When I was in elementary, every student was required to take what was called the “GATE test.” “GATE” stands for Gifted and Talented Education, and this cognitive test pretty much decided whether you were a gifted child or not. Unlike a typical standardized test, the GATE test was made up of a series of puzzles, similar to an I.Q. test, to see how well your brain recognized patterns. I was in third grade when I took this test. There were a handful of kids at my school who passed, and by some miracle, I was one of them. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much of a detrimental impact that this would have on my mental health, work ethic and personality as I enter my 20s in college. Here are four reasons why being a “gifted” kid is ruining me as an adult:
What goes up must come down, and unfortunately, the higher you rise, the lower you’ll fall. Something that almost all kids who grew up gifted are experiencing in their later lives is what I call “the crash,” but most people like to refer to it as “gifted kid burnout.” When I was younger, everything came naturally to me. Academics, sports, music—I never really had to work hard to be above the curve. I got by doing the absolute bare minimum and would somehow still excel. In fifth grade, they told me I was reading at a Junior year level. Now that I am in college, I can’t stand to focus on reading for more than 10 minutes. And while this is something I would never complain about, it is bringing up a lot of concerns for me. Because now, when I do come across a challenge academically, my immediate response is to just give up. Lacking grit isn’t the best quality to have, especially at a school like UCLA. Growing up, I never was able to develop that quality of discipline and patience when it comes to learning something from the bottom, up.
- addiction to external validation
This is something that was hard for me to come to terms with. It was even harder to figure out where exactly this stemmed from. I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, I thrived off praise from teachers, coaches and basically anyone with any level of authority. It not only reassured me that I was on the right track, but it made me feel special. And isn’t that what we all want? To feel special? Now that I am in college, I am noticing how this addiction is harming me in many aspects of my life, not just academically. It harms my relationship, my work and my motivation. I became so reliant on external sources of validation that once that was not readily available to me, I would get extremely down. I would feel empty. As if I was nothing without the attention and praise of others. I found myself constantly chasing after this validation, but somehow came home at the end of the day unfulfilled. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom in college that I was forced to truly evaluate what was really going on underneath all of these addictions and how to find healthier ways to go about them.
- Fear of failure
Being a part of the GATE program came with a community of people who set extremely high expectations of you and other gifted students who just saw you as competition. Especially in my family, there was a lot of pressure on me to make them proud. My dad had a lot of hopes for me in sports since I was the only one in my family who played sports through high school. Every time he saw family or friends, that was the first thing he would brag about. And while it made me feel good at the time, there was always that lingering thought of “would he still be proud of me if I didn’t do sports?” I mean, what else would there be to brag about if not sports and academics? Carrying a lot on your shoulders also means that one slip could cause it all to come crashing down. And for me and other kids who grew up in the GATE program, we had a lot to lose, not just physically, but also mentally. Because it became our identity to excel in different areas from a young age, losing that forward momentum would feel as if you were losing your identity.
- imposter syndrome
The contrast that I face between who I am now and who I was as a child scares me. Back then, my worth was able to be measured with timers and tests. It was tangible and inarguable. That same person is now struggling to focus on simple tasks like reading a page or writing an essay, so subconsciously my mind correlated that with me being worthless. I look back at the talents I used to have, the praise I used to receive, the awards I used to earn. And I look at myself now and I have nothing. Nothing makes me stand out among my peers anymore and my advanced-ness caught up to me because I never worked on developing it more. I basically plateaued. For a while, I started to convince myself that I have lived two separate lives, that that ‘gifted’ child could not be me. I am in no way gifted or unique, and this has caused a void to form within my inner child due to this lack of validation. My inner child was, in a way, angry at me for not living up to who I thought I would be and what everyone else thought I would accomplish. I felt empty because the validation was my way of feeling worthy of love and attention.
I am fully aware that some people may find what I am saying completely nonsensical. It does sound crazy; how can one simple word have this much control over you now? But if by any chance you are reading this and grew up in the GATE program, as well, just know that I understand your struggle as an adult and you are not alone. It is difficult to outgrow a system that you never asked to be a part of. It is harsh to come to terms with the fact that a lot of where you received your sense of self-worth as a child was merely a facade. And it is scary to start your journey of self-validation and self-worth as an adult. But like everything else in this world, change starts from within, and that means getting comfortable with the uncomfortable feelings that arise when facing the impacts of your past. You are worthy of love exactly as you are in this moment.