by: Poimen Agnila || Photo Credit: Kyle Nase
To the math competition delegates and science quizzers, the journalists and essay writers, the pleasures to have in class, the honor roll students, and everyone who was called “gifted” but never felt gifted enough—this one is for you.
Nobody ever talks about how difficult it is to navigate high school when you’ve always been the “smart kid” your entire elementary school life. The unreal expectation of matching (or even surpassing) previous achievements is a burden that many of us carry behind closed doors. Despite how difficult it is, brave faces are put on, and half-hearted attempts to keep up an image of intellectual perfection continue.
You tirelessly pore over pages of lesson notes instead of sleeping at night, then cry silently in your room when you don’t get a good enough score.
You join as many extracurriculars as humanly possible to make up for any insecurity you may have inside the classroom, then realize that you’re just as insecure outside of it.
You try so hard to pay attention in class during a discussion, then get nervous when a classmate understands the topic, but you don’t.
You don’t want to ask questions because that would be admitting you don’t know. You should have known, right? You should have studied this part, should have understood this topic before, and shouldn’t have any questions.
You constantly compare yourself to your peers because you’ve been raised to believe that winning only matters when everyone else is losing.
It’s exhausting. Gone are the days when we were enthusiastic go-getters and curious little minds who wanted to learn for wisdom. We don’t process knowledge anymore; we only consume it. That’s when burnout comes in. You start to think you’re not actually smart—you just work really hard. It’s just that now, working hard has become draining and pointless. You’ve become disillusioned with doing your best because your best will never be good enough anyway.
So many of us want to break free from this cycle of being toxic overachievers, but we still crave the academic validation that comes with it. After all, who doesn’t want to be called smart? When you’re smart, you’re respected. When you’re smart, people will listen. When you’re smart, your most shameful flaws become insignificant.
There is no clear-cut, step-by-step, one-size-fits-all process when dealing with gifted kid burnout, but there are things you need to know.
First off, it’s not your fault. People get tired all the time. It’s okay to want to rest. It’s okay to want to take a step back and away from the noises in your head that tell you you’re not good enough. You shouldn’t apologize for wanting to reevaluate your priorities and decide to put yourself first for a change. What the world expects from you because of what you’ve achieved in the past is not your fault.
Second, it’s okay not to be smart sometimes. Everyone is smart but just at different things at different times. There is so much pressure to be good at everything all the time that you begin to believe that being smart is the only way to live. That is simply not the truth. It’s okay not to know things and to feel sad because you didn’t immediately understand the discussion. The important thing is that you don’t beat yourself up for feeling like you’re less than everyone else just because you don’t feel smart now.
Lastly, you’re not alone. While it’s true that most academic environments are breeding grounds for a constant and sickening fear of failure, a school can also be where you find the people who will share your pain and stick it out with you through thick and thin. Companionship goes a long way when the overwhelming expectation of becoming someone great becomes too much. You may be burnt out, but at least you’re burnt out together.
At its very core, gifted kid burnout is just the accumulation of years’ worth of self-doubt and hurt from looking for validation in all the wrong places. Your worth as a human being shouldn’t stem from an imperfect education system that thrives on exclusion based on intellect but from an inner understanding that you are—and always will be—worthy despite your medals, certificates, IQ, or GWA.
So, here’s to you. If you still find yourself sobbing in the middle of the night to the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s mirrorball because you forgot that the Pythagorean Theorem only applies to right triangles, remember, it’s okay to feel sad.
Burnout is nothing to be ashamed of. When the fire has consumed every fiber of your being, it’s only natural to pull away. After the flame has been extinguished and the light has lost its glow, reignite it again. Hope that this time, it will burn brighter than before, but not too much that it hurts you.