Indeed, what enables children to be labeled gifted may turn out to be the limiting factor in their lives. Joshua Waitzkin, once a child chess whiz, is captivated by the learning process. In his 20s, he began the study of Tai Chi and, despite his late athletic start, has become an international champion. Waitzkin sees huge disadvantages to being labeled a child prodigy. “If you buy into the label,” he says, “the greatest danger, in the language of psychologist Carol Dweck, is that we internalize an entity theory of intelligence. The moment we believe success is determined by an ingrained level of ability, as opposed to resilience and hard work, we will be brittle in the face of adversity. If you tell a kid that she’s a winner, which a lot of parents do, then she believes that her winning is because of something ingrained in her. If she wins because she is a winner, then losing makes her a loser.”
Passion burns so brightly, it’s clear when one has it. As Chris Gardner puts it, “Passion is the thing that won’t let you sleep at night because you want to get up in the morning and go do your thing.” By itself it can fuel greatness. “If you’re passionate about something, you can develop the abilities,” says Gardner. “It can’t be taught, it can’t be bought. You can’t go to Yale and say you want to major in passion. You have to bring it with you.”
According to University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, passion is a component, along with perseverance, of what she calls grit. It particularly enables people to reach for goals that may be a long time in coming, she discovered in interviews with achievers in fields from investment banking to painting. Her studies show that grit and self-discipline predict educational attainment just as well as, if not better than, IQ.
At any given time, it’s impossible to predict the extent to which a person will eventually blossom—and disastrously naive for “experts” (or parents or teachers) to decree limits on what that person can achieve. This is reason enough to treat everyone as if they have the potential to reach full bloom.
from Scott Barry Kaufman, “Confessions of a Late Bloomer“