.” …

Choosing new actions

shooting in the foot“The problem is not, has never been, and never will be, who you are. The problem is always what you choose to do.”

He describes how “Self Limiting High Potential Persons.. etch enduring pathways over time by repeating their characteristic self-defeating methods… this tendency can evolve into a general self-limiting style…

“Certain actions you have taken habitually have short-circuited your success. Change begins with noticing your ability to choose new actions and then acting.”

[Some of these self-limiting patterns are described on the page Self-limiting.]

Self development – A thrilling odyssey

Christian says “Pulling back from your potential, at the most fundamental level, is a kind of abdication, an abandoment of your own best interests.

“Achieving self-development, on the other hand, is not only life’s central mission — it can also be the most thrilling odyssey there is.”

From his book: Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement.

Striving for achievement – my interview with Kenneth Christian.

Lower photo (“shooting in the foot”) from article: How do beliefs produce “driven,” compulsive behavior, by Morty Lefkoe. – “Why are so many of us “driven” compulsively to seek or do things that frequently aren’t in our own best self-interest?”

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Steve Wozniak - Steve Jobs

In his post Your high IQ will kill your startup, Jamie Begin republishes a post by Max Klein with some provocative ideas:

“People who are born intelligent start off life with everything easy for them. They don’t have to work hard to get good grades, they never really have to do much to get ahead.

Steve Jobs - Steve Wozniak“The major challenge of early life is school – and school is designed for average people. So intelligent people just breeze through.

“But there is a point where every intelligent person faces something that requires more than intelligence. It requires hard work, it requires the ability to fail, it requires being able to do tough tasks, boring tasks.

“For the first time in their life, in spite of their intelligence, these intelligent people are challenged, and they start failing. Like when they first attempt to create a startup.”

[Upper photo of Steve Wozniak with Steve Jobs from article: Why Did One Of Apple’s Co-Founders Trade His Billion Dollar Stake For Just $800? By Brian Warner. / Lower photo from article: Creative Introverts“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me. They’re shy and they live in their heads. The very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone…” Steve Wozniak.]

[Also see article The Gifted Introvert By Lesley Sword, Gifted and Creative Services Australia.]

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The Smart Gap

How do you feel about your abilities and your self, your identity, when you confront a deep gap between what you would like to accomplish, and what you believe you can?

Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel describes this kind of pain:

girl-frustrated-at-blackboard“It is a poignant feature of our species that we can contemplate intellectual work that we can’t quite accomplish.

“A person in possession of an IQ of 160 is not a better person than someone who possesses an IQ of 120 but she is better equipped to do abstract math.

“However, she herself is less equipped than someone with an IQ of 180; and that person is less equipped than a person with an IQ of 200. That is all natural.”

He continues, “It is also natural that we will experience emotional pain when we recognize that the work that we would love to do, whether it is physics at the highest level or constitutional law at the highest level or psychological fiction at the highest level or biological research at the highest level is, if not completely unavailable to us, just unavailable enough to make it doubtful that we can proceed and just unavailable enough to make our efforts feel like torture.”

Read more and see video in article: Brainpower and The Smart Gap.

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Why Smart People Hurt courseAlso, see information about Dr. Maisel’s Academy for Optimal Living online course:

Why Smart People Hurt

In the course he addresses many challenges, including:

* How distressing states like mania, insomnia, and unproductive obsessing are the natural consequences of a good mind gone racing.

* The ways in which our families, schools, churches, work situations, media, and other social and cultural institutions dumb us down.

* The challenges of dealing with more depression and more anxiety than the next person.

* The sheer hardness of thinking, as evidenced by how hard it is to grasp the plot of the novel you’re writing, produce a breakthrough in your scientific field, or see enough moves ahead in chess…

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Originally posted 2011-11-04 17:50:26.


  1. says

    Yeah, how does one follow Dr. Christian’s system and not fall into the perfectionism trap? Here’s my likely process. Read -> Do -> Read More -> Do More -> Reflect -> Reflect More -> Do again, but better -> Obsess about the process -> Freeze Up.

  2. says

    I know so many ppeloe who waste too much time and energy caring what others think. Life is just too short for that..It’s interesting to note that our beliefs about ourselves are established at such a young age.Sabrina Peterson, NASM CPT, CES


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