Is Gifted and Talented a Life Sentence

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I recently finished reading a book that blew me away, called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Unlike so many other books that have the words “mindset” and “success” in the title, this was a serious book that steered clear of pop psychology and soundbites and offered a simple, yet astonishingly empowering concept that will forever change the way I approach challenges…and teach my daughter to do the same.

It’s not based not on abstract metaphysics, but on hardcore research conducted by the author, Stanford University Professor and acclaimed developmental psychology researcher, Carol Dweck, Ph.D. The fundamental idea was that, from the time we are little kids, we approach challenge with one of two mindsets:

  • The “fixed” mindset or
  • The “growth” mindset.

The fixed mindset assumes that our potential to succeed in any particular endeavor is largely determined by genetics. It is a gift that we either have or we don’t. The growth mindset, however, assumes that, barring the rare savant, success in not inborn, but rather is a function of how hard we work at something.

Through a variety of influences that include parents, teachers, friends and colleagues and coaches, we tend to adopt one of the two mindsets fairly early in life. And, which of the two we adopt will likely have a massive impact on both how successful we become in nearly anything…and how fulfilled we remain along the way.

Fixed mindset individuals often excel in an activity early on, but then, once that activity requires a substantial amount of work to move to the next level, instead of stepping up, they back away.

In fact, according to Dweck, they often go further and completely shut down.

Because, in the their mind, “if they really were gifted and talented, they shouldn’t have to work.” “Work,” they believe, “invalidates their claim to talent and that can be a crushing psychological blow when you’ve defined yourself, as so many people do, by a claim to a special gift. Plus, if you either “have it or you don’t,” then there’s no clear path to growth and improvement, once you’ve been defeated by any given challenge.

You’re done. Cooked. Talent debunked.

So, those with a fixed mindset will often achieve early success, but then quickly retreat from progress out of fear of testing their talent, coming up short, then deeming themselves irretrievable failures.

Folks who operated with a growth mindset, however, work on the basic assumption that success comes through work and practice. Understanding this, they welcome challenge, tests and trials as new opportunities to discover where they stand at any given time, then use that information as a benchmark to direct future efforts.

Guided by the growth mindset, you don’t define yourself by a gift or talent, rather by effort.

So you’ve got nothing to lose by regularly testing your current knowledge, skills and abilities. Because, even if you fail at any given trial, unlike the fixed mindset that says you either have it or you don’t, you’ve now got a process to grow and improve by working harder and smarter.

Adopting this mindset leads to not only a higher level of success across the board, but a much happier pathway as well.

The book shares many fascinating case-studies, from 4-year olds all the way up through college and pro athletes, artists, musicians, executives and supposed prodigies of all manner.

And, it shares a relatively straight forward approach to understanding which mindset YOU operate under, then, if necessary, making the transition to the growth mindset.

But, here’s where it gets really interesting…

At the same time I was reading Dweck’s book, there was a lot of hubub in our local paper about my daughter’s elementary school adding a second “Gifted & Talented” class. And, that got me wondering how the concept of Gifted & Talented programs fit into the dual-mindset framework. So, I asked Professor Dweck:

From what you’ve written, it sounds like the net effect of installing a separate track for “gifted and talented” kids, then labeling them as such may be destructive to both the kids intentionally labeled and those inadvertently labeled “not gifted and talented” by default. I wonder whether you might be kind enough to share your thoughts on this topic

And, in short order, Professor Dweck shared this kind reply:

Actually, I don’t have a strong position against gifted programs per se. I believe that all children need to be challenged at school. I am concerned, however, when the “gift” is portrayed as a fixed trait and the label becomes a symbol of worth. Students may then care more about the label than about learning–they may become afraid to take on challenges or make mistakes.

I also don’t like the word “gift.” It implies that abilities are simply bestowed from on high, that some students have them and some don’t, and  that students have no role to play in developing them. Yet, researchers are beginning to agree that giftedness and talent are quite dynamic and can flourish at any time under the right circumstances (or wither under the wrong ones). Research is also showing the enormous role of dedication, practice, and resilience in the development of talent.

So, any gifted program should focus on teaching students how to challenge themselves, seek learning, value and enjoy effort, and recover from setbacks. This is what they need to develop their abilities. Then again, these lessons would help all students develop their abilities.

So, I’m curious. What do you think?

Which mindset do you operate under?

And, how might labeling kids gifted and talented or just plain regular affect the mindset they adopt?

Let’s discuss…

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60 responses

60 responses to “Is Gifted and Talented a Life Sentence”

  1. Lisis says:

    Well, Jonathan, seeing as I’m completely devoid of talent… I’m going to vote for growth.


    (Great post, btw!)

  2. terig says:

    Love this. Here’s my issue. Not only do these labels stick (for e.g., my brother once said something kinda stupid as a kid. My father labeled him “jethro” – and it stuck. He always felt stupid. Now, in the current educational climate, kids are asked to perform herculean tasks: get straight A’s (whether or not you’re a linear thinker, as our system requests), varsity sports, AP’s, extracurriculars, community service..and fall asleep with your phone next to your ear less you miss a text. Somewhere in there, there is a wee bit o sleep. When kids don’t “perform” in these settings, we wonder why. It probably starts with the mindset (I totally agree with Dweck) and perhaps becomes a self fulfilling prophecy when under all this stress. When there’s no quiet time, no time to be in one’s own skin, to even think a random thought, how are we to help the kids out of the label, mindset or box? It is a conundrum! to be sure.

  3. I’ve struggled with this for much of my teenaged and adult life. I spent a long time believing that if I couldn’t do something “correctly” right away, I couldn’t do it at all, and there was no point in trying. Over the last several years, and with the help of close friends and counselors, I’ve been trying to break out of that trap. Thank you for writing about this – with luck, you’ll inspire others to break out too. The world needs as many growth-minded people as it can get!

  4. Fascinating topic!

    I think it would be useful if we could just stay away from any labelling and focus on learning and growth for everyone at all stages of our lives.

    I’m off to get the book…

  5. Wow, Jonathan. Thanks for this article. At one point I was under the ‘gifted’ tag and accomplished nothing of significance. Now I definitely operate under the ‘growth’ tag. It is such a better way to live. I have so much fun trying, and pushing beyond my ‘gifts’, learning from failing and discovering other hidden talents and gifts.

    One thing I have noticed in the school systems and ‘gifted and talented’ programs in my area is that they assume the children already have an understanding of how to solve a problem or manage a project.

    So, first they are told they are gifted, then they feel like failures because they don’t know how to start, manage or finish. And it is never explained that there ‘gifts’ are to be used as a stepping stone and they have to work hard to get where they want to go.

    Thanks for allowing me comment.

    Keep up the good work. Love your stuff.

    Sandy Dempsey

  6. Dave Navarro says:


    You get better at what you practice at, period.

  7. met says:

    I am 30 and I have recently begun to learn music and play the guitar. Since then I’ve been asked “Are you musically talented?”, “Can you identify notes”, etc. My answers to all those questions are “NO” 🙂 I haven’t felt any kind of discouragement yet and in fact I feel a certain sense of achievement and happiness as I complete each step. I truly believe that I can do IT. I don’t believe I’ll be an innovative musician (at least yet).
    A lot many years from now I hope to give you an answer 🙂

  8. met says:

    Sandy, My life has been similar to what Sandy said above
    (At one point I was under the ‘gifted’ tag and accomplished nothing of significance. Now I definitely operate under the ‘growth’ tag. It is such a better way to live.).

    The feeling that I haven’t accomplished anything of significance is what drives me, combined with the hope that if I keep trying, I’ll eventually get there (don’t exactly know where).

  9. I like this review.
    I find complimenting my daughter’s and encouraging them more often than putting them down inspires them to excellence. Sometimes I have to encourage to colour outside of the lines.

    This book is on my wishlist.

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ David – One of the most striking lessons from the book for me, as a dad too, was that the “way” you compliment your child is critical.

    Saying one thing tends to foster the fixed mindset and it’s implications, while a slight change fosters the growth mindset and opens doors. For example, complimenting how talented your daughter is or how perfectly notes were played creates a very different impact than sharing how proud you were of the work and determination she invested and crediting that as the source of success. Subtle, but very powerful.

  11. Chuck Smith says:

    What a great concept, and certainly one I can wrap my brain around. I’ve been labelled “gifted” at one time or another, and in some ways, I can see where I’ve quit things without really trying because they didn’t come easy. I’ll have to watch it with my daughter, who is smart and a hard worker to make sure she keeps the work ethic intact. And my son, who has a much harder time in school, will definitely benefit from a Growth mindset. Just bought the Kindle version of the book and am looking forward to reading it.

    Thanks Jonathan!

  12. Ivy says:

    Research shows that highly intelligent kids actually do better both emotionally and academically when grouped with others at the same level. Labels aside, it’s for the very reasons you state. When you aren’t always the smartest one in the room, you learn that you have to work toward what you want just like everyone else. You learn that while everyone may have strengths (a “gift” for math, music, or writing) they also have weaknesses that they have to address. You can be challenged among peers, learn study skills, and experience struggle and failure — as well as hard-won success.

    Contrast that to a very intelligent child in a regular classroom. They are always the smartest. They never have to work or study. They never fail. They never learn how to learn because they always just know. Eventually they hit a point (college for example) where they DO have to work and they just crash and burn.

    So while I agree that labeling kids is dangerous (whether that label is “gifted” or “slow”) challenging them wherever they are at is really critical.

  13. Wow, this is really interesting. I’ve seen the book and been very curious about it so I’m so glad you wrote about it here. I think it really seems like the growth mindset is the way to go!

  14. Ivy,
    Great insights. I have seen many kids crash and burn when they are suddenly faced with not being the brightest or suddenly having to work hard.
    Sandy Dempsey

  15. Evelyn Wenzel says:

    An interesting subject and one I can very much identify with. I grew up part of the “gifted” program at my school and even attended a summer camp put on by my state for the top 3% or so of sophomore students in the state. I personally always have had more of the “growth” mindset however and it drove me CRAZY in school because obviously others were working from a “fixed” mindset (and labelling me as “gifted”) and would say things like “If I was smart I would get all A’s like you” and I felt like saying “No if you were smart you would do your homework…and then you could get all A’s like me” (Although perhaps I at the time operated from a “fixed” mindset but considered my “gift” to be perseverance?)

    From what I have experienced of the fixed mindset specifically in people who consider themselves as “gifted” in one area is that the hard work to improve themselves in that one area does not necessarily deter them from exploring it further but rather they have a mental block which prevents them from (really) trying anything that they do NOT consider themselves “gifted” in and therefore severely limit themselves along the way. This has certainly been more of my husband’s mindset and it has certainly caused tension over things that he refuses to try, or if he does it is apparent that he has no intentions of really learning because he considers that he is not “gifted” in that area…(which also are strikingly similar to the areas that his father would consider himself to be not “gifted” in either, and therefore were never taught in his home growing up)

    On another thread, being interested in health and nutrition I am often told by people things like: “oh well I am just destined to be obese because, well look at my mother (or father)” or “I’m just going to have _______ health issues because my mother (or father) had them”. In reality it’s important to remember that we inherit much more than genes or vulnerabilies to certain health problems. We also inherit habits, ways of eating, ways of treating our bodies, and especially like you are discussing here, certain mindsets about what we can or can’t do or can or can’t be in the world. And why are we then surprised when two people who both have similar vulnerabilities to certain health problems and then have similar habits regarding exercise and diet end up with those health problems?

  16. Ann Fowler says:

    I started out fixed and am slowly moving to growth. I think labels for kids are dangerous but we do it and continue to do it in the adult world. It drives me crazy whenever I hear someone labeled as “high potential” in the corporate world.

  17. Joseph McBee says:

    Fascinating post!

    It is also very timely. I am in the beginning stages of starting my own business and you know all too well how much hard work that is! I was thinking just this morning; “Maybe I am just not GIFTED in this area. Maybe starting a business just isn’t for me.”

    This post is like fresh wind in my sails!

    As far as how this applies to the education of kids; my wife and I home school our three boys. One of the things we tell them so much it has become a mantra around our house is this; “It’s not how smart you are that matters, it’s how hard you work!”

    Thanks again for the post. I really needed this today.

  18. Edward Punt says:

    Johathan – The label, “Gifted and Talented” can also work for those without that label as well. My youngest daughter is enrolled in ballet classes at a school called, “The Joan Harris Centre for the Gifted/Talented.” Interestingly, I seriously doubt that they’ve turned away any paid enrollment even from the kids with two left feet. Would attending a dance school with the term “gifted” in it actually increase their confidence? Well, that’s anybody’s guess.

  19. Scott says:

    Great article. I think we have both issues in our lives. Many people think only Fixed exists so someone more successful had to have greater gifts or opportunities. We have to learn to deal with them and accept them. Growth is hard. It takes work and a willingness to fail but not be a failure. I see it everyday in financial matters. People who are brilliant at many things will have terrible finances because they claim I just don’t have the ability to understand it.

    Any 5 year old can understand it if they open themselves up and ask the right questions and want to learn.

    Growth is alive and well.

  20. Dee Wilcox says:

    Thanks for reviewing this book, Jonathan. I’m hesitant lately to pick up books such as this one as there is so much pop psychology at there, and many of them simply say the same thing, in a different way.

    Glad to see this book is different. My twin sister and I definitely grew up under the “gifted/fixed” mindset, and I can see how it has impacted each of us differently. She married a man in the same “gifted/fixed” category, whereas I married someone with a “growth” mindset.

    She and I have talked a lot about the curse of “potential” that goes along with being labelled “gifted.” We have both been waiting to achieve something great, as we were told we could (and should), and that burden has been a challenge. Many times I have thought, “I just don’t have what it takes.” My husband, of course, approaches things differently, and probably has more optimism about trying new things than I do.

    It’s good to see this from someone else’s perspective. I may pick up the book so I can read the rest – about moving from a “fixed” to a “growth” mindset.

    Thanks again! I really enjoyed reading this post.

  21. Mike Taylor says:

    This is all very interesting but perhaps we should be questioning what we mean by that word ‘success’.

    Too often our white, middle class, western notion of ‘success’ has little to do with self fulfilment, happiness, or contentment.

  22. Lisa Gates says:

    This really hits a nerve for me. When my son was five, his very wise teacher suggested not evaluating and complimenting his work as “good” or “beautiful” but rather to observe the facts, “Oh, you’ve drawn a green house with frogs on the patio,” or “look at the greens and blues you’re using.”

    Her intent was the children be seen and credited for pursuit, not performance.

    My experience of the Gifted and Talented program is that they seem to answer a worry proposition (what if I fail) instead of an inquiry or discovery proposition (what can I learn).

    I wonder if/when we’ll return to true inquiry as the basis for real education, real learning.

    “I wonder”is a perfect start.

  23. That so totally describes my life up until I started my own business. I’d been labeled as gifted and so never worked during school, nor during university. It wasn’t until I started my own business at 34 that I discovered what hard work meant and wow was that a difficult lesson to learn at that age!

  24. Laurie says:

    I have read the book and loved it. It changed the way I look at myself and others. As a teacher, I heralded the idea of praising the hard work of students to other teachers rather than the intelligence. It makes sense when you think about it.

    Being GT can be as much a curse as a blessing. My son is very GT but I refused to put him in the program in our district. I found the program too restrictive focusing on reading and math when I would believe GT kids would also flourish in writing and science. But kids who are very GT also are very susceptible to emotional problems. They usually relate to adults better than other kids, they are easily frustrated with other kids because what they see plainly is too abstract for other kids to understand, GT kids can easily isolate and become depressed feeling like a freak that doesn’t fit in anywhere, they can become underachievers and drop out of school. My point is that GT isn’t all you would think it would be so take extra care if your child is GT and monitor them for problems. There is a book out there called “Smart Boys: Talent, Manhood, and the Search for Meaning” that can shed some light on the GT boy to manhood.

    Thanks for the post. The book was a life changer for me.

  25. Carol’s insights are news-you-can use – a favorite expert of mine. As your post indicates, she is not only smart she is thoughtful and kind. Some are experts who do not seem to benefit from the insights they offer others. Not her. I wrote about her here

  26. I was labeled ‘gifted’ as a kid. I got stuck in a mindset, that I should do what came naturally. It worked right up until calculus, where I actually had to stop and think.

    And then I looked back and realized there’d been countless other opportunities to stop and think, but I’d been less interested so I hadn’t bothered.

    I did the work and eventually got calculus. Did the work, and learned to play a dozen musical instruments well enough to record my own music. Did the work and built a business writing, speaking and coaching.

    I’m learning to work at the intersection of natural talent, overwhelming passion, and willingness to work.

    I’m trying to teach my littlest one the same thing. It seems her six siblings picked it up, even without explicit training.

  27. Enrique S says:

    I have one son who has struggled throughout school, especially in math. But, he has developed an incredible work ethic. He will spend hours getting a term paper just right. His brother is in honors classes, and learning comes easier to him. He hasn’t developed this killer work ethic. I wonder if it’s a function of the amount of time spent on a task, rather than the quality of that time.

  28. Enrique, I suspect it’s a matter of how doing what’s easy doesn’t teach us how to do what’s hard!

    I was lazy, mentally, until I hit a roadblock I just had to get past. It’s taken me decades to unlearn that laziness. Now, I’m pretty sure I can do anything, not because it comes naturally, but because I’ve finally learned to do the work.

  29. Bo says:

    The first time the label “gifted and talented” crashed for me was when my family moved to the US. I didn’t speak a word of English and ended up in all remedial classes (funny, they generally don’t do this in Korea, at least when I grew up there). I wanted to fit in (13 years old!) and I wanted to be in the “advanced” classes. I don’t think I’ve ever worked that hard, before or since. I got into the classes I wanted through hard work, but I think the belief that I am “gifted” drove me to it.

    The second time it happened was after grad school. I went to a highly competitive music conservatory. The idea of gift and talent is exponentially heightened in such environment. It’s easy to forget the joy in music making, in the process and craft of one’s art. I quit after graduation. I couldn’t see the point. If I’m not as talented as all these other kids, why bother trying?

    I eventually came back to music. I also discovered that there’s no single path. I am creating my own opportunities and finding ways to make a fulfilling living. That takes hard work. Gift alone, whether it exists or not, won’t allow me to find personal success.

    Thank you for this review. I needed to be reminded.

  30. Jonathan,
    The more we grow the more gifted we become.

    Working with children in enrichment programs and across disciplines taught me a very valuable lesson. Several actually, but for this discussion one stands out.. that children are so easily convinced one way or the other about themselves…we have to have a care.

    I love that his has actually been documented.

    My question is who benefits? Who benefits from having one mindset or the other?

  31. Tim Chambers says:

    Wow- a lot of responses already! I think that there can be a balance of the two. Some people are indeed gifted in a certain discipline. You are great at writing, whittling complex concepts and ideas down into bite-size nuggets, for instance. But you’ve also shown that it’s one thing to coast, another to use the “gift” as a raw tool to make things happen.

    I have always been labeled as the “incredible artist” and have had to work hard to overcome the crash and burn tendency when a new direction is required. I’m working through that now, in this economy, and your blog has been an encouragement time and again to think outside the box that I’ve coasted in for so long.

    I’m still gifted, as are most people, but I’ve to use my noggin and elbow grease to use the gifts in new areas.

  32. Randy Zeitman says:

    Fixed…. people are the mindset they are taught. If you’re encouraged you’re a growth, if not you’re a fixed.

    Smart and talented people who don’t have a fantastic work ethic often end up bitter, frustrated, and angry…why shouldn’t they… they were setup to fail and now suffer.

    I do indeed feel bad for smart and/or beautiful people… the expectations are unfair.

  33. Kelly says:


    Wow, what an interesting concept—and a great discussion! What I’m getting from the comments is that we’ll all see this in highly personal ways. So here’s my highly personal view…

    There was no such thing as a G/T program in the school district when I was a kid. Still, kids had no trouble figuring out whom to label all on their own. Labels from on high were not nearly as destructive as labels from your peers, which demoralized the brainy kids and made some of them take their talents underground (i.e. underperform) just to stay even semi-cool.

    With balls of brass (pardon me), I wasn’t one of those. I’ll be in growth mode and you can all stuff it, was my (outward) attitude. Inside of course being called brainy and many other things hurt like the dickens!

    But my sister was, underperforming to stay cool, and she’s paid for it in low-self-esteem and low performance habits all her life. Yes, I do think her peers put that there. It wasn’t a part of her when we were young.

    My own daughter had the chance to test in to one of the best public school G/T programs in the country before kindergarten. I jumped at the chance and I’ve never been sorry. The label from on high is wonderful, for a couple of reasons:

    —In this program, there is NO big deal at all made of the label once they’re in the class. You’re a group of kids with your peers, sweating like in every other classroom.

    —The program is integrated into a regular school, so once they exit the class for lunch, recess, etc., they’re turned loose to be just plain kids along with everyone else. Because they haven’t spent the day with the jealousy and insecurity that I saw growing up, these labelled darlings are treated like NORMAL kids at recess. I know what a big deal that is.

    —Teachers in *both* the main classrooms and the G/T classes say that their students are performing better than they would in integrated classes. Because the teacher can teach to a more equal level, and everyone gets the help they need to excel.

    May your little ball of sunshine excel, whatever path you choose to guide her down. With a father like you giving her room to grow, I know she’ll be brilliant.

    My highly personal 2¢.



  34. Tim Chambers says:

    I think Kelly’s right: labeling from our peers hurts a lot more than from on high, especially as kids when you’re taught to “fit in or be ostracized!”

    For the reasons Kelly mentioned and also for a better education and b/c we love our kids and want to be w them, we homeschool our kids. This has given us the opportunity to pour into them, develop their talents, address their weaknesses. Their influence is from the two people that love them the most- their parents- and they are stronger against labeling when they socialize.

    It’s amazing how destructive labels become stigmas. How important it is to hear the truth from those that truly care.

  35. Hugh says:

    I would be curious to see how an individual’s ability for self-validation affects which mindset they assumed.

  36. Maura says:

    Another great post Jonathan. I think about this a lot. In addition to coaching and raising 2 young daughters, I teach future teachers at a university. We spend one session on gifted & talented education and I intro Carol Dweck’s work. I have realized (through hearing my students’ experiences) that students are selected for GATE programs based on different criteria, depending on where they attend school. Many students have talents that are not acknowledged or measured by such programs, which can communicate value of some talents and not others. Also, I have thought much about the language I use to praise my daughters. I am trying to find a way to help them develop growth mindsets while at the same time, reminding them that they are inherently good and loved (Many of my clients’ problems stem from a belief that they are not essentially good enough). Thanks!

  37. Steve Bent says:

    I’m another “Sandy!”

    I never really acheived anything yet was under the impression I was gifted.

    Now 34 I work in Learning and Development so I would like to think that I am now “growth”
    Although I do think I’m naturally gifted at what I do (fixed!) 😉 LOL!

    However I’d love to know where it comes from. Is it parenting??

    As a new parent I can see that it would be possible to instill the “you’re amazing” mindset in the child, and potentially that’s what my parents did in me (great parents, I’m happy, no grudge!!)

    be interested to know if the book tackles this side of the issue??

  38. I love how you replied to David. I’m going to be a father soon and never really thought to praise the work that goes into developing the talent. I would have thought that praising a child for their talent would be a great technique.

    I’m so glad I read this today. I know that I will raise my kid to have trust in his hard work, not just his talent.

  39. […] at Awake at the Wheel wonders if gifted and talented is a life sentence.  He talks about the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, how the fixed […]

  40. nora says:

    Steve… there was actually an article that talked about this (in the New Yorker, I think? not 100% sure)… and they found through research that kids who were praised for “being smart” or “good” or “talented” tended to fall into that fixed mindset trap, whereas those who were praised for their efforts/hard work instead, went on to push themselves more.

    this is a great post… i definitely fell into the ‘fixed’ mindset trap for most of my life. always the ‘smart/artistic/talented’ one according to people around me… yet i never capitalized on it. i think i figured smart/talented meant i didn’t have to work hard.

    oddly enough it deciding to run and training for my first marathon that taught me that hard work is so much more important than initial talent/ability. i am by no means a natural runner, and it took working towards something i actually *wasn’t* very good at off the bat to make me realize that.

  41. Patricia says:

    Wow, lots to think about here. Great discussion.

    I definitely got labelled GT young (although there were no programs where I went to school), and I absolutely never pushed myself, definitely a “fixed” mindset. In recent years I *have* been pushing and working a “growth” mindset – I didn’t like where I’d coasted to without trying! But lately, I’ve also decided to look closely at my choices, and choose carefully in what direction I want to grow. Challenge and growth for the sake of challenge (and there are big ones I could choose!) aren’t going to lead me in a meaningful direction either…

  42. Somebody says:

    I had sort of the opposite experience. I was placed in the ‘gifted and talented’ track fairly young, but I was never remotely considered the smartest person in the room. I remember having to work very, very hard to keep up; and for years I actually believed I was stupid. It wasn’t until years after college (and grad school), that I realized I WASN’T dumb… I just happened to always surround myself with extraordinarily intelligent people. The so-called ‘real world’ is what made me realize I was smart. Go figure.

  43. Liked this post..
    The parents have to be watchful of the people who label the kids with fixed mindset. And the parents themselves should consciously try to inculcate the growth mindset feeling in their children

  44. Dan Kooper says:

    I dont know if I totally agree with the mindset of natural, born talent. I am torn with this.

    I train a lot in the martial arts, and seriously every person that came in starts out at the same level. While some people might look better off the bat, there is usually a deeper reason. The ones that look better have spent time practicing things that focus on various postures.

    For instance, there was this guy who was a figure skater before he practiced kung fu. He came in and everything looked pretty good even though he first started. It was because he spent years learning posture, learning how certain things look, etc.

    I have yet to see a new person come in and completely blow everyone out of the water.

  45. […] writer I’ve exchanged a lot of emails with over the years, wrote a brilliant article entitled Is Gifted and Talented a Life Sentence? that really shook how I thought about parenting issues with my own kids. Interestingly, Jonathan […]

  46. […] writer I’ve exchanged a lot of emails with over the years, wrote a brilliant article entitled Is Gifted and Talented a Life Sentence? that really shook how I thought about parenting issues with my own kids. Interestingly, Jonathan […]

  47. […] writer I’ve exchanged a lot of emails with over the years, wrote a brilliant article entitled Is Gifted and Talented a Life Sentence? that really shook how I thought about parenting issues with my own kids. Interestingly, Jonathan […]

  48. […] writer I’ve exchanged a lot of emails with over the years, wrote a brilliant article entitled Is Gifted and Talented a Life Sentence? that really shook how I thought about parenting issues with my own kids. Interestingly, Jonathan […]

  49. Erin says:

    I was in a gifted class starting in 5th grade. It did a lot for my self-esteem, since I was very shy and insecure. I got into the class through my advanced reading and writing ability. I was always ahead of my class on anything to do with reading or English, probably because I was a voracious reader from the age or 4. This also translated to doing very well with minimal effort in any class that was based on reading comprehension and writing, such as social studies or foreign languages. I could easily get A’s or high B’s in those classes without really “studying” as long as I did the reading.

    Math and science were a different story. They did not come naturally to me and I thought I just “couldn’t do math”. I failed Algebra in 9th grade and had to repeat it. It turns out that I could have done it if I just worked at it – got extra help, did all the homework step by step until I understood it, etc. Sadly, I didn’t come to realize this until I took a college math class (after I had graduated from college) in order to apply to grad school. I had actually managed to get my bachelor’s without ever taking a math class or math-heavy science class in college because of my fear of math. I purposely did not major in psychology because I saw I would have to take Statistics and I was terrified of that! Once I took math in preparation for grad school, and took more math-heavy classes in grad school, I realized that I could do math, I just had to work hard at it and really practice doing the problem sets. Conversely, I had classmates in grad school with quantitative backgrounds who breezed through subjects like Operations Management but hated the classes I loved that primarily consisted of reading and writing papers, because writing well was tough for them.

    So I grew up with this fixed mindset about reading/writing and math – I could do writing and just couldn’t get math. But luckily I came to develop a growth mindset about it. Which is a good thing, because I am about to embark on a career change for which I need to get a master’s in a totally different subject than anything I’ve done before!

  50. partgypsy says:

    Wow (growth versus fixed) really resonates with me. I’m a firm believer and acceptance in growth, except for myself. When growing up I was pretty naturally good at most school type activities. However I had (too) high expectations, if I couldn’t do something perfectly the first time I would’nt want to do it at all. I didn’t want to be identified as “gifted” because I knew invariably I would be pushed into areas where I didn’t know everything and hence “fail”. I grew out of alot of that. I see the same tendencies in my 6 year old, where if she cannot say play a game and win the first time she gets upset and doesn’t want to play. I really don’t want her to hamstring herself in that way. So I frame it as we are just practicing the moves, or whatever so she doesn’t put so much emphasis on winning and perfection.

  51. […] while you’re at it, read this review as well. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Interesting book reviewTen books that […]

  52. M says:

    Why do they always say either/or? Why can’t we operate under both mindsets? Why can’t we acknowledge gift and talent and still think even gift and talent need to grow? The world is not either black or white, and a person’s mindset can be neither “fixed” nor “growth”. How about a combined mindset? I’ve heard it over and over again, that talent doesn’t matter, that the only thing matters is how hard you work. How can you turn a blind eye to the fact that some people are gifted and talented, and they are naturally good at certain things. They are still better at what they do, practicing much less, than other people would giving all their time to it. I say this because I’m somewhat talented in visual arts, and it’s been confirmed by many teachers and classmates. I don’t think I don’t need to work at it, because I see myself getting better the more I paint. It irks me when people say talent doesn’t matter, because it matters, and because it sounds like a denial of part of who I am. I think people are talented in different things, and we all need to work hard in order to bring out its best. Just saying “all you need is hard work” is not enough. Will I be like Beethoven if I give all my life to music? I don’t think so. Now can he paint better than I do? Probably a “no” too.

  53. Franis Engel says:

    Good description of an poignant point, but no helpful information about how to get past the problem other than the motive to do so. Having been labeled “gifted”, I’ve had to figure most of these things out on my own. (Now in my fifties.)

    If I were to provide that info for young people, it would be in the form of the teaching of (creative) thinking skills. Please check out Edward de Bono, specifically his CoRT thinking course. Especially now that information can always be had, it is more crucial to learn how to get it. It seems that how you put info together makes you “wise” or “short-sighted.” Mentors and inspirations help us to not squander our gifts.

    There are also many psychological reasons why talented & smart kids turn their back on working hard which don’t include peer pressure or “fixed” definitions of a state of being.

    Their sense of time, for instance.

    Another certainly is the “beginner’s luck” phenomena, which “gifts” substantial skill at the first try, without any information about how to repeat the performance. For ways past this (blessed & cursed) phenomena, I’d recommend study of the Alexander Technique. This discipline shows how to repeat delightfully surprising results that came by accident. It also teaches how to free up whatever you have been programed to repeat through conditioning and/or practice, as well as how to stop doing it.

    Because of my own teenage experience of having people die who were close to me, I can attest that a fear of regret led me to put connection with people before accomplishment. So my smarts & talents went begging until I worked these things out. It did not take “hard work” because there was no direct route to even ask the right question. Eventually the challenge became how to express connections to people before they died. Of course, dying could happen at any moment, so this skill precluded work on any other. You might say this was an extraordinary circumstance that most people would not have to face at such an early age – but these are questions that are handy to work out. Otherwise you find yourself “chasing a red herring.” Just because you are socially recognized for a talent doesn’t necessarily mean you should be doing it.

    So – there is “emotional talent” – a skill to finding out what you want. This info may or may not be had through hard work, but certainly it pays to take some time and attention for ways to answer this question. When you are blessed at multi-talentedness, you are often told you must figure out which talent you’re going to starve. For these types of questions, I recommend the recent work of author Barbara Sher – who shows ways to feed all those talents.

    The ability to pull together an audience for this question is also a talent that must have taken some persistent work. Thanks for putting this together. Great topic!

  54. Keiy says:

    I think the terms of gifted and talented are not appropriate to be labeled to our kids. I very agree to Prof.Dweck’s answer, the most important thing for us, as parents or teacher or adult around kids, is help them to find what their talent is.

    Thanks Jonathan for this very interesting post, I like it much.

  55. This is a compelling article. Speaking from experience, I truly believe that labeling children as gifted can become a hindrance to their development, depending on how the giftedness is addressed and nurtured. It was fascinating to have someone illustrate how being labeled as ‘gifted’ when coupled with a fixed perspective can act to deter a child from trying new things, for fear of failure. This particular statement is spot on – ‘So, those with a fixed mindset will often achieve early success, but then quickly retreat from progress out of fear of testing their talent, coming up short, then deeming themselves irretrievable failures.’ It is only in the past several years that I have been able to recognize that the label I acquired at an early age and was so accustomed to being acknowledged for really meant nothing unless I chose to proactively pursue my goals and dreams. The comments above are not to say that I condone labeling children as being gifted. On a fundamental level it gave me a great amount of confidence in my intelligence and abilities. But as Prof. Dweck stated, ‘I am concerned, however, when the “gift” is portrayed as a fixed trait and the label becomes a symbol of worth. Students may then care more about the label than about learning–they may become afraid to take on challenges or make mistakes.’ It can definitely become a symbol of worth – and one that holds little validity in the real world when not followed by ambition, drive and determination to achieve regardless of the label (harsh lesson to learn). I think I need to acquire this book! Thank you for this thought-provoking post~!

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  57. Engineer says:

    Labeling some children “gifted” and others “not gifted” by default is the worst think that can be done in education system. This is made even worse in practice because identification is done according to subjective and unproven criteria such as “gifted students already know answers” and GT teaches usually lack knowledge in many subject areas. It is essentially declaring the defeat of education process: “gifted” already know and “not gifted” cannot be taught. Everyone go home and do what you like.
    In my opinion the focus must be on better preparation of teacher in subjects they teach and open enrollment to more advanced classes for everyone who is interested and willing to work hard.

  58. […] This topic is covered really well by Michael Graham Richard on his blog. 2:02 – Here’s a great article by Jonathan Fields about cultivating the right mentality in your child. 2:52 – If you’re growth-oriented, […]

  59. Anonymous says:

    Nothing (and no one) succeeds without effort. On one hand, you’ve got folk deriding the “gifted” as an elitist concept that should be eliminated. On the other, you got people (such as yourself) who denigate it a just a label because anything is possible if one works hard enough, “gifted” folk are just stuck-up. Well, being exceptionally-intelligent whether I want to or not, both attitudes just give me a lot of crap from people wherever the heck I go. It’s much easier just to “pass” as less intelligent to avoid hectoring and hassles from both sides. Thanks a lot.

  60. This topic is so mind blowing. And when it comes to kids growing up, it is even more important what we say and how we commuicate. The imprint period is from 0-7 and in these early sages they take in everything that is around them and this is when the basis for belifs are started. Love the blog