Hell hath no fury like a smart kid scorned
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For much of my life, I was told that I was “gifted,” and while that might seem like a nice sentiment, it has done unspeakable amounts of damage to my own mental stability.
From a very young age, I thought my intelligence was the only worthwhile thing about me. When teachers would present activities that forced their students to say something nice about each other, I would inevitably receive various wordings of “You’re smart. Congratulations!”
I understand that it seems ungrateful for me to complain about people thinking that I am smart.
I’m terrible at accepting failure, because I see a low score as a personal assault on my own identity, rather than a teachable moment. I can’t internalize my own abilities, leading me to constantly overwork myself because that’s the only way I feel like I can get the A.
And when I did get a lower grade than expected, the rest of the students would act like they toppled a king if they did better than I, when really they were just crushing the fragile ego of an incredibly small child.
“Oh my God, I did better than you! I thought you were smart?”
And I felt like an impostor. I felt like I had to play the role of the natural genius, proclaiming that “I didn’t study” when I totally did, but was just too self-conscious about the fact that I needed some amount of preparation in order to ace a test.
I put on this persona of the “effortless prodigy,” who didn’t need flashcards or study sessions. But in actuality I would do every practice problem I could because I had to do well or else everyone would figure out that I am not actually that smart, and that terrified me.
I would never participate in discussions, for fear of saying something that others might construe as unintelligent.
Yet, at the same time, I would never raise my hand, even when I knew the answer to the question, because I didn’t want to be perceived as the “know-it-all.”
I was caught in this self-fulfilling prophecy of the “smart kid,” working diligently to keep a title I never wanted in the first place.
I’ve now realized that I’m not as smart as people once told me. And if the realization had come at a younger age, it might have destroyed me.
But confirming that I’m not all that intelligent isn’t the apocalypse my younger self thought it would be. I now have the freedom to make mistakes, to ask questions and to admit that I need help.
I don’t feel the need to ace everything anymore. I can maintain my intellectual curiosity without putting up a facade.
I’m learning now, and not for the elusive A, but for the betterment of myself. I’ve created memories that will last much longer, and help me grow more as an individual, than poring over the latest round of flash cards ever could.
Be careful about telling a child how smart you think they are, because they will eventually suffer from feelings of inadequacy.
No one should feel a pressure to be exceptional.