Giftedness and Self-Discipline: 3 Ways to Maintain a Work Ethic

Living up to one's gifted potential requires discipline and a strong work ethic against the temptation to "coast". Trent Rhodes explores how he discovered, and we all can discover, a gifted work ethic that gives purpose and creative clarity in all our actions.   

By Trent Rhodes


“Finally, since I’m in an advice-dispensing kind of mood this morning, let me just add this reminder (because I know you know this already): A person of your intellectual gifts can easily coast, setting average goals and ticking them off with relative ease. Beware the temptation to settle.” – J.B.

This was the first warning someone gave me in college about my abilities. My creative writing professor wrote this to me in email; what you read here was the second paragraph. He had quite a bit to say beforehand, dissecting some of the capacity he noticed in me during his course. I have the printout of his message taped onto a binder I’ve termed “Feedback,” a compilation of personality test results, self-analysis, notes written to me and assessments taken over the years to give me a surgical perspective on my abilities. As a collection, this information gives me a wide map to look over, recognize patterns and challenge the results in my personal experience to validate.

Professor B’s message was impactful because it alluded to me he’s seen many a gifted mind either fall to the gallows or experience an average existence by settling on the results gained just from natural aptitude. Readers who may not be integrated in the gifted community may feel offended by this statement and question, “How do you define average?” In order to declare something is average we need a set of standards, of measurement. In this case, we’re not measuring standards based on other people. The measurement is based on what an individual can personally realize in one’s potential against what one actually realizes.

In Professor B’s classes, for example, I was able to produce original work without much effort and scored A’s, but that didn’t mean I always explored the range of my potential for those projects. I possessed the excess “gasoline” to deliver quality content, whereas if I had less gasoline I’d need to apply more effort to produce the same level of quality. He was aware of this.


Coasting is easy for gifted minds and this is one of the traits to recognize that one may be in this category. I find it hypocritical that we have levels for areas of performance in just about every industry, and among people’s skill sets within industries (the reason why a senior programmer is a SENIOR programmer versus a junior programmer is often the level of skill, experience and performance, for example), but the notion that one mind may function faster, deeper, more synthesis-like than another mind in a given point in time is viewed as blasphemy.

In my experience, the danger with coasting is not that it just reduces the level of material success or some personal achievement; these are more surface-level side effects in my view. I perceive the gifts we have are active and require consistent activation for us to function at a healthy state of being. They’re integrated within our very physiology, neurology, spiritually. When we do not use or suppress the gifts, they starve and that influences our inner harmony.

For example, if you have a fast brain-processor and find yourself thinking intensely about subjects, you can choose to coast and just think enough to move you along in life. But that doesn’t mean the intensity will disappear. It will require more energy on your part to stop the intensity, or slow it down. Imagine all of the effort necessary to physically pull back a lion from going on its next hunt when hungry.

If this idea of coasting and suppression affecting your healthy state of being resonates with you, then it will make sense to foster a lifestyle that is conducive to using your gifts as much as possible. You can create opportunities that give them more expression. If they could talk, I believe they’d be screaming to activate!


This requires a work ethic. This kind of ethic can be dangerous to gifted minds as well. Because such minds can potentially perform at higher levels, rarer are the experiences that actually challenge the minds. But challenge is needed to encourage them to become better, faster, more resilient, and it is resilience from a mind deemed average that will always usurp a gifted mind that has no work ethic.

So the gifted intelligence requires both high potential for aptitude and a solid work attitude to sustain the trials and blocks that often arise when working on a creation one might consider to be original or genius. Without it, you will quit when experiences toughen, as you are accustomed to learning and performance being simple.

Commit to a schedule.

Whatever your endeavor, treat it as work. See the endeavor as important as the job that gives you a paycheck. If the project is just a fun hobby you like to dabble in, your energetic-emotional investment in the work will not be strong enough to focus on it consistently. Use your smart phone calendar app, a notebook or other means to set reminders you should be working. Build a schedule.

See roadblocks as lessons.

Edison is given plenty of credit for his 99% perspiration / 1% inspiration and seeing his failures as learning moments, but the principle existed for millennia: the ability to recognize messages in your life obstacles is a key skill in inner alchemy. When you can transform a diversion into your advantage, every experience you have becomes valuable for your progress. As you’re working on your project, there will be these blocks and it is up to you to discover what the messages mean, how to navigate through them, to make use of them.

Track your progress.

This takes you from the level of just a creator who creates “just because,” to a creator who creates with purposeful strategy. The way to create purposefully is to observe your timelines. Look at your performance over a period of time. If you’re working on becoming more persuasive, examine your past performances to see what you tend to do that works and what doesn’t. Then focus on improving what doesn’t. In your next performance, observe those areas to measure if you’ve improved. Once you have, you move on to the next. This can be done with any capacity: memory, depth of perception, speaking, synthesizing ideas, managing the temper, you name it.

The verdict is: do not coast or suppress your gifts. Allow them the space to express in your life experiences no matter your ambition level. They’ll thank you for it.

Learn more about Trent and his work at

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