CURSE OF THE HIGHLY GIFTED

Beautiful black woman
Photo Courtesy: blackwomenofbrazil.co

Many nights, I find myself standing right here on the balcony looking out at the city lights in the horizon as vehicles zoom past the highway close by. Men and women hurrying home at 3am.  My heart is full of doubt and fear thus trying to sleep is a futile exercise. Instead, I came over to bask in the moonlight as the cold, silent Nairobi breeze blows gently over my bare skin while my head is plagued with heavy thoughts.

People who ultimately end up very successful in life are mostly those the society looked down upon in their formative years. Parents and teachers brand them failures, slow-learners or good-for-nothing while exalting the golden kids .As underdogs, they are overlooked by employers, rejected by their romantic interest while family, friends, and relatives have little or no expectations of them.

This state of affairs enables them to learn early that failure is part of life. They learn to withstand rejection and humiliation. Since nobody really pays attention to them, they have ample room to make mistakes, work on their weaknesses whilst building on their strengths and eventually surprising those who wrote them off as losers. The likes of Jack Ma, Stephen King, Walt Dysney and JK Rowling.

However, if you are a golden child, things are totally different. Your parents, teachers, and relatives are proud of you. They praise and show you off every chance they get. Your siblings are chastised at every turn for not being as good as you are. You grow up attaching your self-worth and happiness to achievement, consequently, you avoid failing at all cost lest you disappoint your parents.

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The very first dilemma you face is choosing a career. While those gifted in one area already know which career to pursue, you are spoilt for choice. How do you choose what course to pursue in university when you are multi-gifted and equally passionate about three completely different careers?

Career counselors advise you to choose what you love most. What they don’t understand is that you equally love them all. As a result, you spend most of your time in campus doubting your career choice or shifting from one departments to another. What if 20 years down the line you discover that your ultimate calling is architecture having spent your entire life pursuing law?

Parents and relatives don’t make it any easier for you. You get unsolicited advice based on what they consider prestigious. Sometimes the same people try to force you to pursue careers they failed to. It is their dreams that they want you to realise, not yours.

If lucky enough to land a career you truly love then you have to deal with pressure that comes with it. As a highly-gifted individual, everyone around you has very high expectations of you. In most cases, you also place unrealistic expectations on yourself. The thing is you are not allowed to fail. When you make tiny mistakes everyone judges you harshly compared to others.

Mark Maish

During my high school stint, a classmate that used top all the classes lost his mind. Even though he used to ace all subjects his father wasn’t satisfied so he would pressure him to perform even better. The poor boy spent most nights, breaks and weekends in the library cramming in an effort to please his father. Completely no social life. One day he just snapped, dropped out of school and refused to ever go back. He would continuously insult the father who pushed him too hard. The last time I saw the old man, he was seated outside the principal’s office looking dejected with a tear stained face.

Same thing happened on campus. A classmate and friend who used to score high grades snapped in sophomore year. As freshmen we would all score high grades, however, things changed in the second year. Ds dominated our transcripts despite the countless hours we spent in the library buried in old voluminous books. Unable to take it any longer he went bonkers beating up everyone around him. His roommates were forced to tie him up and take him to the university health unit.  The last time I heard he was committed to Mathari Mental Institution.

It is easy for one to write off such cases especially if they haven’t faced similar pressure. All through my nascent schooling, I emerged position one in all exams, some even called me professor. Writing the midterms in class six, something happened and I became position 10. You should have seen how hundreds of pupils jeered at me, pure glee on their faces. That was my first taste of failure and public humiliation. For a very long time after that incident, I was scared of failing constantly fretting about what will happen if I do.

The world is simply rigged against those deemed better off than majority of the population or have potential to be great. Curse of the highly gifted. Many people will celebrate you openly but deep inside they resent you and work hard to ensure you don’t realize your full potential. It’s called schadenfreude.

I faced constant criticism and resentment in my previous workplaces. Men and women twice my age would openly try to kill my ideas, frustrate my projects and blame me for things I didn’t do. In their minds, they probably thought that I was aiming to edge them out of their positions when in real sense I didn’t have the slightest interest in replacing them as my dreams were bigger than that.

Locally, I admire two great men, Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki. Tom Mboya got assassinated because his intelligence, charm, leadership and oratory skills won him admiration from all over the world scaring those in power.  J.M Kariuki best known for his quote, “Kenya has become a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars”, openly spoke of the ills plaguing this country and endeavored to ensure the citizens were able to fend for themselves something that didn’t sit well with forces of impunity leading to his untimely death.

Tom mboya and J.M Kariuki

If you are a young brilliant mind who threatens the wealthy and powerful, chances are that you will end up murdered and your body dumped in a forest. If you are lucky enough to avoid this you have to work hard to prevent self-destruction.

How many highly talented people do you know of that something happened on the way, they veered off and lost it? How many musicians, athletes, professionals, and academicians do you know of that ended up alcoholics, drug addicts, died of venereal diseases or committed suicide?

Almost everyone I have met thinks I’m destined for greatness. To be honest, I don’t think I’m great, all I know is that I’m just slightly different. I am afraid that if someone in power thinks I’m a threat to his reign he will send thugs to snuff the life out of me. That’s why I steer clear of politics.

Being the guy who inspires hundreds of thousands of people through my writing and having come off as a strong, courageous and confident man during my time in radio may have misguided people. The truth is;  I’m not as strong as I seem. I’m scared that I might be a shooting star; darting across the sky shining so brightly only to fizzle out and disappear forever.  I’m scared that the daring life choices I have made, and continues to make, will either make a great man out of me or a complete failure.

I struggle with my fears every single day. The nights I’m unable to sleep like tonight, I come to the balcony, look up to the sky and pray hoping to be remembered not as the guy who had the potential to be great rather as the man who gathered enough courage to get over his fears and actually make a difference in this this continent.

Written by Mark Maish

44 Comments

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  1. 3
    Njeri

    This war also crushes those of us considered average. some think you are destined for greatness, others simply ignore you and when you go beyond people’s expectations, most think you cheated your way there.
    also, i have discovered that people will only cheer you on up to a certain point after which if you are considered a threat, then they will start to actively push you down.

  2. 11
    mercy

    I can totally relate..especially where I’m afraid of making mistakes. In my world failure is not taken lightly by anyone. But i’m learning to soar free and free fall into my dreams, to forget people’s expectations for once. Nice read

  3. 14
    levy mbuguah

    thats how legends are born free of fear your life means alot if you could stand up and show even those in power you aren’t afraid…. very wonderful article.

    • 15
      Mark Maish

      I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear ~ Nelson Mandela

  4. 16
    kocholla

    So informative article since life also require us to be armed with ‘how to succeed’ skills something that academically talented individuals sometimes lack. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about these “curse of the highly talented”

  5. 20
    John

    This is a great piece and a reflection of my various experience in life. I have always been seen to be a high achiever (academically and professionally) and thus failing is almost always a bad thing for me. I remember the jeers once directed to me during my primary school years for dropping from my usual position 1 to position 3. I have also experienced resentment at the workplace due to some old timers who are convinced I am a threat. I totally relate to this article Eng. Maish; please keep more coming.

  6. 27
    Paul Mining'wa

    This is a real piece of art. For the first time I have read someone using the word schadenfreude! Mark, this is awesome!

  7. 28
    Burton

    The world is changing constantly, it’s an awesome piece of work beautifully crafted with so much sincerety at heart.
    dare to be different~my mantra.

  8. 30
    Fellie

    Great piece..I totally relate.Am always in constant fear of making mistakes..and my lows have showed me that no one got me like I got me.

  9. 32
    Anthony

    Great read bro,
    This should keep coming, some of us are almost snapping from the unforgiving Actuarial Math. This will surely take me far. I appreciate.

  10. 33
    Eli

    When I was in high school I experienced almost the same situation. My grades were great. I was who every one in the family looked up to. Until I got too involved with girls. Then I was deemed to fail in life (You know african parents and their notions about life). My grades started to drop mostly because I took so much pressure from people trying to steer my life in the way they admired in their minds. I eventually learned how to take pressure and live life the way I feel makes me happy. After I got a job, I actually was worried that I would have people at higher positions not happy with my innovative ideas and would try to knock me off my career. See when you show yourself to the world and display your talents, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy and other kinds of manifestations of insecurity. And I know I can not spend my life worrying about petty feelings of others but with those above me, I must take a different approach. According to 48 Laws of Power, out shining your master is probably the worst mistake of all. So I stay very cautious of when and where to display my talents at work.

    Nice articles by the way.

  11. 35
    30s

    Yesssss!Reality is life can suck for everyone. Life will find a way to make you feel like crap for not being “gifted” and still make life difficult for those that are. Accept it and figure out a way to overcome those challenges.

    Good read Maish.

  12. 37
    Mark Njoroge

    Its rather painful, how intelligence actually receives the highest amount of ridicule. Having lived in different situations but the same result, i totally agree with what you said.

    People speak of how impressed they are, how you’ve got potential, how you’ll grow be one of the movers n the shakers, but still unrelentingly demand more from you than usual, where they just assume, that you automatically know the know-hows n know-whats, and they end up in rather harsh criticism upon failure.

    Things get messed up once s

  13. 39
    lovinemboya

    True story! True for many of us and very well written. It is sad that a lot of us continue to live in fear, and even at workplaces we are told ‘not to come off as too bright lest we threaten the boss’, sad. People are afraid to let their wings fly because another person might not be too happy about it, and what if your greatness will be your downfall? Sigh. Life is tricky.

  14. 40
    Amy

    Of unrealistic expectations placed on people (sigh). Reminds me of primary when i became number 4 instead of the usual top three. Jeers from teachers and students alike. Like you, I believe am different even when everyone cheers me on with high expectations of me.

  15. 43
    Hildah Imali

    At some point ,,I give a line a pause,,,and think of my time in highschool,,,, I was the English champ,,,,and much was expected from me,,,,from form one to form four. ,,,,,,the principal,,,, Mrs Violet Opala Oyungu,,,, after reading two of my poems,,, ‘English my love’ and ‘ Kaimosi my mother land’ ,,,,called me to her office,,,, asking me to promise her that I’ll be the best come KCSE,, this also happened in primary ,when the deputy also asked me to make the same promise,,,,this too much expectations of people from us,,,,,it does not only motivate us but put into too much pressure,,,,and unfortunately sometimes things don’t turn out as they expected.

    I was not the best both in primary and highschool,,, you bet I got a good scolding from all who expected me to top in English.

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