Achievement & Success. We’ve Got This All Wrong


Invoking visions of triumphant moments filled with straight A’s, honor roll awards and valedictorian speeches, achievement is a popular, trending educational enigma we hate to love, or we love to hate. Standardized achievement tests, high-achieving students, academic achievement, grade-level achievement, the achievement gap—it is all about academic achievement in education. In the U.S. and in many other countries, the focus of education is on achievement, and as adults—the civic leaders, educators and parents—we enthusiastically reward our schools and our students for their educational achievements. Yes, our students have learned since Kindergarten that the goal in education is achievement in the form of grades, scores, awards, accolades and attention.

But are we focusing on the right sort of achievement?

Once our kids enter high school, the over-arching focus is now on earning enough notable achievements in and out of school to fill their college applications and ensure acceptance into a desirable college. High GPA’s, AP classes, volunteer experiences, extracurricular activities, academic and athletic achievements during high school, and rewards, awards and honors are collected to secure a place in the best university possible. The best and the brightest as well as our gifted students are often leading this pack of high-achieving students seemingly destined for lifelong success.

This is the road to success, or rather this is the road to success our high-ability students have been led down by the adults in society—educators, community leaders, government leaders, friends and parents. And we have told them and led them to believe that success in school from Kindergarten through college is their ticket to success in their adult life. Work hard, excel, be the best, be the shining star, and you will succeed in life and in your career. Academic achievement, good grades, high scores, renowned college–this is the way to an equally illustrious career, right?

I think we’ve got this all wrong.

We are leading our kids astray in a big way. We are sending them down a not-so-clear path to success, or maybe even a slippery slope to failure.

Upon reading the article, “Harvard-Stanford admissions hoax becomes international scandal”, in the Washington Post about a high school student who wove a huge web of lies about her admittance into two Ivy League schools, I was struck by the extreme pressure and competitiveness these high school students succumb to in order to achieve and meet the expectations of the adults in their lives.

And for what?

High school students are under tremendous pressure to produce a nearly-unattainable amount of notable achievements while in high school in order to guarantee scholarships and acceptances into well-known universities. They are learning to be competitive, to be hard-working, to excel and they see the need to be the best. This is the road they are being led down.

Is this the right road for future success?

Attending a well-known university is widely accepted as the golden ticket to success in their adult lives and in the work world. Again, the adults in the lives of these students and  in society could be leading our kids down a path which does not automatically lead to success in the work world.

Graduating from Harvard, Yale or Stanford most definitely looks outstanding on a resume and it just may win the job-seeker the position of his dreams, but does this all lead to the holy grail of career success which this student has been groomed to seek and has worked towards since Kindergarten? Does academic success always lead to career success?

Maybe not.

We’ve groomed our children—the gifted, the high-achieving and nearly all students—to be competitive, to excel, to be the best, to shine and to stand out academically. And they’ve listened well—just look at all the lucrative businesses which cater to tutoring and test prep–achievement is big business.

With a degree from a great university in hand, our students are ready to enter the work force and continue their tradition of achievement. After years of attaining near-impossible accomplishments in school, they will follow their march down the road to outstanding achievement in the workplace. Naturally, they continue down the path they were groomed to follow since Kindergarten.

And that is the problem. Academic success may not lead to career success.


Excelling in school, competitiveness and academic achievement are not always the keys to success in the workplace. After reading article after article on how to succeed in the workplace with advice on moving up the business ladder, I found  articles that advise workers to be careful to not outshine their co-workers and especially their bosses. Envy is rampant in society and especially in the work place where everyone wants to stand out and be promoted. An envious co-worker or insecure boss can destroy the reputation and livelihood of a highly-intelligent, outstanding employee who believes that excelling, being competitive and producing results to move his or her company forward will earn him or her success and promotions on his way up the ladder of success.

Evidence has shown that producing notable achievements at work and being the shining star is not a straight-shot path to success as was the case in school. Other skills and performance factors which are not often taught in school, such as dressing for success, good communication skills, networking, social skills, being a team player and leadership skills are more important for a successful climb up the career ladder than distinguished achievements at work.

Also, being intent on excelling at your job, unlike in school, can be the downfall of a successful career as this can lead to resentment from co-workers. Gifted people, highly-intelligent workers and the high achievers are by far the most prevalent workers to become the victims of workplace bullying at the hands of envious co-workers and insecure bosses. Cutting down the tall poppies happens not just in school, but in the workplace, too.

In corporations and businesses where job security is a constant, gnawing threat, those getting promotions are not often the shining stars, the high achievers, the ones who excel above all others. They are the ones who learned that being a team player, having good leadership skills, having excellent communication skills, being able to effectively network and generally being well-liked and respected was the sure path to career success.

Isn’t it wrong then to expect our children to strive for academic achievement in school thus leading them to believe that this is the same road to success in the work world? Do good grades reflect successful business skills? Can achievement in school lead directly to success in the work place?

Maybe we’ve got this all wrong.


Giftedness in the Workplace: Can the Bright Mind Thrive in Today’s Organizations?, Dr. Mary E. Jacobsen, MENSA Research Journal, Vol. 39 (2), Summer, 2008

Harvard-Stanford admissions hoax becomes international scandal, T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post, June 19, 2015

Casting Stones at Cacti. Our Intolerance of Gifted People, Celi Trépanier, Crushing Tall Poppies

Dealing with Difficult People, Bullying & Sabotage, Lynne Azpeitia, MFT Gifted, Talented and Creative Adults

Gifted Adults in Work, Noks Nauta and Frans Corten, SENG—Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted, 2002  

Giftedness in the Work Environment: Backgrounds and Practical Recommendations, Noks Nauta and Sieuwke Ronner, SENG—Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted, 2008

Gifted Individuals Make a Significant Contribution to Innovation in Organizations, Chris Hoeller, Backwards Time Machine, January 2014

What are the common problems of gifted people in the workplace?, Quora question thread, August 2013

Gifted Adults in the Workplace—Nerds or Heroes or Misfits, Cat Robson, Talent Development Resources

Surviving a Bad Workplace Culture, Talent Culture

Get Noticed! Four Easy Steps to Climbing the Corporate Ladder, Alan Hall, Forbes, April 11, 2013

At Work: Are you too smart for the job?, Andrea Kay, USA Today, January 25, 2014

25 Comments on “Achievement & Success. We’ve Got This All Wrong

  1. Pingback: Giftedness and the Left – CounterNarration

  2. Hi Celi; Another comment, and I will try to keep it short. I really think that there are some dramatically large differences between gifted people and regular folks, something to which you’ve frequently alluded. It’s not just that gifted people (children, adolescents, adults) think more quickly or have larger memory capacities (not always, but often). It’s that gifted people think DIFFERENTLY than do regular folks.
    Gifteds (sorry, just for short-form) and what I call “extremely gifted people” (EGPs) are able to examine an idea from multiple angles at the same time. They are often able to hold an idea at arm’s length, so to speak, so it can be examined more objectively. Gifteds and EGPs can make connections between seemingly disparate and unrelated ideas (Einstein “riding” a beam of light; “In 1890, at the 25th anniversary of the benzene structure discovery, Friedrich August Kekulé, a German chemist, reminisced about his major accomplishments and told of two dreams that he had at key moments of his work. In his first dream, in 1865, he saw atoms dance around and link to one another. He awakened and immediately began to sketch what he saw in his dream.
    Later, Kekulé had another dream, in which he saw atoms dance around, then form themselves into strings, moving about in a snake-like fashion. This vision continued until the snake of atoms formed itself into an image of a snake eating its own tail. This dream gave Kekulé the idea of the cyclic structure of benzene” ( How do atoms dancing or a snake eating its own tail lead to benzene rings? Well, I’m no chemist, but I’d have to think that Kekulé was a pretty smart guy.
    A gifted or EGP looks up to the stars and sees the magnificence of the universe and questions humanity’s place in it; a lesser mind looks up and sees pretty lights in the sky called stars, and thinks nothing more about it, except how nice it looks, and maybe it’s romantic enough to … well, you know the rest.
    The workplace, on the other hand, especially in traditional, “don’t-rock-the-boat” workplaces, tends to suffer from central tendency, or “regression towards the mean”. And if you didn’t guess that that refers to crushing and tamping down outliers/tall poppies, sorry you missed the connection.
    Too many people in too many workplaces are what I call mediocrities. These are people who have settled for second-best, or worse yet, whatever works. They lack motivation to excel, and are instead satisfied with the status quo, especially if the status quo gives them a paycheque.
    Gifteds and especially EGPs upset the apple-cart. They know or figure out ways to cut to the chase, look past the bureaucracy or the foolish and useless ephemera and see things in a very clear and concise manner. That very much works against them. I know this from personal experience, ranging from the boss of a tech company who was envious of his own partner and I.T. contractors, because they (well, we) were all smarter than he was; to a union situation where I was told, “Don’t work so hard, you’re making the rest of us look bad. If management sees you working hard, they’ll expect us all to work hard!”. Yes, indeed. G0d forbid a mediocrity like that should work hard, especially since it was a quasi-governmental organization and a public-sector union.
    I have, over and over again, found myself in workplaces where I could not hang on to a job for very long (three years max), because I found so much working against me. It wasn’t until my crisis starting in 2010 wherein three individuals or groups, in three unrelated incidents, chose to try to make my life a misery, precisely of my tall-poppy-ishness (lots of detail, won’t discuss here) that I began to realize — with Celi’s blog helping, as well as much of the research I did on giftedness and bullying — that, contrary to what I believed, i.e., that it was my fault, that in fact the problem was that I, as a square peg, what trying to shove myself into a triangular hole.
    I very much doubt my experiences are isolated; and I think the problem gets aggravated the more ‘gifted’ (cursed?) the person is. My solution is to be an independent IT consultant, beholden to no-one, and therefore irrepressible (which I may be anyway). I think the average workplace is fine for the average person, but not necessarily for gifteds/EGPs, unless they work in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) sector, in which they reign supreme, because — and I say this from personal experience — if you ain’t smart, you ain’t gonna make it in STEM. That’s why, for example, my father was able to flourish as a research scientist, and I was (and will be again) flourishing as an IT consultant.
    Thanks again, Celi, for your positive words, and insightful recognition of the fact that what works for ordinary folks doesn’t always work for gifted people.

    • John,

      Everything you said is absolutely true. While I do a lot of advocating and writing about gifted children in school, their experiences in school are nearly a direct parallel to what happens to gifted adults working in large businesses.

      You are right to believe you are not alone in your experiences in the workplace. I am certain that most of the incidences of workplace bullying have victims who are gifted–those whose exceptional work makes more typical co-workers and supervisors feel that their jobs are threatened and so they work to stop this threat. Cut down the tall poppy before he overshadows the typical poppies and makes them look bad. I’ve personally seen this many times where the more outstanding a worker is, the more likely he will be the target of less-capapble employees AND bosses who work to undermine the gifted employee’s success. It is for job security to make sure no one looks better than you and it is a constant jockeying for position in big companies. I can clearly see that the majority of average-ability workers put more effort into maintaining or improving their position in their company than they do moving and growing their company in a positive direction! And the companies lose the most when the more-capable employees experience this bullying–cutting down of the tall poppies–and lose motivation or leave the company. It’s as you said, “regression towards the mean.”

      In school, we encourage children to do their best, to strive for excellence. Sadly, are we unknowingly setting up gifted children for a rude awakening when they enter the work force only to find that their “excellence” can set them up to be the targets of workplace bullying?

      I’d love to see data or research into the connection between gifted adults and workplace bullying. I suspect there is a strong connection!

      Thanks, John, for sharing your thoughts and insights. I’m convinced that the more information we share, the better we can serve our gifted children!

  3. The usual definition of “success” in school is solely academic: read and regurgitate “book learning” for approval. (Gee, whoopee-do… no one usually makes students, gifted or not, do as much as they can for themselves, be more independent/happy, grow, etc.) Work used to be more about results (we’re paying you, produce something) and who was better at getting them (more results, more $$$), but now it’s more about approval (“likeability” it’s overtly called now; popularity, yes) of a superior who (like a teacher) gives you everything you achieve or not. (Teachers now often grade according to a “rubric”– what they’ve decided will or will not be acknowledged as “right”– and not the objective subject matter anyone can see, in addition, for that matter.) With the modern notions of a “process” (at work) or “common standards” (at school) today, compliance means “good” achievement (even more than it did in the past when hippies complained “Don’t think, follow; don’t talk, shoot– it’s the American way!” in the ’60s) because other things have been “regularized” out of daily existence despite that there is (and always was) far more to life than that.

    • I love this not because it is likable, but because it is true —> “compliance means “good” achievement” Wonderful insight!

      • Here are a few things (pardon the delay) showing what’s “good” today:

        “Diversity – and diversity of thought – are the sparks that ignite the fire of innovation… ” brings Lani Guinier’s thought into accepted business wisdom– smart people aren’t needed, especially since they “all tend to think alike anyway” and that’s not different enough to be innovation, of course (which is what’s not explicitly said).
        “Op-Ed: It’s Time to Build a STEM Workforce as Diverse as America,” by Mark Russell, U.S. News & World Report, 29 Jun 2015

        “Diversity of thought” is not only innovative but having filter everything you say/do makes you more creative, too! (Giftedness, however, is neither PC as a subject or phenomenon… bring it up and find out.)
        “How Being Politically Correct at Work Can Boost Your Performance,” by Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider via Yahoo! News, 29 Jun 2015

        But don’t forget likeability as a key thing you’ll need for success while being diverse at work– here’re three ways.
        “3 Ways to Be Irresistibly Likable,” by Jessica Stillman, Inc., 29 Jun 2015

        And, don’t give your bright child mental peers growing up because “smart students who have a low rank because their peers are even smarter under-invest in their human capital; they choose not to go to college because of their low rank within their cohort” or something. (Keep them with non-peers, so they’ll be more asynchronous or alienated like Lex Luther, perhaps… )
        “Surrounding Your Child with Brilliant Peers Can Backfire,” by Max Nissen, Quartz, 30 Jun 2015

        Of course, in the new management style ( ) of the modern work world, a “process” (just following instructions) removes the need for intelligence at work, improving efficiency and productivity but also sinks innovation faster than one can say “Soviet-style central planning” (which it’s pretty much like). Process (or “Quality” for some) Management may be “liberating” for a few but is giftedness welcome there? (Compliance with process is the most important thing… )
        “The Disadvantages of Business Process Management,” by Wendell Clark, eHow, no date.

        And, for the politically inquisitive (and, perhaps, conservative), it’s the radical egalitarian ethos at play here that’s the problem. “The ongoing damage of this dogma is immense. … Moreover, classes for the gifted have been cut altogether or dumbed down to achieve ‘fairness.’ … This is a far cry from what transpired in 1957 when the Russians put Sputnik I in orbit — Washington invested hundreds of millions in the smartest of the smartest in science and engineering.”
        “Radical Egalitarianism Is the Real Threat,” by Robert Weissberg, American Thinker, 12 Aug 2015

        • I really can’t thank you enough for sharing these important resources for all of us here. We all know gifted children are neglected in school and gifted adults are misunderstood and mistreated in the workplace, but we may not know much of the history and motivation behind the neglect, misunderstanding and mistreatment–all of which is not a new phenomenon.

          Thank you for such interesting and informative article, links and resources!

          • And, now that EQ (“emotional quotient”) and other “soft skills” (social-affective domain qualities ) are all the rage at work (machines can’t replace that) the gifted will have additional ways to be “deviant” and treated as such therein.

            Any gifted person who isn’t asynchronous will also be deviant in the social-affective domain, by necessity. (Damned if you are, damned if you aren’t.) Try having folk “not know what to expect” because “something about you” is “different” and they get upset without knowing why. A synchronous gifted person can be “hypernormal” (or more normal than “normal”) like a fictional character, lacking “authentic” (emotional) vulnerability to which others can connect.

            Exceptionality in the social-affective domain (called being an “old soul” popularly or a “resilent personality” in more technical terms) can have its drawbacks, with or without cognitive domain exceptionality. Welcome to being “boring” and “square” because (like kids talking about older people) you’re further along than your peers and not “a lot of fun” or “exciting” to them. (Discuss 401k plans with teenagers, you’ll see what I mean.)

            Check out these articles and apply them to being gifted in the workplace where being selfish, impulsive and loud (not to mention that “likeability”) is “poh-tential” for advancement.

            “21 Struggles Of Being An ‘Old Soul’ Trapped In A Young Body,” by Alena Hall, Huffington Post, 27 May 2015

            “6 Intriguing Myths About Old Souls,” by Aletheia Luna, Loner Wolf, no date.

            “23 Signs You’re An Old Soul,” by Lara Parker, BuzzFeed, 27 May 2014

            “14 Signs You’re An Old Soul,” by Koty Neelis, Thought Catalog, 27 May 2014

            “Psychological resilience,” Wikipedia

            People are excited about “resilience” and want to build it, but don’t really know how to deal with it or people who are resilient. Sure, they like action heroes in the movies but, in real life, they get “uncomfortable” about anyone who handles things they can’t. The following scene (1:18) from “Bullitt” (though fictional) is a realistic depiction:
            (Steve McQueen’s character can feel the bad stuff– it just doesn’t hurt him– but that ain’t enough for his girlfriend.)

          • Lots of good points, information and links to “old soul” resources. Thanks for all that you add to the conversation!

            And I want to add one thing to the recent excitement over resilience–I feel there is is also a critical side of resilience which needs to also be taught and that is tolerance.

            Thanks for all that you add to this blog!

  4. First off, thanks for taking the time to engage with your readers. Reading your posts, and the comments often times suffice as my daily dose of adult “conversation”.

    Second: the transition between education and workplace was addressed. Though not directly related- what about the transition between school and college? In a college or university the population is skewed, generally attracting the more intellectually inclined. Although beneficial in regards to gifted students being surrounded with a higher quantity of like minded peers, yet detrimental in the realization of what once made these kids “special” now places them more along the norm. Especially so when it comes to particular majors and degrees. A label that has likely been internalized within these kids to define themselves, now leaves them confused as to what makes them “them”. A sober realization that there will always be someone smarter, better, faster. A lot to mentally digest in addition to college signifying a new chapter in life, living independently, and the pressure to choose a career.

    Third, advancement in the workplace – like so many aspects of life – seems no different than high school popularity. Challenged by playing politics of the workplace in combination with difficulty relating to peers, seems a cruel irony for the career advancement of gifted individuals. But then again, many facets of giftedness tend to be cruel ironies…

    • 1. Thanks, Carrie! I really appreciate you saying this. Helping others is my only goal here.

      2. Yes! Plus, the transition from K-12 to college for gifted kids is often where they hit the wall. When gifted students breeze through K-12 with little effort and then are hit with challenge in college, gifted students can crash and burn.

      3. You are exactly right about corporate work life–it is not what you do, but who you know. The politics are awful. I’ve seen many a gifted employee have their outstanding ideas stolen by envious co-workers, the gifted worker’s reputation trashed to make sure they would not be promoted over their boss, and then called arrogant because the average workers feel the gifted worker is just showing off when he continually has better and more creative solutions than they do. Corporations would do themselves and their stockholders a huge favor by nurturing and promoting the highly-intelligent workers and stop promoting a culture of brown-nosers, networkers and suck-ups.

      Thanks, Carrie, for getting me up on my soapbox tonight! 🙂

  5. I love this! Thank you so much for writing this and including the links.

  6. Great post about the obsessive focus on achievement. Your point about learning communication and teamwork is so important. It is ironic that children are often assigned “group” projects, expected to instinctively know how to collaborate with each other, and schools rarely help them develop the team-building skills that would help them work together, and eventually help in the work force.

    • Gail, I love that you called it “the obsessive focus” because that is truly what it is. How many times can I remember telling one of my sons, “I know it is stupid, but you need to do it to make a good grade”!?!? It seems schools mostly teach what only can be tested–collaboration, communication skills and other social skills are not easily evaluated on a standardized bubble test 😉

  7. Celi, I think that a lot of this problem has to do with the hyper-conformist attitudes that are present in both the school system and society at large. Elsewhere you wrote (in Casting stones at cacti) that we love our genius surgeons, or brilliant research scientists, or top musicians, but have hatred and resentment and distrust toward the person in the next cubicle who, though not famous, produces amazing, brilliant results. In the workplace; the tendency is to detract from rather than value such a person. In school, the tendency, if the student is not identified as gifted and “rescued’ in some fashion by caring professionals (and sometimes whole programs) in the system, is to treat such students as disruptive, bothersome, and irritating. In some cases such a student is an outright threat to the psychological and social stability (homeostasis) of the classroom. The result is attempts by students and even some teachers to ‘tamp down” the tall poppy, to bring that student level with the other students.
    In looking for work, even in the I.T. field, which is chock-a-block full of gifted types, the you’d think the most valued feature of a job-candidate is their creativity, their innovative skills, their focus on problem-solving. Instead, it’s what I call the Dictatorship of the Human Resources Mentality, what’s desired PRIMARILY is (a) Team-work skills and (b) soft, or social skills. These are things that the gifted adult does NOT have in abundance. I do, myself have great social skills. as one person put it recently, I am a “friendly nerd”.
    But I am definitely NOT a team-player. Why? Whenever I have sat in with “teams”, I find myself either (a) racing, in my mind, to a solution in minutes that may take the group an hour or 90 minutes to achieve; or the solution they come up with is nowhere near as good as mine, but I dare not say so, because I don’t want to look arrogant and ‘full of myself’, so they have to go through their mediocre solution, and watch it fail, so that no-one’s feelings get hurt, because THAT is more valued than actually solving the problem! or, (b) realizing that they aren’t going to listen to me anyway, as I may be too junior or not have the right job-title, so I tune out and get bored; or (c) propose my solution, only to see it shot down, again because I am too junior or do not have the right job-title; or (d) have my solution ripped to shreds or dismissed with a snort and a wave-of-the-hand because the GROUP LEADER didn’t come up with it, so it MUST be worthless.
    So I am not good at teams. Even in school, when we formed groups, I often took charge, assigned tasks, handed out assignments, coordinated everyone (always diplomatically and always politely), and did the general oversight, editing and final compilation of the group’s work. NOT A TEAM PLAYER.
    So if I am like that, and I am a FRIENDLY nerd, think about all the non-friendly nerds out there, who DON’T have the social skills, or the patience to put up with long, boring meetings, the only purpose of which seems to be (a) make the group leader feel important and (b) convince the group leader (wrongly) that things are actually being accomplished efficiently.

    Sherlock Holmes, though fictional, typifies, I think, how a lot of Extremely Gifted People (EGPs) think. His “sidekick” and literary foil (without whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could not make explicit the implicit thoughts of Holmes), Dr. John Watson, would ask Holmes if such-and-such a problem was a one-, two-, or three-pipe problem. Holmes would either sit, smoking, in quiet contemplation (all the while his mind racing toward analysing the case at hand) or playing the violin, sometimes to the deep chagrin of Watson.

    It puzzles people that a so-called “genius” could appear to be sitting and doing nothing, when in fact they were thinking deeply, and with incredible fervour, about a problem. While in university, my then-girl-friend came quickly to terms with the fact that my “writing” a term paper may have involved going for a long drive, going for coffee by myself (since company was a distraction), or going to a movie. I’d then come back and start writing, but in actual fact, I had already DONE the writing — in my head — and was now simply putting my thoughts to paper. In a job situation, you can’t do that. Supervisors and managers expect you to “do something”, make yourself look busy, but “for GAWD’S SAKE, MAN, DON’T JUST SIT THERE!”. I should add, my IQ tests in the 4.33rd standard deviation above the mean, definitely in the stratospheric realm, sadly [I say sadly because of the extremely high cost I have had to pay for such an IQ, especially in childhood, and adolescence]. So for some bosses, the appearance that I was doing nothing was not a reflection of reality.
    Imagine a situation where a project has to be done in, say 30 days. The EGP person may do (what appears to be nothing) for 26 or 27 days, then suddenly produce some amazing result. The wrong assumption is that the only reason a solution was derived was because the EGP was under pressure to do so. In fact what may have happened is (a) the EGP employee figured out a solution in the FIRST few days, but knew, as from school experience, that early production would only increase his/her workload, so kept the solution quiet till the last few days or (b) needed the time to think and analyze, and came up with the solution at the end, or indeed (c) the EGP was under pressure to meet a deadline, and had goldbricked for the first 25 days. It happens, bright people can be lazy too!
    But I believe that it is so often the case that EGPs and gifted people in general are usually very driven folks who, if they love their work, and it offers challenges, that the person did either (a) or (b) above. But neither (a), (b), or (c) are what bosses and supervisors like to see. They want to see steady progress.
    I had math teachers whom I drove nuts, because I did the assignments, and got the right answers, but because I did the calculations in my head, or worse yet, the answer just seemingly “popped” into my consciousness, and I could not explain how I arrived at the correct answer, I just did it, they could not give me full marks, because “you didn’t show your work, John”.
    From a website page on that an anonymous contributor posted to this blog, I have come to understand a lot better why not just I, but many gifted people don’t fit in well to the “expected” norms of success and achievement. Add to that that some of us gifted types/EGPs are “gifted underachievers” due to being twice-exceptional, and you have a huge raft (well, okay, not that many in absolute terms, but rather a large percentage, perhaps even a majority) of gifted people who do not fit the standard views of achievement.
    They don’t seek goals like money, because it simply isn’t a major motivator; they are more often grabbed by opportunities to solve interesting problems, grapple with new technologies or new ideas in science or medicine, engineering, or law — or worse yet, INVENT new ideas or technologies seemingly out of whole cloth/thin air.
    I had a now-ex-friend, whom I did not know was passing everything I was saying to her narcissistic and extremely envious brother. I spent LITERALLY years trying to explain to her (and therefore her greedy, materialism-obsessed, money-grubbing, felonious brother) that money is, for me, just something to live on. It isn’t a ‘primary motivator’. I don’t live to earn money. I want to earn good fees as an I.T. tech, but that’s so because it’s more efficient to earn $60 in one hour as a consultant, than have to spend five hours at $11.50/hour as a gas-station attendant.
    To a money-grubber like Bill (my ex-friend Cheryl’s felonious brother), if I made $60/hour, I should be trying to work 40, 50, 60 hours a week to maximize my income. To me, I just want to do about 25-30 hours a week of billables, because I want to learn, study, read, and THINK. I actually had the nerve to say, that I had “better things to do” than worry all the time about making money. As long as I am making enough to live comfortably and support my family, there is so much in the universe of possibilities to learn and explore, why would I want to grub around in accumulating THINGS when I can be accumulating knowledge and learning? They could NOT get that idea, no matter how many different ways I explained it. I am not an “achiever”. Neither, I strongly believe (and am supported by anecdotal evidence), are most people like me.
    In other words, I am not an “achiever” as society (or at least North American society) defines it. And from what I have been reading, as a gifted/EGP person, I am far from alone on this.
    If you want a window into why Gifted people don’t ‘achieve’ as per the expected norm, there you have it.

    Thanks Celi, for discussing this, It’s important for employers to understand that gifted people and especially EGPs are simply not motivated by the same things that motivate regular people. I hope more people read what you and others have been saying about this “problem’. And frankly, I don’t think it’s MY problem, or that of gifted people. I think it’s society’s problem for failing to understand how we gifted types (cursed?) actually work.

    • Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Oh and yes! Everything you said is spot on. And it is all why my husband and I have told all three of our sons to work towards owning their own business and to never work for a large business.

      “I think it’s society’s problem for failing to understand how we gifted types (cursed?) actually work.” <----This is the absolute truth! I know my article was brief and there is SO much more to the ideas I brought up. I really love how everyone jumps in and adds to, extends and deepens the conversation. Thank you, John, as always!!

      • In regards to owning your own business- I am the third generation of ownership in my family’s business. Complications working with family aside, I must say I don’t wish my son to follow suit.

        Work comes home with you, whether you want it to or not. You are the emergency contact 24/7/365, and it’s generally between midnight and 6am problems like to occur. Regardless who implemented a problem, it’s ultimately your fault. No matter how appealing Donald Trump makes firing people, it sucks. Hiring someone new sucks equally as much (you’d be surprised how hard it is to find legitimate applicants AND after hiring remain motivated, dependable, trustworthy AND equally as important- if not more so- compatible with the rest of the preexisting personalities of current employees. Not to mention the extra time and effort involved in training a new hire). If you are short staffed, those tasks fall on you. You are solely responsible for the successes and failures of the company. If ends arent meeting financially, you have to find a way to make it work. You are personally responsible for any loans you may need along the way. And contrary to business owners on wall street- there are no bail outs. You are likely to be the first one to receive a cut in pay (and certainly not receive a bonus when your company is in financial ruins). You must be creative in keeping the motivation levels high in employees. Resolve conflicts, and play mediator. Juggle things when an employee doesn’t show. Find ways to remain competitive against corporations- or worse- Internet based companies, which often times have the advantage when it comes to taxes and overhead. And perhaps worst of all, you are not just responsible for putting food on the table for your family, but every employees table too. Should the company fail, every employee there is without a job- all because of you.

        The list could go on, but I’ll end it there. Those problems with the typical anxiety ridden perfectionist tendencies of gifted individuals, do not make a good combination. Just my unsolicited thoughts pertaining to owning your own business. 😉

        • I hear you and understand, Carrie, about owning your own business. I know no choice is perfect. My experience and thoughts come from watching a gifted family member being a victim of horrific workplace bullying by an insecure boss–reputation trashed, being shunned by many, getting demoted and falling into depression, all because she was doing an outstanding job and out-shined her boss a bit (her boss’s boss noticed her ability and tagged her as a definite up-and-coming star employee which threatened her boss). It is no bowl of cherries either.

          So, now we have reason #2,498 why being gifted is not all it is cracked up to be.

          • Celi,
            I wanted to write and let you know I appreciated your post. I have thought for a long time now about how students are more than a GPA or a grade, and that there are so many other ways for children to show their passions, learning, abilities, and minds. However, there have been a couple of things written in the comments that have made my heart drop.

            To the first comment, you replied and said that, of public schools, “surely there are no expectations of our children focusing on contributing to society, doing what makes them happy, or following their interests.” While these things are not measured on achievement tests or found in state standards and therefore I suppose are not “expectations” as set by a district or a state, I think it is a bit unfair to assume that public school educators are not supporting and advocating for their students in these ways. Public schools have the privilege to educate any and all kinds of children, children of different backgrounds with different giftings and interests. There are so many public school educators, not just ones found at charter or specialized schools, who fight for their students’ futures and help to nurture and care for them, no matter what the path may look like. There are amazing things happening in these schools, lives being changed, and passions being pursued. Despite the race to the top and the achievement obsession found amongst many schools, students and families, I think it wrong to assume that means schools are devoid of nurture and care of the whole child, even if that means a particular student isn’t going to college or working toward a PhD.

            This means that your above comment about you and your husband telling your children to own their own business one day weakens your argument about how public schools don’t allow or have expectations for children to follow their interests, but other educational environments do. What if a child doesn’t want to own a business one day?

            I also felt strongly saddened at the following comment you also posted to the first commenter, that the ones who have it right are home schooling parents or ones who have found alternative education. This is yet another example of an unnecessary wedge being driven between public school students and those who aren’t. Neither option has it all figured out, and neither option has solved all of the problems. Hence, why we still write!

            Homeschooling is a great option for many children, but that doesn’t mean it is the only right one, even for gifted children. Some students thrive in a public school setting, gifted children too– and some do not. Generalizing one option as the magic answer is not thinking of what is best for each individual child. Not to mention, homeschooling or alternative school options may not even be a possible option for many, who may be living with a single working parent or in foster care systems, etc.

            We have to consider these things when advocating for children/giftedness. Our advocacy will be much stronger together if we merely advocate for giftedness and the gifted child, rather than judge the efforts of the other side.

            Whitley Rubinson

          • Whitley,

            I know exactly where you are coming from–exactly. Really, I do. When I was in the classroom, I taught with the sense of responsibility and mindfulness that I could affect, for good or for bad, the success and happiness of each child in my class. I was loyal to the public school system and felt that there was no better place on earth for children to get an education and become well-rounded citizens. I can see that same heart and soul and dedication in you, too.

            I continued to love and trust our traditional school system when my older two sons first went to public school, and my role then was as both a parent and a teacher. I then came face to face with some teachers who didn’t teach with the heart and sense of duty I had. I learned that even though one son needed accommodations, his weaknesses were never deemed severe enough for a teacher to change her way of teaching just for him. And I let it go because my kids were still relatively happy and making passing grades. We moved on not thinking there would be consequences later on in life.

            I continued to believe in and wholeheartedly support our public school system.

            As my oldest sons have graduated college and my youngest had to be homeschooled, I then had to accept that the public school system/traditional school system was flawed, and I could also see the decline in education in the 20-year span my three sons went to school. They attended schools in three different states and two countries. I’ve seen how differently education can be implemented and how varied it can be.

            The reason for the decline in our educational system in the U. S. can be linked to so many things: laws passed by those who have no idea what it is like in the classroom, decisions being made by superintendents who have never been a teacher, lack of funding, too many expectations and responsibilities on teachers, plus many more. Personally, I know this is not the fault of teachers, but of those who make the laws.

            Is every school system flawed? Maybe not. Is every school a bad school? No. Are all teachers uncaring or not doing their best? Of course not. But I’ve witnessed the damage one irresponsible system, one bad school or one uncaring teacher can have on a child, especially gifted children who come with more emotional and social considerations.

            When I was first forced into homeschooling, kicking and screaming, one of my sons was attending a public school which was underfunded and enrollment dropped to the point that one teacher was to be responsible for three grade levels in one class—his class was to be the combination 4th, 5th and 6th grade class and he was going into 6th grade. I couldn’t let that happen.

            Then when I experienced homeschooling, saw how much happier my son was, how much more he learned and the limitless opportunities we had, I then understood the exceptional education only homeschooling could offer.

            My years of parenting, advocating for gifted children, homeschooling and my years of classroom teaching have all given me great insight. And I have to stand firm on my opinion:

            Traditional schooling has its flaws and not every child thrives in the classroom, especially gifted children. As well, not every family is cut out for homeschooling. But until traditional education eases up on the many constraints and expectations placed on systems, schools and teachers, our children can suffer the consequences. In my eyes, no child should suffer any psychological or physical repercussions from being in school. Much like we expect in health care, we should expect there to be no room for errors or mistakes in education. Our children should not be a casualty in any way of a faulty education system.

            From the thousands of comments I’ve received in the two years I’ve been writing my blog, you can read and see how many children have been hurt—depression, anxiety, anger, PTSD, drug abuse, suicide—all because a child could not receive what he very much needed from a traditional education. No child should suffer such emotional pain from being in public school. One child who took his own life because he could not meet the inflexible expectations, or one child who developed PTSD because a teacher bullied him—it is just one too many in my eyes. And I know it happens. I’ve seen it.

            Homeschooling just doesn’t have those sort of statistics. Of course it’s not perfect, but it can offer, most of the time, a better environment in which to learn. But we can’t keep sacrificing the happiness, self-esteem and psychological well-being of those children who are suffering in the classroom for any reason.

            Homeschooling comes in many forms depending on state laws, and many single parents or two-income families can and do homeschool.

            And you are right, Whitley. Parents and teachers—all of us—should pull together to advocate for giftedness. We should also all work together to improve public education for all children.

            On the other side, I also offer support and help for parents whose gifted child is in a detrimental situation in school and their only option is to get him out of that situation. Homeschooling is usually the best answer and the sooner he can leave his school situation, the better, before there is too much emotional damage. I know this, because as a former teacher, I continued to support and trust the public school system for my own children and I kept one of my own gifted sons in school much longer than I should have.

            At the time, I thought my family and my son, was alone in this painful situation, but now I see after hearing from all the families who have emailed me, talked to me, commented on my blog and advocated with me, there are too many gifted children who are being hurt in school and they desperately need options. I have to help and support their children above supporting public schools.

            I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been hand-in-hand with teachers who work more hours at home than in the classroom and dig deep into their small teachers’ paycheck to pay for needed classroom supplies. The kids in their classrooms are as important to them as their own children at home. I’ve also been part of the homeschooling community enjoying field trips and get-togethers with loving, caring parents and happy, well-adjusted and very well-educated kids.

            Whitley, if every teacher could have the heart and sense of responsibility and caring that you do, our school systems would be so much better. But we know that no school, no teacher, no parent, no situation is perfect. And our public school system needs some major changes—less standardized testing would be a good start. In my eyes though, for the children who are being hurt right now by being in school, homeschooling is best. It is a place where they can learn and heal.

            And in my defense, I feel I advocate more for changes in the public school system than I promote homeschooling and that is because I still have the heart of a classroom teacher. If you feel I am judging you as a teacher, I am not. I am holding accountable those who make the laws and mandates, and those who place unreasonable expectations on schools and teachers. This problem in education is much bigger than in the classroom. It hurts me that our government can’t put our children above the business of education. Education is not about the adults, the teachers nor the parents, it should only be about what is best for the children.

            Lastly, I’ll tell you something I’ve never told anyone. Every time I pass a public elementary school, I have to fight back tears. I imagine happy children running into their classrooms with their backpacks flopping on their backs, hugging their teachers and ready to learn. They leave school just as happy as they went in. I so terribly regret that it could not have been that way for two of my gifted sons. I so wish my own children could have thrived and been happy to learn inside a classroom. It breaks my heart more than I can say that they did not “fit in”. As a parent and a former dedicated public school teacher, nothing in my life has hurt me more than knowing my children, through no fault of their own other than being born gifted, were unable to fit it and thrive in a traditional classroom. And no matter how exceptional and wonderful homeschooling is, it is still not the norm, and once again, my children were outsiders as homeschoolers.

            I support an education in any way, shape or form that allows children the freedom to learn, grow, follow their passions and fulfill their potential without suffering or emotional pain. If a child is happy, thriving and satisfying his desire to learn, then that is the right education for him or her. If learning hurts, it needs to change.

            Whitley, keep doing what you are doing because your students need and deserve a caring, concerned and dedicated teacher like you. You are a rare and wonderful teacher!

            P.S. The comment about telling my kids they should own their own business is in the context of workplace bullying and conforming to expectations. My two older sons are out of college, in creative fields and it is advice that fits their needs.

  8. I am so glad you addressed the transition to the workplace. While I believe in acceleration for gifted students, I also know from experience that there is rarely a “gifted class” in the workplace. And those professions that operate that way (perhaps Google, medicine, consulting) often require choices such as crushing school debt and frequent moves or long hours that affect the quality of life outside of work. The pressure to have all of the extracurricular activities for college admission is supposed to address that concern but just makes it worse.

    • Thanks, L.L. Yes, extracurricular activities are supposed to help the student become more well-rounded but the pressure to engage in the activities which would look best on a college application is often the focus. As well, it seems quantity is more important than quality or even a student’s interest in the activity.

  9. Do we have it all wrong? I believe the answer depends on how we choose to define “success”. Perhaps I have low expectations, but I will consider my child successful in life if he grows into an adult that is a happy, self sufficient, productive member of society. Regardless of perceived success in a career- it does not necessarily mean you are self sufficient, positively contribute to society, and perhaps most importantly (and likely most overlooked) the ability to be happy. How many people society labels as “successful” are any of these three things? Perhaps instead of changing the path we place our children on, we should change the perception of what success means to them? Or change what it means to us?

    • Carrie, I agree totally. What does success mean? And is happiness included in this meaning?

      I’m afraid as our students progress from Kindergarten through college, we as adults influence our own perceptions of success onto our children. In school, there is a more clearly-defined version of success which I feel is thrust on our children and it involves being the best, excelling, making good grades, high standardized test scores and coming out on top. Surely, there are no expectations of our children focusing on contributing to society, doing what makes them happy or following their interests.

      Do we have it all wrong? I think many parents and our public education system do. The ones who have it right are likely the ones who homeschool their kids, have found a good-fit or alternative school, or they are raising their kids to not conform to the status quo. But that is my opinion.

      Thanks Carrie for sharing your thoughts on this!

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