The Pressure to be Super Smart at all Times

Photo from Flickr, CC
Photo from Flickr, CC

Whether you’re a rainforest-minded child, teen or adult, if you’ve been told that you’re gifted or that you’re super smart, then you probably feel pressure.

Pressure to: live up to the label, always get the best grades, know everything before you learn it, be the winner, always do your best, find all learning to be easy, not disappoint anyone, do the right thing, always be kind, solve all problems, know all the answers first, attend an elite university, win a Nobel prize, be clever and funny, make no mistakes (be perfect), never fail (did I mention, be perfect?), save the world.

That’s a lot of pressure.

A LOT of pressure.

This is not to mention your high standards and intrinsic desire to make most everything beautiful, balanced, just, harmonious and precise. (see my post on intrinsic/positive perfectionism)

I certainly understand why you feel this way. There are many assumptions about what giftedness actually is and what it means. And, it’s likely that people have told you that you carry a certain responsibility because of your abilities. And, even if they don’t say that to you, you say it to yourself.

Am I right?

But this pressure can create problems. Insomnia, anxiety, and depression. For starters.

So, let me see if I can take some of the pressure off.

First. Understanding: You probably got used to learning many things quickly and easily. You came to believe that that’s the way it should always be and anything less than that, means that you’re not so smart. And being not-so-smart is not an option because you’ve come to believe that being very smart is what makes you a worthwhile human being. And you’ve become a little dependent on the praise or the accolades or the attention. (even though the praise or the accolades or the attention might also make you uncomfortable, so much so that you hide your abilities from most people)

Second. More understanding: You probably can’t help having high standards and expectations. You were born that way. This could be something you accept about yourself but learn to adapt here and there when the project isn’t all that important.


Make a list of traits that make a person a worthwhile human. Make a list of what makes your life worth living. Make a list of ways you put pressure on yourself.

Take these lists and design a plan to reduce the pressure. You can take small steps. Maybe you decide to aim for a ‘B’ on the report. Maybe you try something you know will be challenging. Maybe you risk disappointing someone. Maybe you start doing some of the items on your life-worth-living list.

Then, notice how you feel.

Are you still gifted?

I thought so.

And one more thing. Go back to that list of traits that make a person worthwhile.

Put your name on it.


To my bloggEEs: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t tell your kids (or yourselves) that they’re gifted. They (You) need this information to better understand themselves (yourselves). I’m just explaining the pressure part in case that’s an issue for them (or you). Let us know if you struggle with pressure to be super smart. How do you reduce the pressure? If you try some of my suggestions, let us know how it went.

This post is part of a blog hop through the great resource Click on this link to read more posts on giftedness in children and adults.


Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

32 responses to “The Pressure to be Super Smart at all Times”

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  1. “If I Admit I Am Gifted, I Will Have To Do Something Great” (A Rainforest Mind In Austria) | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] to achieve. Pressure to live up to your potential. Pressure to win, to be the smartest one, to know it all. To make a difference on the […]

  2. The Pressure To Always Be The Smartest One In The Room | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] I know you avoid trying new things because you have to be the smartest one at all costs. Your identity depends on your ingenuity, your winning, your solving the problem, your clever come-back. You have been told you are very smart for many years. You have such great potential. Now you have to keep proving it. Or who are you? Your sense of self has been built on your intelligence and achievements. Praise for your accomplishments. Pressure to be the best. Expectations you now place on yourself. […]

  3. Realizing That You Are Gifted — Will It Make a Difference? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Do you see? The benefits outweigh the difficulties. Especially, if you learn more about this pressure thing and what you can do about it. You can find out more about it as you read my blog and my, um, books. […]

  4. Gifted Children and Adults — Why Are They So Misunderstood? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] of sync and freakish. Or, when there’s excessive praise for their smartness, they may feel pressure to achieve. Pressure to please those adults. Pressure to live up to their great potential. Pressure to be […]

  5. Paralyzed By Your Great Potential | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] to keep performing at that highest rate to keep the attention and accolades coming. Before long, it turned into pressure. Your self-worth depended on it. It was something that you had to live up to or you would no longer […]

  6. If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Feel Like A Failure? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] so was the pressure. But you didn’t realize it at the time. Until you got to college. Suddenly, you were […]

  7. To Achieve Or Not To Achieve — That Is The Question | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] is a reasonable expectation for your particular abilities and interests? Where can you find adequate feedback? If you’re […]

  8. Your Kids Are Gifted. Should You Tell Them? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] how all people have strengths and weaknesses. What are yours? What are theirs? Do they feel pressure to be smart all of the time? Are they afraid to disappoint you? Show them how you try activities that […]

  9. Dakota Nyght Avatar
    Dakota Nyght

    Wow… I came across this post looking for information on how to help my son, but that whole paragraph in bold… I identify with all of that so much more than I care to admit. Thank you for the tips you describe after. I’ve lived my whole life with a fear of failure and the idea that I should “know everything before (I) learn it.” I’m in the process of learning how to let myself fail, and I’m not entirely successful.

    I would also love it if you’d address (or point out posts) pertaining to Sarah’s feelings of guilt (above). I often feel like my work is somehow “less” because it takes me less time. I’ll be following from here on out. Thank you so much.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Glad you found us, Dakota. I wrote about guilt in the next post. (after the poem) It goes live tomorrow!

  10. Sarah Avatar

    I love your blog, which I recently discovered through SENG. I’ve been sifting through all of the posts and enjoying them very much. I spoke yesterday with a friend who is a life coach about my current situation, in which I’ve started a new position that’s very creative and changes every week. I’ve had a vague sense of malaise about the deadlines, but not really anxiety exactly, and upon discussing it, my friend and I pinpointed feelings of guilt.

    Guilt because it doesn’t take me hours to put together a perfectly decent presentation. Guilt that I only have to put in a tiny bit of effort when it seems like it should be more difficult.

    So…I’m feeling guilty about being able to put something coherent together in less time than it takes most people to eat a bowl of cereal….have you ever addressed this particular aspect of giftedness? Maybe related to not wanting others to realize that I’m gifted. Maybe I’m still hiding a little bit. This isn’t my only issue, I just work through them as they come up. They are numerous, as I grew up with chainsaw parents (love that very apt term that I discovered here).

    If you’ve already posted on it, please direct me to it.

    Thank you for your blog.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hi Sarah. This is a great topic. I’ve probably written about it here and there but don’t recall a post where this is the focus. I will definitely put this on my list of topics. It’s an important one and there aren’t many instances where you could explain it to people and get much empathy or understanding. Thanks for the suggestion. And welcome to my blog!

  11. Marianne Kuzujanakis Avatar
    Marianne Kuzujanakis

    “Understanding”..and…”more understanding”. Spot-on. Thank you, Paula! I love this post. So important for our kids (and ourselves).

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Marianne. I so appreciate your following and sharing!

  12. KtCallista Avatar

    For this past week I’ve been suffering with a concussion. I’m going to be fine, but in the mean time I’m not supposed to think or performing mentally taxing tasks, do any form of physical exercise including walking for distance. They even took away my technology for a while. But the result, the not being able to be or use my brain….it’s been devastating. It’s not even the pressures now, I just want to be able to keep track of things and multitask again. I feel like every time I try to do anything I just mess it up even more.

    I’ve sorta lost where I am going with this, but I don’t even feel supersmart now, I just don’t feel like I can be who I was just over a week ago.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, I’m so sorry KtCallista!! It must be so frustrating and scary and so hard to be patient. Sending you love and healing thoughts.

    2. Ro Avatar

      KtCallista, I really hope you feel back to your normal self soon. It’s not nice to feel detached. Be kind to yourself.

  13. Wenda Sheard Avatar
    Wenda Sheard

    Ouch, ouch. I cringe when I think of the pressures that some children feel. Thanks for addressing this important issue in your well written article.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Wenda. I appreciate hearing from you. I always look forward to reading your blog posts!

  14.  Avatar

    It took me a long time to learn that the most intelligent thing I can say is “I don’t know”. I think as smart children, we don’t learn that, since we do know a lot already, we don’t learn how to ask questions. Then things get harder, and we don’t have the skills to admit that we don’t know. That’s where the perfectionism kicks in. So, rehearse it! ” I don’t know”.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, yes. Great advice.

  15. skpicard Avatar

    Love the way you lead us through a process Paula!

  16. Lisa Avatar

    Such an important reminder, Paula! Especially this: “Make a list of traits that make a person a worthwhile human. Make a list of what makes your life worth living. Make a list of ways you put pressure on yourself.”

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Lisa. I’m heading over to your blog later today!

  17. Genealogy Jen Avatar
    Genealogy Jen

    Thank you. My 4 boys wanted to be the presidents from Mt. Rushmore for Halloween. I was Betsy Ross. I spent hours researching to make sure that our costumes were as historically accurate as possible with details. No one else really cared or would have known the difference, but it still bothered me more than it should have to wear a shirt that was blended with spandex, and my overall outfit was not an accurate reflection of what colonial women wore in the late 1770s. Logically, I know most Americans don’t know who Betsy Ross was, let alone what she wore. It can be difficult to hush the critical inner voice and be content with what is and who we are… including those pesky imperfections.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Mt. Rushmore? I love that! And Betsy Ross. Yes. We love your rainforest minds here, Jen!

  18. Atlas Educational Avatar
    Atlas Educational

    Paula, you always know how to make me smile. 🙂

  19. Emily VR Avatar
    Emily VR

    Paula, this is beautiful… I love all of your posts, but especially this one! Bookmarking to share with others! Thank you so much.

  20. mikoray Avatar

    I have to say it again I love you for your writing! Thank you so much!

    Marlies, Amsterdam

  21. Ro Avatar

    I joined Mensa as a 19 year old. One week prior to sitting the test, I escaped from working in a sheltered factory for $7 pay/day – where I fitted scrabble pieces in a 10 x 10 template, and was told that an ideal outcome would be for me to one day work in a ‘real factory’. At the time, it felt like my intellect was the only thing I had left – and I believed that perhaps it was the one thing others (including my abusive family) might respect me for. Yeah. Joining Mensa was really important to me, and it remained so for a few years. It was like a little flame of self-worth I carried with me whilst otherwise hating myself.
    Since becoming seriously medically disabled at age 28, I had to give up a lot of my vanity – intellectual vanity included. It’s been a blessing. Now, since ceasing all contact with my family of origin last year, I am just beginning to discover my own intrinsic self worth – independent of variables such as my functional intellect, the physical activities I can carry out, etc.
    From a parenting perspective, it has always concerned me when I read comments about how our gifted children are ‘the leaders of tomorrow’; how ‘they will be the ones to find a cure for cancer’ and so on. What a lot of weight to put on young shoulders. Some of the most disturbing comments have been along the lines of parents telling their gifted children not to worry about their bullies because ‘they’ll be working for you when you grow up’, or ‘they’ll end up serving your fries’…
    Bullied gifted children should be supported to feel self worth that is not dependent on debasing others.
    I’ve made plenty of mistakes parenting my daughter. Due to our situation, she was set to attend the local high school which is under double government review (not good). I put pressure on my daughter to get the highest grades possible in an attempt to secure her a scholarship to a decent high school. Turned out the scholarship selection process is not what I imagined it to be anyway – it doesn’t merely come down to grades. And then my husband and I secured funding for our daughter to attend a high school she loves. How I made my daughter suffer for those years… I cringe inside thinking about it, and have sincerely apologised to her. Looking back, it wasn’t worth putting that pressure on her – not for anything. I made a big mistake there.
    Now she is at high school and doing very well in all her subjects, except for Chinese which she is failing. Her Chinese exam is tomorrow, and she told me she has been revising but she thinks she will only score about 20% on the exam. 1) It shows how far we’ve come that my daughter feels she can talk to me about potentially failing an exam. 2) I am so proud of my daughter for continuing to try; and I think it is fantastic she is now having the opportunity to learn that failure like this has no bearing on her worth as a human being. 3) The teacher told the students that if they do their revision they should perform very well in the exam. I explained to my daughter that there are gifted linguists out there in the world – and as such, there are also people who struggle to learn foreign languages. She might be one of them (it seems this is probably the case – she really struggled to retain any foreign language during junior school as well). 4) This is giving my daughter an opportunity to put effort into her learning whilst appreciating a far from perfect result; knowing that the process itself was worthwhile.
    I’m not going to jump in and try to save my daughter from failing Chinese. I think this is a blessing – and the gift I can give her here is the gift of knowing it’s normal, and OK to ‘fail’ sometimes. It’s the least I can do, after the way I caused her to suffer before. Perfectionism drains life of much opportunity for happiness.
    When my gifted daughter grows up, I hope she is happy – and confident enough to follow her heart, wherever it may lead.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You’ve shared so many important ideas here, Ro. I’ll just respond to one part. I think it can be so hard for parents not to rescue their kids from “failure” but it’s so important to let them experience mistakes and imperfection and failure and to see that the world doesn’t end and that they continue to be worthwhile human beings. In fact, it could be that the “failures” are where they learn the most! Thank you.

    2. renovatio06 Avatar

      I will say just one thing, Ro: Your daughter is lucky to have you!

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