A surprisingly high percentage of gifted people end up dropping out of high school, and most achieve average things with their life, so the label is their one "claim to fame." I was in a gifted program as a kid and am now a Ph.D. student. Most of the successful academics I know are bright (not necessarily gifted) but much more importantly, motivated. Honestly I think being able to work so fast/efficiently holds me back because what might take another student 40-50 hours takes me 30, and I'm just not motivated to have more than an average/high average work output, so I end up leaving early to go socialize or pursue hobbies. I'm very content with that balance, but I know if I put in 60 hours/week I could probably achieve tons more and there's a bit of guilt there. The students I know who are both gifted AND highly motivated are rare, but they are definitely super stars academically.
My advisor is arguably a genius but he is not motivated towards the traditional type of achievement in his field (publishing tons of papers in important journals, the respect of his peers, etc.) - he cares more about just doing good science whether people notice or not. So he is moderately successful (tenured professor, director of a research center with ~$5 million in equipment) but he is not a "big name" in the field per se.
Those of us who are comfortable with being above average intellectually but around average achievement wise don't need to fall back on a label to prove that we have worth.
POD. I am, I like to think, pretty smart
but I'm definitely not an ambitious person. Sometimes I get motivated to really focus on something at work and I amaze myself at the progress I make. I think, wow, if I worked this hard all the time, instead of surfing eHell
imagine what I could accomplish! Then I think... eh, no, I'd rather read novels and write my stories and not have that much stress in my life. It feels weird saying this because it's such the opposite of what we're "supposed" to be like, and it can also seem uncomfortably like bragging--like, "I can be phenomenally successful whenever I want, I just choose not to right now." Is that bragging? It seems obnoxious, anyway. Personally I am just so glad that there are, say, brilliant and ambitious people who want to be leaders and make the world a better place, because I am not
one of those people and I think I would be terrible at it if such a job were forced on me.
And I do think some of it stems from being labeled early on as a "smart" kid, and having all the pressures and expectations that went along with it. Although I didn't have as bad a time as some people have described, it really wasn't that much fun
being "smart." I find it much more enjoyable to be creative, for example, but I very consciously don't do anything creative in a public way, like trying to get a novel published or selling crafts or something. And, to tie it back in with etiquette, I am actually very proud of myself for being, as a 30ish adult, a more polite and understanding person than I was as a child/teen/young adult--from being able to see things from different perspectives, to saying "please" and "thank you" to servers at restaurants. Possibly more proud of this and my private creative accomplishments than I am of my professional/intellectual achievements, as the latter seemed almost inevitable and the former seem more like conscious choices I've had to work
at. Eek, sorry if this all seems horrible; I just feel like, as I get older and I'm surrounded by "high-achieving" people, I find it more important to be a good, happy, polite person than to be a smart one.