Wunderkind, genius, prodigy. Freak, geek, nerd. How we label exceptional people - including ourselves - affects our identity in many ways and what we think about the reality and value of our talents, and the possibilities of expressing them in the world.

Being part of a clique outside the mainstream is a reality many of us have experienced.

Writer, actor and producer Tina Fey has talked about being an "AP-class brainiac nerd" in Philadelphia's Upper Darby High School.

Of course, not many "brainiac nerds" gain the level of power and acclaim that Tina Fey has. But maybe there is a growing acceptance and recognition of people who are smart and geeky.

The Wikipedia page on the term Geek reports that "Nerd Pride Day has been observed on May 25 in Spain since 2006. The holiday promotes the right to be nerdy or geeky, and to express it in public without shame."

But still, the school and social climate for gifted teens can mean many, especially girls, find it difficult and even painful to be loners or in an unpopular clique.

Kathleen Noble, Assistant Director of the Early Entrance Program, University of Washington in Seattle, addresses challenges for gifted people, especially girls and women.

She comments, "Most women who are gifted think they're freaks, and feel horribly different - isolated, alienated, ostracized, thinking, What's wrong with me?"

She says in order to live "deliberately, heroically, consciously" they need to say, "I am not a freak; this is who I am."

Of course, that applies to us men too. Speaking of his role in the tv series ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ actor James Franco said it echoed his own high school experience, and he considered himself "a little freak, a little geek" and also a loner who did a lot of painting.

Accepting yourself as different

Writer Julia Mossbridge says she spent many of her early years learning a difficult lesson, that "when you know for sure that you can’t blend in, you realize you also can’t pass as normal."

She continues, "You can either truly honor your uniqueness or invalidate yourself. In my adult life, I have come to celebrate exactly who I am as an expression of God’s creativity. But it’s been a long road getting there."

How do we respond to people who gain eminence in a field and are considered a genius or prodigy? And what about those who are called less positive names like eccentric or weirdo or crazy?

One reaction is exemplified by director Jane Campion, praised for “The Piano” and other films, who once commented she never felt she could pursue filmmaking confidently because she thought it was "something done by geniuses, and I was very clear that I wasn’t one of those.”

There have been so many stories in literature and news media about what a genius is, but those stories can include distorting ideas of what it takes to have "gifts" and realize outstanding talents.

We have been presented with Mozart as an example of the "gifted genius" - someone with an unearthly talent not visited on most of us. Not so much a role model as a "god" we could not hope to emulate.

But in his book Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin notes that by the time Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto No 9 at age 21, he had been in rigorous, deliberate training with his father, many hours a day for 18 years, since the age of three. His compositions at earlier ages were basically exercises, copying other composers.

Another enduring myth - promoted in the movie Amadeus - is that Mozart was "gifted" with entire compositions in his head, and could just remember and transcribe them in finished form, without additional work.

But, Colvin writes, research indicates Mozart was constantly revising his compositions for months or years.

There are other examples in his book of exceptional accomplishment, based on talent, certainly, but also on committed, laborious and deliberate practice for years, rather than some magical visitation from a muse.

Colvin concludes that great performance is available to everyone.

High ability and achievement are not so magical or divine after all. We just need to acknowledge our abilities and work at developing the talents we have, just like any other worthwhile endeavor.

Author's Bio: 

Douglas Eby writes about the psychology of creative expression and personal growth. His site has a wide range of articles, interviews, products and other resources to inform and inspire: Talent Development Resources talentdevelop.com