Surprised to be Gifted: The Inner World of Unrecognized Giftedness

Going through life not knowing that you’re gifted, or not understanding what giftedness means, can be a very difficult and painful experience.  Take a look through the eyes of someone who was willing to share an inside perspective…

In her post “to my surprise…” on her site Temporary Reality, “neighbor” writes about the experience of growing up gifted that many of us can relate to. Here is an excerpt [published here by permission]:

The story I’ve always told myself though, to explain why misery hit me head-on in between 8th and 10th grade, is that I was bored.

But I wasn’t bored – at least not bored enough to let me disappoint all those whose claims had been tacked onto me about how smart I was.

Even if I went through the motions I still got As and Bs – THAT was discouraging.

What I realize now is that I wasn’t technically bored with the subject matter, I was apalled by the purpose.  I could sense I was being groomed for a profession.  Suddenly everyone’s focus, if not on getting drunk or laid, was the requirement that we pick a college and a major and a career.

I’ve been suffering a perpetual mid-life crisis since I was 15.

And by suffering, I mean seriously suffering.

Here’s what some of it looked like (well, looks like, ’cause it’s still existent):

  • I’d never realized that my pure love of learning and being challenged, for its own sake, made me different.  I assumed it was the norm and that the norm was that everyone set that aside and accepted specialization and the inevitable full-time job without much complaint.  But then I was struck by the simultaneous recognition that I must be somehow outside the norm for my utter unwillingness to conform to that.
  • I never comprehended being praised (or considered gifted) for being my very regular self, for feeling downright average.  This led to few options:  a total distrust of praise; then a distrust of myself for not fulfilling the expectations put forth by the praise (am I supposed to be smart and successful?  What the hell is wrong then, because I just feel normal.).  Everything became wrapped up in second-guessing and self-doubt.
  • A long term, fundamental assumption that I am flawed for being unable to mold myself, force myself to match the acceptable mode of being.  I took all my divergent interests, my fabulous imaginings and wished for experiences, as proof of my failing.  Proof of success would be…well, success at something.

I turned sharply, deeply inward.  It was an attempt to understand the very ground on which I stood, on which I was founded.  I needed to understand what I perceived as my deviance, for not choosing a path, for not following but forging my own path, for… everything.

I was certain the universe hated me (as evidenced by its not “calling” me to fulfill my potential in any particular way), I hated my lack of conviction or gumption that, had it existed, would have allowed me to express my giftedness in one realm, to match, ultimately, the model of success we’re supposed to copy.

Existential depression (if only you knew).  Severe internal critic (it’s a wonder I’ve not bled all over the place).  Survival tactics that required I downplay my “strengths” (see, still can’t admit I have them), blend in (I’d never stand out in a crowd), keep my secret, imaginative dreams to myself (they’re dangerous, they reveal my true multi-facets and inconsistencies, my wild, irresponsible flights).

You Can Accomplish Anything You Set Your Mind To

If I’m good at everything I put my mind to, it’s my fault I’m not good at making a conventional living, that I’m not earning a pension with my 20 year loyalty to The Company, that I can’t follow through with anything (except what really fires me up), that I can’t just buckle down and do the job.


I ought to try harder?  Trim the edges a little more, squeeze a little to the left, bite my tongue.  Maybe that’ll work.

A Very Lonely Thing

Only it hasn’t really worked – and believe me, I’ve tried: grad school, full-time employment, part-time employment, at-home parenting, freelance writing and editing, etc. etc..

Meanwhile, whenever my true nature shows, it’s met with:  “You need to choose something to do”  “maybe you should get another degree”  “what is it that you do?”  “it doesn’t matter what you do, just pick something”…

But the childish methods I adopted for survival have taken their toll.  It’s not a good idea to have a habit of silencing yourself.  Ideas trickle to a stop, my creative muse-mind shirks and hides and doesn’t want to talk to me, I’ve thrashed about with every job description in the universe and don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing (all the tests I take show the bleeping result being high aptitude in multiple fields – totally unhelpful).

I’ve decided an existentially depressed person is like an alcoholic – you’re never cured (likewise I knew it wouldn’t do to seek help, I don’t WANT to be reconciled to society’s norms!! And don’t get me started on anti-depressants! 100%  Not For Me).  I have become extremely hermetic about “what I do,” though I’m very generous and open about nearly every other aspect of my life and relating to people.

The first lightning bolt that struck was Can You Hear the Flowers Sing?  Issues for Gifted Adults from the Journal of Counseling and Development, May 1986.  Holy moly, mother of Toledo!  You mean there are ramifications for giftedness?  You mean it wasn’t a mis-characterization all along?  and that somebody else figured out that the road was bumpy?  Somebody understands!  And I’m not the only one?!

~ article by Cat Robson from Talent Develop

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  • Meh00100011

    Thank you for writing this! I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am, to see someone else has been through the ‘mid-life crisis since 15’ concept. 
    It disgusts me to learn anything for the sake of approval, or mark sheets or judgement. 
    I have been through each and every mental conflict and emotion you’ve mentioned here.
    Misery loves company!

  • Peachz_sandy

    I’d like to thank you for this, a great deal of what you have shared is like reading a part of my own life story.  I always hated being told I was smart or gifted because I’ve never felt that way, though I’ve never fit into the ‘normal’ mould, to this day I still have trouble finding acceptance within myself.  & don’t even get me started with those ridiculous tests for finding your fit in education, jobs, or career paths….mine always came back with high score in every area!  & everyone who gives you back the darn things or reviews them, are always so flippin’ excited to tell you that you’re lucky- because you can do anything!….Yeah….thanks for nothing.  I have found a book that I am going to read, it’s called ‘Refuse to Choose’ by Barbara Sher.  I am not sure if it’ll help anyone here, I thought it would help me get over the whole ‘just choose something & do it’ mindset.

  • Roxangella

    Oh me too.  So true!!!

  • Beadthing16

    I have been fighting this internal struggle for a couple weeks now, because I didn’t hear or know about giftedness until doing a research paper this month. It took me so much by surprise, I have just been in such a struggle to understand whether or not I am really, truly, different from other people. I felt stupid my entire life, and it’s exactly like you describe: suppressing yourself, then hating yourself for not being like everyone else, and wondering why they have it so easy, and why am I so stupid??? I had also been told my whole life that boys don’t like smart girls, so I’d better tone it down or I’d never have a boyfriend. Luckily, they were wrong and I’m married to a wonderful, understanding young man. But seriously, to go through your entire teen-hood not understanding why you feel like this, and no one can help (except maybe you should go to your sister’s psychiatrist) to explain why, if everything is so damn easy, it is so very, very hard. Thank you for this very helpful post. 

    • Sonia Dabboussi

      You are so very welcome. There are many people out there just like you, asking big questions, looking for deep answers, wondering exactly who they are and what all of this is about.
      If you’re interested in exploring your giftedness more, feel free to check out the other articles here on the site. You may find more that resonate with you. You can also post in the forum here, or, if you have a Facebook account, you can join our group over there as well. It’s called “On the Edge: Gifted Adults Redefining Possible” and you can find it at
      You’re on an exciting journey! It’ll have many ups and downs, but the discoveries you make are well worth it. 🙂

  • 40 yr old teen

    What a variety of manifestations – I keep enrolling in university level and masters courses – completing the work, then rarely sitting assessments. Doing as many as I can until I’m kicked out, then do it all again a year later. I’ve never really understood why I go to the effort – I love the learning, but could just go to the library for that. Its always seemed absurdly self-destructive and I’ve been at a loss on why I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years. This just connected the dots for me. For smart people, we’re not, really…..

  • Juxter

    That sounds familiar enough that it could have been cobbled from stuff I’ve written over the past…what, ten, twenty years? Eesh.

    This is a really solid example of the life-success-grr thing that – well, I can safely say that *I* experienced, and keep experiencing – literally, to today.

    There’s a little bit to be said about folks like that (or us, or whatever) buying into the partial and misunderstood public-image of ‘gifted’, and thusly continuing to be confused and disappointed with ourselves. (Somebody else is more certain about what we can do, while we ourselves are not. They *must* have some answers, then, right? …no.)

    Something I found, which I think has been useful, is that while in some aspects, ‘we’ may have MORE of some kind of capacity, facility, or some such than many, that doesn’t mean we have ALL of whatever that is. ‘Smart’ doesn’t mean ‘knows everything and can figure everything out right now’.

    Even regarding the tangly, and nasty subject of IQ scores…as intended, all it states is that somebody who is 20 years old, who has an IQ of 150, has the mental development of a 30-year-old. Smart? Sure. Ahead of the game a little? Perhaps. But suddenly possessing built-in, completely-formed superpowers? Not as much.

    I think we need to take it a little easier on ourselves, in general.

    (This being said, I could totally benefit from taking my own advice. Intellectually knowing vs. internally/emotionally assimilating…)

  • chuck

    It was so great reading this and the comments. Nice to know that there are others out there like myself.

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  • han

    I think the gifted was very crucial for survival during ancient since little population struggle to survive in the wild with all kind of mighty thought, but gifted born later struggling more as population growing and cooperation getting intense. I guess the ways of cooperation was invented or molded by the gifted and norm ppl before you.

  • han

    and because mass cooperation, so the young thought became likely unreliable to some extent in such situation,

  • B

    This is exactly how I’ve been feeling since high school… I moved for an umpteenth time and something just snapped. I felt so alone and useless. My physical mind couldn’t focus on school and my creative mind, though wanting to learn everything, was disengaged. I wanted to learn what I wanted to learn, my way. And ever since then I have been plagued with guilt and confusion at all the things I want to do but can’t seem to get myself to do. Or I do it, but get bored for a while. I work part time, and hate it. I can’t see the point. I am not truly helping anyone or making a difference in any way. I feel like I am running out of time and life and it is slowly killing me. Having never been recognized as gifted, it’s like I am the only one who can see the world for what it truly is, and keep it inside because I wanted to fit in. But that was impossible too because small talk kills me. And the midlife crisis? Genius. Totally not alone there.
    Sorry for the rant, but thank you for sharing and it helps a lot knowing there are others out there like me ^.^