As a high school senior, he was finally nearing the place he’d wanted to be since kindergarten—somewhere else. Institutionalized education was never a good fit, and he was ready to break out. But his fantasized version of the afterlife crashed into dull reality—when his scorned daydreaming became unappreciated vision. 

He grew tired of constantly hearing how he should be leading his life—how he wasn’t doing enough, underperforming, on the edge. All he wanted was to live on his own terms, in modest comfort. Pursuing grand outcomes wasn’t for him. And he’d had enough of battling to become who everyone thought he should be at the expense of what he believed was right.

You see the world around you increasingly measuring giftedness in terms of achievement or tangible output. You watch as the emphasis on talent continues to revolve around degrees, professional status, and wealth acquisition. And you think to yourself, those aren’t my goals—that’s not who I am. Perhaps, then, I’m not really gifted; I haven’t accomplished anything at all.

But you know that isn’t true. And, even if it were, you don’t owe the rest of us your brilliance or your creativity. Just as it’s acceptable to aspire to greatness and to proudly share your achievements, it’s also okay to not
 wear your résumé on your sleeve and to modestly walk your own chosen path or quietly enjoy a service-centered existence.

You may have an intuition for mathematics; that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to be a universally renown physicist. Or you may be a technological whiz kid; that doesn’t commit you to endless days in a computer lab. Or, perhaps, you’re a masterful writer; that doesn’t dictate your future as a cutting-edge journalist or widely published professor. 

Being gifted doesn’t mean that you owe a debt to the world. Possessing exceptional abilities doesn’t come with a demand that you share them. Living your best life doesn’t require you to follow a road paved with the skills to which you’re predisposed instead of pursuing one lined with your passions.

As Ellen Fiedler notes in her recently published book Bright Minds: Uniqueness and Belonging across the Lifespan,* in a chapter discussing gifted grown-ups she calls “Invisible Ones,” there are those bright adults who “quietly pursue their individual passions, even though the fruits of their labors may never be seen. This may be because they do not need external validation from others for what they do, or it may be because their creative inventions are not yet recognized by society as relevant or valuable.” 

So, when it comes to gifted underachievement, sometimes it’s not about achievement at all.

Sometimes it’s about passion for passion’s sake. Or about making a difference. Or about leaving an imprint that remains long after you’re gone. Because, to you, these options are what represent the clearest reflections of success. 

Resources of interest:

Bright Adults: Uniqueness and Belonging across the Lifespan
, by Ellen Fiedler, Ph.D.
The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius
, by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D.
Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope
, by James T. Webb, Ph.D.

*Full disclosure: I worked as an editor on this publication.

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