I Was a “Gifted” Kid & All I Got Was This Lousy Imposter Syndrome

Nicole Paulus
5 min readMar 16, 2021

I was a gifted kid.

I don’t say that to brag, that’s what they called me. They being the public school system.

Later, when I moved from Arizona to Georgia, they put me in Program Challenge. It was essentially the same thing, a special program for intellectually gifted kids, but rebranded (I’m assuming), to appear less divisive. We weren’t gifted but in need of a challenge. It was catchier and sure to get ALL the funding.

My single mom who worked all the time was proud that her daughter was being challenged and so she nor I ever questioned the impact that being bussed to a different school one day a week in order to dissect sharks and owl pellets, build egg parachutes and then send them flying off the top of the building, and design my dream house using basic architect principles and gridded paper would have on my future self-worth.

Sure the lessons were more fun than normal school, but I didn’t exactly fit in with the other gifted kids. Most of them came from wealthy, well-to-do families. Their name-brand shoes cost more than all of my Payless clearance clodhoppers put together and they all seemed to exude a confidence that I’ve never been able to fully embody, no matter how much wiser and grayer I become every day.

And so, once a week, I spent lunches eating alone in a dimly lit cafeteria, trying to hide the fact that my snack cake wasn’t a Little Debbie but a Wal-mart knock-off, by opening and devouring it as quickly as possible.

I missed eating lunch with my nongifted and talentless friends. We’d sing R-E-S-P-E-C-T by Aretha Franklin and talk about which boys we had crushes on. Lunch always seemed to fly by with them. During my gifted lunches, however, time crawled.

Still though — even though it was frustratingly lonely and isolating, there was something about being singled out for being smart that felt strangely satisfying. And so, long before I could drive or vote, years before I inserted my first tampon or kissed a boy, I began associating my intellect with my self-worth.

Had my mother known at the time that labeling her 9-year-old kid gifted would possibly contribute to the not-enoughness that that same kid would continue to feel throughout her entire life, even into adulthood — she might not have signed the papers so quickly. But alas, she did what most parents in the same position would do and indirectly invited the public school system to experiment with her child’s self-worth.

So what does this have to do with Imposter Syndrome? Let me explain…

I recently listened to a podcast called the 12th House. The particular episode I popped on went through the various archetypes associated with Imposter Syndrome.

Though I tend to feel Imposter Syndrome often, I wasn’t feeling particularly Imposter-y that day. I just randomly put on the episode in order to pass the time while walking to my hair appointment. Little did I know I was about to have my world rocked. When the host began speaking about The Natural Genius archetype, synapses began firing every which way, and I started to connect the dots.

  • Was my gifted labeling as a kid contributing to my current feelings of not-enoughness?
  • Was the tightness I felt in my chest every time I didn’t feel I was living up to my potential, making my loved ones proud, or letting someone down because it wasn’t gifted behavior?
  • Had associating my early self-worth with the number of awards won, honor rolls made, or student of the months achieved inherently created a fragile and sensitive monster?

Before I could draw any concrete conclusions, the episode continued….

According to the host’s summary, the Natural Genius archetype is devastated when they fail.

Could this be why I still struggle with speaking German after living in Berlin for 6 years? Though I can read most German texts and comprehend them, when I open my mouth I feel myself withering internally and turning red externally.

When a Natural Genius or a Gifted kid’s talent is called into question, they fall apart because their identity revolves around that thing.

Could this also be why I suck at working with other people? The first time I receive feedback from someone I crumble with self-pity or fire back with defensiveness.

And then here’s the part of the episode that really punched me in the throat….

A natural genius will always find ways to keep themselves small in order to avoid persecution.

To sum it up, I don’t blame my mom for placing me in the gifted program. For all I know, the placement could have instilled other values in me such as following my curiosities, being an independent thinker, and having an entrepreneurial mindset. That doesn’t mean I don’t still find it incredibly weird that such a program existed, though. Not just because I think ALL kids deserve to have access to an interesting curriculum that inspires out-of-the-box thinking with an experiential approach, but also because the labeling is extremely damaging.

Case in point: take this 33-year-old Squarespace website designer who has written and then rewritten a self-help book all about stepping into your power yet can’t manage to step into her own long enough to actually publish the damn thing.

Go easy on her, though. This gifted imposter is seriously doing her best.

Nicole Paulus is a Squarespace website designer and writer in Berlin. She helps Conscious Business Owners navigate the Squarespace platform and gain clarity around their content and offerings. Ready to share your gifts with the world? Book a free website consultation here: https://nicolepaulus.com/contact