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Opinion: The complexities of the burnt out ‘gifted’ child

As college admission rates become increasingly low, the brain of the former gifted child believes biting off more than it can chew is the only way to go.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/miaguillen/" target="_self">Mia Guillen</a>

Mia Guillen

January 7, 2022
In this world, certain types of people are praised: the selfless, the conventionally gorgeous/successful and the busy bee scholars. When you envision the straight-A student with a gallery of extracurriculars, you marvel and maybe even envy them.

Why? Because in this day and age, a price is put on productivity that equates to our worth. You’re not stressed beyond belief and mentally unstable?

Well, clearly, you lack a work ethic.

This archetypal student is also occasionally glamorized in media. Shows like “Gilmore Girls” paved the romanticization of burying your nose in a textbook at all hours of the day to be accepted into the unparallel Ivy Leagues.

However, the external and internal pressures are rarely accounted for. And the apparent question is never asked: “All of this at what expense?”

The ultimate truth is these encumbrances are rooted in the labeling of “gifted” children in elementary school where the pressure to meet overachieving expectations become everlasting. Unsatiated amounts of achievement pile up and we are constantly worried we’ll let ourselves or others down while trying to outperform our best.

Though rest is the thing we need most, it’s the first thing we’re willing to give up to maintain our label as “gifted” while we grow up. We are convinced that taking care of our well-being is a reward, not a right. And, of course, parents brag about their child genius that inadvertently fuels the need to remain ahead of the curve academically.

At a young age, this internal competition is coddled as it bleeds into young adulthood.

In high school, suddenly there should be more activities and more AP classes are taken and nothing is ever enough unless we are mentally and physically burnt out. Not to mention the population of typically upper-class parents that insist there could be no bigger devastation than being rejected from top universities. Or, even worse, resort to a community college. (Though that’s an article about classism for a different day.) 

As college admission rates become increasingly low, the brain of the former gifted child believes biting off more than it can chew is the only way to go.

However, this valid worry of needing to do and be more motivates egocentrism. Advocating for college starts at a young age so it’s no wonder that there’s a buildup of pressure junior and senior year. Often, the constant feeling of not being enough ignores the hallmarks of giving back for the greater good out of a wholehearted place.

Generally, burnt-out gifted kids will contour themselves into any form if it’s what Collegeboard and admissions offices want to see. So, if what’s working is a charitable person, that’s the form that will be taken.

For instance, according to the University of the People, the National Honor Society has over one million members in the United States. However, it’s safe to infer there are merely handfuls of students that joined because of genuine interest to give back. In today’s “grind” culture these nationwide groups’ efforts’ have been minimized to academic checkboxes and the purpose is lost.

In the same breath, the label placed on us at a young age can stroke egos and reveal the necessity of pleasing everyone but yourself. Occasionally, egocentrism spreads and there’s a misbelief that any form of independent volunteering or advocacy is an unspoken competition.

Especially after the general wave of bandwagon activism during summer 2020, it’s eery that the lives of marginalized groups or urgent environmental issues became a morale booster. Overall, the gifted child title can come with the ramifications of self-entitlement and insincerity.

The people-pleasing aspect becomes an unhealthy and uncautious nature. Pleasing parents, teachers, and coaxing the internal dialogue reigns over welfare. Personally, at the beginning of lockdown, I had reached a point of physical illness and mental exhaustion. And being forced to take a step back, I realized feeding into grind culture was simply not worth the sacrifice of my wellbeing. Being couped up studying and spending 10+ hours at school was just not worth the turmoil I was drudging myself through. While trying to navigate a healthy balance of work and rest, I still find I dought my drive and general intelligence if I’m not sleep-deprived or ill. But I truly believe these behaviors are nurtured as soon as we are deemed “gifted.”

(High School Insider)

Though now I’ve learned you are not weak for needing rest.

It’s no surprise that teen anxiety and depression rates continuously increase in part due to the burden of sustaining good grades. This is why I believe academic standing of that intensity shouldn’t be achieved at the cost of wellbeing.

Unfortunately, it’s become fairly normalized to have regular panic attacks or depressive episodes over an AP exam or project. No one’s mental or physical state should be threatened by education, yet the consequences of high standards prove otherwise.

We even chastise ourselves when we’re not consistently in this overdrive state. It’s a hard pill to swallow but simply trying our best matters much more than the weight of our GPA. Unlearning these toxic habits will we ensure optimal performance and a healthy relationship with work. Instead of a sinking pendulum.

While attempting to outperform ourselves we become merciless and lose self-respect. All at once, there’s no margin for error, and mistakes are condemned.

In reality, we can and deserve to do things because they bring us joy. Unlearning old habits will not set us up for failure and this will be recognized when we choose to stop associating our worth to the number of hours we spend studying.

I’m not encouraging anyone to slack off on school, I’m saying it’s time to take a breath and prioritize being kinder to yourself.

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