Rory Gilmore went to an esteemed college and her town adored her as the prize of the town. Her mind was sharp and her ambitions high. But time was not kind to Rory, and she soon saw a wide ray of disappointments hit her. In the Gilmore Girls special, we see her struggling with unemployment, crushed dreams, and a troubled love life. Why did Rory burn out, and how can intelligent people learn from her struggles?
It's said that gifted children are prone to burnout. The perfectionism, asynchronous development, and overexcitability can make it hard for intelligent people to survive the swift range of opportunities and challenges. In this article, I want to explain why gifted children can make burnt out adults, and help you understand the 5 pitfalls of giftedness.
It is common for gifted people to live with many duties and responsibilities to the outer world. Intelligent people can, for a wide range of reasons, find themselves forced to use their gifts for the sake of others, and fail to prioritise themselves and their own needs. An example can be that you always end up being the one to support, help, and care for your partner in a relationship, or finding yourself being the person who bears the bulk of the work at your office.
It starts early, in our school system. Teachers will usually have the gifted or talented children become helpers, making them focus their gifts on supporting the other students. While helping other people is a good thing, gifted students often need help and support and stimulation, too.
My video Ganymede discusses the problem of giftedness.
Gifted children often grow up being told the world is at their footsteps. You can accomplish anything. You have so much potential. But the positive encouragement can soon evolve into an obligation. Soon, it is not "Nice job" but "You should have been able to do even better." If you're great at maths, you need to always get an A+. If you're a gifted artist, you need to be the next Rembrandt. If you are good at the piano, you need to be just like Mozart or Beethoven, or you are wasting your gifts.
This kind of attitude can lead to a kind of all or nothing perfectionism, where you are judged by highest possible standards. Instead of letting yourself enjoy your gifts, you can find yourself feeling a burden of obligation in everything you do. Do you have something you can do just for fun, just for relaxation, something not shadowed by your "potential"?
I remember an evening recently. I had told myself to take it easy this evening, to just watch silly tv shows, and to just relax and make myself cozy with tea and a blanket. But then I discovered an article with academic journals discussing COVID-19, Pandemic Responses, The Rosetta Stone, Taoism, and various philosophical concepts. I couldn't help myself. I read all the way until late in the night, making detailed notes. I knew I couldn't stop myself.
Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote (paraphrased) that it is easier to say no to things that we don't want than to say yes to things that we do want. Gifted people often have an element of overexcitability to them. You have to learn to say no, not just to duties and obligations, but also to things that bring you genuine joy and excitement. No matter how curious you are, or how excited you are about a project or opportunity, you have to say no and sit down and prioritise. You need at least 8 hours of rest every day, and preferably, you want to fit in powernaps, meditation, and physical exercise in your schedule, too. Even on a day when I'm absolutely blacked out, I can find myself yearning to start on a new book or watch an interesting documentary.
In fact, a more active brain is harder to shut down. Yoga, meditation, and restful, quiet thinking is even more difficult for the highly intelligent. This does not mean that restful, zen-brain states are not important to the gifted. It is during rest that your brain develops new pathways and is able to contextualise and process information. After a time of rest or meditation, you will find yourself having more ideas, and more brain power, and more sustained energy to match your curiosity and yearning for intellectual stimulation. Learning to say no to a thought or to say "later" or "maybe in a few weeks" to a new project is key. Truly good ideas do not have to disappear in a day. You can always write them down and pick them up later, when you are ready.
It is not uncommon for gifted people to suffer from "asynchronous talents". For example, you may be very intelligent, and you may have poor social skills, making you worse at communicating your ideas. Or, you might be lacking physical exercise, meaning you are more prone to sickness and have less energy or attention. You might be great at music, but lack the capacity for something else. Asynchronous development is not exclusive to, or true for all gifted people, but it is sometimes connected.
When you have gifts in one area but lack talent in another, you may find yourself feeling a need to overcompensate for your flaws. Because you know you have fewer social skills, you may avoid relationships, and feel a stronger need to prove your intellectual capacity to make up for your shortcoming in relationships. But no matter how much you shine in one area, that is not going to take away from or make up for what you lack in another. You will have to decide if you accept your flaws or weaknesses or if you want to do something about that, and sometimes, a direct approach is better than an indirect one.
What are your tips for intelligent people and what advice can you give for the gifted?