17 Former Gifted Students Reveal How Being ‘The Smart Kid’ Changed Them

Over on Reddit, a now-deleted user asked a pretty simple question:

“‘Gifted’ students, what was it like growing up as ‘the smart kid’? Has it affected your adult life in any way?”

I grew up “the smart kid” and I don’t think it really had much of an impact on how it affected my life later; maybe I’m wildly confident in a way I might not have been? But nothing negative necessarily came out of it and I think that’s especially because my school district had a LOT of smart kids.

I realized I am so alone in this experience after reading this thread.

But here’s what some other users said:

1. Worth

Now that I’m out of school, I realize how much of my self worth I wrongly placed in my grades/GPA.


2. Too immature

Skipped a grade, which I probably could have used to become more emotionally mature. Cried a lot in math class. : (


3. Work ethic

I’m still gifted with a terrible work ethic.


4. Quiet

I skipped a grade… So, no one saw me as the smart kid but instead as the diminutive thirteen year old ninth grader in Pre Calculus. You learn to keep your mouth shut.


5. Filters

I entered a culture were everyone, teachers, parents, relatives etc valued me for my smarts and so I used that as my yardstick to value other people for a long time.

Nowadays I’m more interested in who shows compassion, loyalty, dedication, generosity, humor, etc Had to work really hard to break the filters.


6. Who am I?

For one, you develop terrible work ethic because you never had to study when you were younger. Then comes precalc and you have no clue what you’re doing wrong and how to bring your grade up. When people start doing better than you and you become more average, you start becoming a bit disconnected with who you are as a person. For all your life you’ve identified as the ‘smart one’, now you have no idea.


7. Career path

Hard. I skipped four years in school – it took me years to come to terms with the fact that I’m allowed to do what makes me happy, not what people expect because “you have so much potential.”

When I applied to music school my mother’s friends openly criticised her for letting me do it, because they couldn’t understand why I wasn’t moving into a ‘brainy’ career path like medicine or law. Still get a lot of family members asking why I’m not doing XYZ job that they think I’d be perfect for.

TLDR: Just because you’re smart enough to be a rocket scientist, that doesn’t mean you have to be one.


8. Common sense

It was boring until I discovered drugs and sex since I was aceing all my classes anyway.

Then I had a kid at 17.

Gifted kids don’t necessarily have a lot of common sense. Not in my case anyway.

But you get your shit together like everybody else. Eventually, anyway.


9. Break down

I was the typical over-achiever until University, when I had a mental breakdown and developed depression and an anxiety disorder. Turns out, being intelligent doesn’t help so much when the family history of mental illness hits you in early adulthood.


10. Self esteem

My entire life I was top of the class, and I told myself it was okay I wasn’t thin or pretty because I was smart. Then I went to a relatively prestigious university and suddenly I was surrounded by people who were just as smart or smarter than me, but also hot. It ruined me, and destroyed my self esteem.


11. Entitled

Not going to lie, you grow up feeling kind of entitled to good test scores/grades, and when that doesn’t actually happen you start re-evaluating your life. Then, when you take classes with other gifted kids, and see that you’re part of the “average” section of that group, you reconsider every academic achievement you’ve received, haha.

I’m still a top student in my grade, still too lazy to do my homework (not as much as others though), but I stopped getting upset when my test scores didn’t surpass those of my friends.


12. It was boring

Another vote for boring.

We’re still learning about subject & predicates in freaking high school? And making posters too? When you factor in the two years of core curriculum in college, it felt like my life was in repeats for the first twenty years. Now I’m so tuned out I’ll never get back the frequency and make something of myself.


13. It was great

I didn’t have the experience that many of the people here have.

I went through gifted from elementary till high school.

It was fucking great. I basically realized that rules only apply to those who want to obey them. I used to leave classes no questions asked. No first hour class…no problem. After high school I got two degrees in math and physics (not two majors, two degrees). I went on to get a PhD from a top three school in physics.

A lot of my success has come from understanding when to blow off meaningless bureaucracy, which the gifted program definitely gave me.


14. Coasting

Early on in high school I discovered I could coast with no effort. Went to college because it was expected of me (didn’t know what to study) and found out I didn’t know how to study/face obstacles. Basically, I went in with this idea of “I’m smart” and when I got in trouble academically, I still clung to that and made a huge mistake: I started telling myself I wasn’t really trying. You see, if you don’t actually try, you don’t fail, or so I thought. I was thinking like “well of course I’m smart, if I really tried I would succeed, but I didn’t really try.” It didn’t help that I was going through some major depression at the time and was rather socially isolated.

Anyway, two semester and some bad grades, I dropped out. I built the whole thing up as a boogeyman in my mind and for years I avoided going back. Finally I did, and in a lot of ways, I felt deprogrammed. I was no longer a smart outcast, now I was a guy in his mid twenties attending classes with kids straight out of high school. Pretty humbling, but the whole thing was good for me. I can honestly say I was glad not to have the same pressure on me, or the same expectation to excel.

Going back was a great decision, although I do find myself wishing I’ve done it earlier. Mostly the consequence of the whole thing has been that I’m always feeling like I’m playing catch-up in my life. Like, here’s where I was supposed to be in my late 20’s, and here’s where I actually am.


15. No change

It hasn’t. Work ethic matters way more than what score you got on an IQ test.


16. Lonely

Lonely, because few share your interests.

Lonely, because displaying (showing off?) an intellectual gift brings as much resentment as it does praise (brains are particularly susceptible to resentment because, unlike say soccer or dancing, no one says “hey, your great at that! Thinking just is not my thing lol!”. everyone fancies themself to be intelligent, even though everyone can’t be).

Lonely, because most people would rather not be corrected, no matter how interesting you personally find the actual accurate information. This might not be clear to you for the first few decades (Actually, did you know that carrots don’t substantially aid eyesight? oh, and actually the Pennsylvania Dutch are German. Dutch is an American corruption of Deutsch and….hey, where ya going??)

Lonely, because stories/puzzles/convos that move slow enough to engage most people are interminable to you, and those that move fast enough for you are unintelligible for everyone else.

Lonely because what makes you different can’t be seen, so others who’re like you might walk right by, and not seek you out. There’s no uniform, like a sports jersey our punk rock hair to indicate that you’re in the 1%.

Lonely, because logic is your favorite tool, but it is rarely used and often misapplied. Relationships, religion, politics, social situations—-it is often OFFENSIVE to apply logic to them. but…you’re a logic guy.

Lonely, because the world is not made for you.

So, a little lonely.


17. Pressure

I have always felt an immense pressure from my family (parents and my parents close friends who are like my aunts and uncles) to work hard and not squander the gift I was born with. I will be receiving my Ph.D in biomedical science and translational medicine next Friday. My current work focuses on identifying a novel protein complex that is involved in Triglyceride metabolism. Hopefully I lived up to their expectations and can leave something behind in this world to benefit mankind….or a pharmaceutical company hires me and pays me a boatload of money.