Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Advice to Gifted Teens

I'll be doing a presentation today to students at the Davidson Academy. It is the nation's only free public high school for the profoundly gifted.

Here's the one-pager I'll distribute, which lists the presentation's main points:

Some Things I Believe About Being Profoundly Gifted in a Not-So-Gifted World

Display your intelligence without appearing like you're showing off. That's a hard balance to strike.

Resist today's egalitarian ethos. Elitism, considered a dirty word, is both more pleasant and edifying for the gifted and better for the world.

For most people, there is no one right career. And the risk/reward ratio of waiting too long to pick is poor. Pick something, even if it doesn't make you ecstatic. Career happiness, if it is to come at all, usually comes only after you've become the go-to guy/go-to girl, have great coworkers, etc. And you can always change your goal if early signs are negative.

The field I believe will have the greatest impact in your lifetime: genetic enhancement of humans.

The most useful skill they don't teach in school: entrepreneurship. Just make sure ethics remain primary. Most entrepreneurs (and leaders) start out ethical but many fade.

All empires have their rise and fall. I believe the American Empire is in its fall. This is China's century. Consider that in planning your career, summer internships, investments. (Pssst: FXI.)

Ask yourself whether, for you, it's worth resisting the parental, peer, and societal expectation that you'll go to college, or at least go to college immediately after high school. What could you do instead? Start a business? Write a book? Start a school? Apprentice with a brilliant, ethical person?

In class and in discussions with peers and others, when you don't understand something, ask. Similarly, tactfully ask if something a teacher says seems wrong to you. You'll learn more by asking questions than almost anything. If you're too embarrassed to ask in class, ask after class.

Most important growth occurs one-on-one. Develop relationships with your favorite adults and peers. You might try co-peer-mentoring: Every week or two, you support and gently counsel a friend for a half hour on an issue of his or her choice. Then you switch roles.

Working long hours to get all A's is rarely worth it. The extra study time is usually better spent exploring, creating, and yes, having fun.

Don't prostitute yourself to get into a more prestigious college. Possible examples of such prostitution: taking an SAT-prep course, rowing on a crew team, serving soup to the homeless, and the aforementioned killing oneself to get straight A's. The benefit of the more prestigious college is outweighed. For example, if you start prostituting yourself now, that will likely only accelerate over your lifetime.

Think three times before getting romantically involved with someone who doesn't bring out the best in you. No matter how good looking, they must be kind.

You can dramatically increase the meaning of your life by, as you decide how to spend your time, what it would score on a scale from -10 (selling crack) to +10 (working to cure cancer.)


Anonymous said...

Dear Marty, this is brilliant!
Do you have anything for 40-something readers, who are still gifted (who is not - at least in some areas ?),
but caught in the daily routine. At least teenagers do not have debts, obligations, deflated 401k etc.

Sincerely yours,

Marty Nemko said...

I do not believe most people are "gifted at least in some areas." That's educator-pap.

40+ and not gifted? If you have a decent job, do what you need to to hang on to it, and cut your expenses.

Justin Wehr said...

As usual, I love the unconventionality of your advice. I'm curious to know how it was received.

Marty Nemko said...

Truly, they all loved it. Indeed, before I left, they asked me to come back and do three more events: a career planning workshop, an entrepreneurship boot camp, and to set up and train students for a peer co-mentoring program. Justin, at the risk of hubris, for one of the few times in my life, I felt like I was with "my people." It was exhilarating.

Anonymous said...


Please give us an update on the entrepreneurship boot camp. The first poster and I are in similiar situations. Stuck! I envy the teens at this school.

Marty Nemko said...

The entrepreneurship boot camp will be in the fall, for their students. We'll actually create a business plan for a business that will run at the school--perhaps a tutoring service, a food service, who knows. Then they'll actually implement it at the school.

For some of my thoughts on starting a biz, just click on the word "entrepreneurship" The OLDER posts are relevant. Plus, this old article on my site should be useful:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your advice... some very unique insight and perspective throughout. I can tell you put a lot of thought into it. I hope it went well.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, Anonymous. It really was a privilege to talk to and with those fine young people. In today's era that focuses on low achievers, I am reminded that nurturing our best and brightest should be among our highest priorities.

Erik said...


at the University of Michigan we've organized a campaign ( for more entrepreneurial education. How do you think universities could encourage students to be more entrepreneurial (i.e active, self-sufficient, have the ability how to apply what they learn regardless of major and whether their desire is profit, a social goal, or both)?

I sent you an e-mail with more info if you're interested.



Marty Nemko said...


Have a series of master SMALL businesspeople (NOT the type that defied the enormous odds and went from startup to megamillions tech company. The risks are too great.) The SMART money is on under-the-radar small businesses that replicate proven formulas in a different location. The risk/reward ratio for such businesses is excellent. Sure, you may not make megamillions, but it's a much surer route to netting 100K a year.


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