What kind of gifted person do you want to be?
A strange question, I know. After all, we are who we are. We might relish the fruits of our powerful mind or creativity or intensity - or we might resent being gifted and view it as a burden. Either way, we are no more responsible for our intellectual strengths than for our eye color. Right?
Well... perhaps we do have some control. Many studies suggest that despite the heritability of intelligence, we all are affected by our environment: the impact of pollution, nutrition, early childhood deprivation, trauma, poverty, and the quality of the education we received. Those lucky folks among us seem to have hit the lottery; a smooth, easy ride through childhood, the absence of trauma, and supportive, yet challenging families and teachers. The rest of us... well, we have struggled. Or our giftedness remained hidden. Or we never fully reached our potential.
As a psychologist, writer, parent, and another fellow traveler along this life journey, I have encountered many gifted folks. Some enthusiastically embrace life, learning, and their amazing potential. Others suppress and hide their talents and abilities. Still, others feel bitter and angry over lost opportunities.
I have known gifted folks who:
- Love life, and harness the power of their talents
- Focus their careers toward something meaningful
- Engage their empathy and heightened sensitivity in their interactions with those they love
- Utilize their strong analytic thinking and strategic skills to solve problems and find solutions
- Develop a curious, open-minded, receptive view of life, with an acceptance toward learning from whatever happens
- Harbor anger, bitterness, and apathy due to mistreatment from parents, schools, or peers
- Suppress their talents to please others; they avoid conflicts or competitive situations, or conform to cultural standards that frown upon expressing their abilities (e.g., due to gender, racial or cultural expectations or stereotypes)
- Flee from challenging social situations where they feel misunderstood or socially inadequate
- Refuse to push or challenge themselves and settle for a mediocre job/marriage/life circumstance
- Avoid academic or career opportunities that are difficult, require effort, or where they might not immediately excel
- Express impatience, cynicism, and frustration when peers, co-workers, or authority figures who are not as smart, quick, or as capable of complex thinking
- Place excessive demands upon themselves to achieve perfection and always win or be the best
- Avoid sharing their talents or successes with others to avoid the appearance of bragging
- Feel despair because they did not achieve their vision of success - unable to appreciate what they have accomplished or feel gratitude for what is positive in their lives
- Swear upside and down that, no way are they gifted! (despite enormous evidence to the contrary)
- Fear that others will be annoyed by their intensity or sensitivity
- Utilize their smarts to cut corners, avoid responsibility, coast through school, and take the easy way out, even though this keeps them feeling bored and apathetic
- Fear taking risks that might diminish what they have already accomplished
- Reluctant to try something unless they are already good at it
- Feel like an imposter, despite successes; always alert for when their "real self" will be discovered
The list could go on. But the takeaway is that you, as a gifted person, are entitled to take charge of your life and utilize your talents and abilities. Your passionate engagement with what is interesting and meaningful is the best possible use of your inherent strengths. Even if you have endured trauma or a lackluster education. Even if you have been bullied or never feel quite like you fit in. Even if you make mistakes and are far from perfect. Regardless of whether you are 15 or 50 - you deserve to embrace your strengths and challenge yourself to expand your reach.
Poet Mary Oliver's wonderful quote applies here:
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
What will you do? What kind of gifted person will you become?