Why Do the Gifted Get Caught in Perfectionism?

As gifted adults, one of our dearest friends seems to be perfectionism.  And in some ways that can be a good thing.  But what is it that makes us this way?

The answer lies in a time that we probably can hardly remember – the first few years of our lives.  Especially when we are very small, as gifted people we find that some things come rather easy for us.  We can do them without thinking and with very little effort.  And the adults around us tend to notice.

When we do something well when we are very small, our parents and loved ones say things like, “Wow, aren’t you a smart little guy!”, or “You’re the brightest little girl I’ve ever seen!”, or “I’ve never known anyone else do that at your age.”

Now those sentences are intended to mean something very good, but in actual fact in some way they set us up for failure.  Why?  Because they teach us that our success comes from  an innate trait or ability that we have.  Even if that’s true in some way, what it means for us is that we ARE something – smart, bright, capable, etc..  And it instills in us a fixed mindset, that we have inborn skills that will take us where we want to go in life.

The problem with that, especially for the gifted, is that we begin to identify ourselves totally with our intelligence.  It becomes all that we are, it becomes who we are.  No one notices much about us other than our good marks or unique abilities, and after some time neither do we.   So if there is ever something that threatens our ability to appear smart, it feels like it threatens our very existence.  And that leads us to search for perfection in all that we do so we never have to face the emptiness that may exist for us if we lose what we have adopted as our identity.

But all is not lost.  We can add a growth mindset into our lives if we know how, and this is what will take us much farther in the long run.

The growth mindset is one that says with enough practice we can excel at what we choose, and that we can continue to grow and learn throughout our lives.  It says that we don’t have to get everything right the first time because we can gain something new and then try again.  It says that our abilities are related to our efforts and not strictly to whatever gifts we were born with.

Sometimes, as gifted adults, or even as gifted children or youth, we accomplish things in our lives that appear difficult on the outside but for us are not really that hard.  The amount of effort we’ve put in isn’t much compared to the results we get.  So we learn that we can get by on only a slight amount of effort.  But when we do this we limit ourselves because we never reach beyond our current situation to a higher level.

We don’t go where we can fail because in many cases we don’t have to.  We can live ‘normal’ lives by just skirting along the edge of what we can do.

But over time, we destroy ourselves inside because many of us have an innate drive to search out challenge, to learn new information and to explore exciting things.  When we don’t follow this drive inside we become an empty shell of who we could really be.

The fixed mindset we adopt as very young children works against us as we age.  Developing a growth mindset, with a recognition that our starting point may not be exactly the same as many others, allows us to be, do and have more in life.  It allows us to become everything we were meant to be.

So don’t be afraid to stretch beyond who, what and where you currently are to discover what you can be. There is so much more to you than only your intelligence.  It’s time you shared the rest of yourself with the world, don’t you think?

In the video below, Kathryn Schulz discusses the importance of being comfortably able to be wrong.  Take a look.


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  • http://fluffylittleidiot.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth Braun

    Interesting and I can relate to much of it – esp. the never really having learned how to work part, but I was never told how clever I was as a kid or any of those other comments.  I wasn’t held up as being extra bright or anything.  I just thought everyone was the same and that others either didn’t try or had a bad start.  So, I never had the fixed mindset that camefrom external sources at all.  However, I have now learned that I can do stuff that I can’t get right first time and that sometimes I DO have to work!!!=)

  • Marietta

    Great! but i’m not sure i’m a gifted i’m a real perfectionist!!! I’m new here and almost adult;)