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Gifted Kid Burnout and Why It’s Okay

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I’m sure by now most people have all seen or at least heard of the phenomena that is “gifted kid burnout” via TikTok and social media. And because my For You Page algorithm is frighteningly accurate, it has somehow discovered that I too fall into this group, because I was considered to be a “gifted kid” when I was younger. And while some may fear or misunderstand “burning out,” it’s nothing to be afraid of and can even be a critical learning experience with the right perspective.

Being a “gifted kid,” basically means most academics come very easily, and it doesn’t take exceptionally hard work to get good grades, even in honors and AP classes. Classes which looking back now seem to be ground zero for soon-to-be burnt-out gifted kids. The issue which develops and presents itself as “burnout” later in life is the impression that it doesn’t take much effort to be smart, and the false belief that because it hasn’t taken excessive effort, it won’t require excessive effort later on in life.

This isn’t to say that “gifted kids” don’t work hard in school, it’s simply that it takes less of an effort on our end. Most of us also go through adolescence being told how intelligent we are, and how we are “the best” or one of the best in some subject or practice. And while this can build confidence in our skills, it really does no help when presented with the reality that hits as burnout when in college.

I’m a design major, which was heavily influenced by the fact that I was that kid who was naturally good at art in school. But the truth in college is that I’m no longer the best, and that there are many great and talented design students out there. My major, which I feel required to defend because it’s an artistic field rather than a more traditionally difficult science or mathematical one, is also more competitive than one would imagine. Design and the arts are more objective than subjective. There are no longer any “right” answers, and much of it is up to interpretation rather than being finite. This has led to experiences of frustration or a drain of motivation because no longer are there correct answers I can memorize or even a correct answer at all sometimes.

However, I wouldn’t say I’ve particularly “burnt-out”, although there are days when I feel helpless and lost as a result of never properly learning how to study efficiently. Or unsure at times of how to approach or react in instances where things aren’t working out. But, over time I’ve seen and continue to see how this obstacle can be an opportunity to learn new skills and lessons that will be far more beneficial in the long run.

The number one takeaway to learn from a burnout experience is that things aren’t always going to come easy, which is why it’s important to develop a work ethic that’s best for you. People work best in different ways and taking time to figure out a style that suits and is effective for you is a necessary first step to solving burn out. Maybe it’s spending more time studying or in the studio practicing, or maybe it’s replacing tv shows with Ted Talks or educational audiobooks. Everyone has a method that works best for them, but it all starts with taking initiative. My personal failures and shortcomings were wake up calls that I needed to make changes or else risk falling behind. There’s a famous line that says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight,” and for kids who never fell, it’s a tough but vital lesson: one better learned sooner rather than later.

Another reason why it’s okay to burn out, which may seem contradictory, is its relation to mental health. Going 100% all day every day is detrimental to your health both physically and mentally, which is an actual fact, so feel free to research it if you don’t believe me. The exhaustion that comes after a long week of school or work, even when it wasn’t physically demanding is something most of us have probably felt at least once. And burning out has physical signs that signal things are not okay, signs from your body that are telling you to rest and care for yourself.. Mental health has become an increasingly talked about concern, especially among college students, and there are many studies that show how good mental health is linked to higher performance levels scholastically. So, looking at this via reverse psychology, burn out can actually prevent future burn outs by promoting the need for a work-life balance to replace unhealthy overworking habits.

And the last and maybe most important lesson that I have learned from my own experience is that it’s okay to not be the best. In fact, sometimes it’s for the better. The stress that comes from trying to maintain an impossible ideal of perfection is, as I just said, impossible. Accepting that some things aren’t perfect allows greater appreciation for both imperfection and the hard work to meet and surpass personal expectations. It also helped me to quelle the constant need to compete against others, which had no cause or reason other than my own pride and standards. I’m not the best, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be great. Accepting this alleviates unnecessary pressures and instead stimulates personal growth and an overall greater sense of accomplishment regardless of outcome. If I tried my best or know what I can do better next time, I am proud. Rather than trying to be the best among others it’s far more important and rewarding to be the best version of yourself. And this is a mindset I myself am still working to accept and practice daily, however self-improvement is a process not a quick fix.

These lessons, while tough, can improve skills and work ethic as well as serve as valuable truths about adulthood and the real world. Failure is the best teacher because it requires people to learn from mistakes as well as others, and burning out proves that everyone, even “gifted” individuals are human. Like all things, no one and nothing is perfect. The phenomena of “gifted kid burnout” is just one way we see this today, and one result of unrealistic human belief. But thankfully, we as humans have been able to learn from our errors and create changes for the better. Burnout can be tough, but so long as you’re not going down in flames it’s not the end of the world, after all many things are made new or stronger through fire.  

cj wolfe

Alabama '23

Cj is a current junior at the University of Alabama, majoring in Apparel Design with a minor in Studio Art and International Studies. Orignially from Southern California, she enjoys reading, film photography, relaxing at the beach and spending time with her friends and family. In addition to Her Campus UA she is a 4.0 student, CHES Crenshaw Leadership Academy fellow, and a third-year member of the Pi Beta Phi Sorority.
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