Getting Good at Doing Things Badly

A former gifted kid learns to embrace failure

Devon Price
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readNov 8, 2019


An exhausted-looking person, leaning over a barbell. Photo: Jesper Aggergaard/Unsplash

RRecently, my partner and I were looking at astrology memes on Instagram. Examining social media stereotypes of our respective signs remains one of our primary methods of introspecting as a couple. We’d just finished roasting him for being a Pisces, and had moved on to examining the traits that supposedly befit me, an Aries. One of the first traits listed was “competitive.”

I scoffed. “I’m not competitive.”

He shot me a look.

“What?” I said. “I’m not. I’m not competitive. Unless I’m sure I’m going to win.”

My partner squinted and pursed his lips, a surefire signal that I was about to be called on my bullshit.

“Only being competitive when you think you’re going to win is competitive,” he said. “That’s just about the most competitive thing you could say.”

“What? No it’s not,” I protested. “I’m like the least competitive person in the world.”

That, of course, was also a very competitive-sounding declaration. By then I knew I’d lost the argument.

Now, if the issue is raised, I will concede that I am competitive, but that I’m also very fragile — I hate failing at things. I don’t like playing games I might lose. If I’m not instantly talented at a skill, I find it immensely threatening.

But I’m working on that.

LLike a lot of former “gifted kids,” I grew up being praised for how intelligent I was. I got screened for gifted education in first grade because I’d nonchalantly used the word “territorial” to describe a cat. I got assessed, and my verbal intelligence was incredibly high. My analytical abilities were mildly above average, too, so over to gifted education I went.

In gifted education, we kids were frequently told how much potential we had, and the ways in which we were different from other kids. This helped to inflate our egos but it didn’t teach us perseverance. Research shows that praising kids for “being smart” is far worse for their development than praising them for working hard. It’s much better to teach a kid that success comes to those who persist, rather than to those who find it on the first try.



Devon Price
Human Parts

He/Him or It/Its. Social Psychologist & Author of LAZINESS DOES NOT EXIST and UNMASKING AUTISM. Links to buy: