When Gifted Children Grow Up

I recently had the amazing good fortune to have dinner with about a dozen highly gifted adults, mostly women. As one by one we shared stories, I was struck by a thought: Each one of us as individuals was looking around the table, feeling that we were the odd one out, the less gifted duckling in a glorious pool of graceful swans.

Many of you first started thinking about giftedness as I did, in order to understand and meet the needs of your children. Until our son was three, I had never heard of gifted education, much less the emotional traits and needs of very bright children. The first book I read on the topic was Bringing Out the Best: A Resource Guide for Parents of Young Gifted Children, by Jacquelyn Saunders, lent to me by our school’s gifted and talented coordinator. I still remember the relief, the “aha” moment, when I learned that being “sensitive to emotional issues at an early age” and asking “many questions about pain, death, anger, love, violence, etc.” were aspects of being gifted and not necessarily a sign that we were doing something wrong as parents, or that something was wrong with our child.

From that point on, I embarked on what was to become both a personal and a professional journey of passion, that of understanding what it means to live with this thing called giftedness. I focused primarily on the concerns of gifted children, and I immersed myself in every resource I could find. Information about what happens to gifted children when they become adults was not only harder to find, it just wasn’t as interesting to me at the time, except in the tangential sense of its effect on parenting.

In hindsight, though, I can see that I was also embarking on another, more personal journey that I hear echoed in others’ stories. I was pegged as “the smart one” in my class of three students in the two-room country grade school I attended (the other two students were “the funny one” and “the kind one”). I was quirky and imaginative and had a hard time making friends. I remember at some point along the way making a conscious effort to study the other children and to do whatever it took to fit in, a goal I succeeded at all too well. By the time I went to the county-wide high school, I smiled my way to popularity. I was valedictorian and voted most likely to succeed. My high school yearbooks are filled with versions of “You are really nice, for a brain. Stay just the way you are.”

Through it all, though, I wondered when I would be found out as the impostor I feared I was. Not only had I erased much of my real personality, I also never had to work hard to get good grades. This was not because I was brilliant, but because there was little rigor in my classes. The drop-out rate in my high school on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation was very high (it is currently about 50 percent), and the percentage of college-bound students low. It was not that difficult to distinguish oneself.

Sure enough, as a first-generation college student hundreds of miles from home, I hit the wall. Hard. Never having developed the study skills or work habits necessary to handle challenging classes, I was the textbook example of someone with what Carol Dweck has termed a fixed mindset: I believed that my ability was set and ultimately unknowable, something to protect at all costs rather than develop. I acted as though potential alone would be enough for me to succeed, and I had internalized the belief that being smart meant I shouldn’t have to show much effort or even planning. The problem was that by the time I was in college, potential and reputation no longer sufficed. What mattered were diligence and organization and persistence, skills I was sorely lacking.

Not until graduate school and beyond did I finally start to learn to engage and even at times enjoy my own potential and the intensity that is a part of it, to bring it out in the open and to work with it rather than treat it as a fragile, mysterious object. This engagement was and is a sometimes painful process that reminds me often of my own limits. But that is part of the deal. True personal development requires discomfort and setbacks, a lesson that seems harder for some of us to learn than others.

The process of recovering and creating my personality has taken even longer.

This is the part of the post where I am supposed to provide an answer, or at least some insight. For now, though, I have only questions and the feeling that, once again, I am just beginning something. If I still have trouble applying the word “gifted” to myself and figuring out what it means, after over ten years of writing and speaking about the topic, how many others are wrestling with these issues, especially once our children are on their own and the only giftedness that remains is our own?

What is your story of when gifted children grow up?

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64 thoughts on “When Gifted Children Grow Up

  1. Same kind of experience except it was made worse by me being 2e. None of my schools knew what giftedness was. All they knew in elementary is that they had a student who could hardly write, read very slow, couldn’t draw (but could do other forms of art), couldn’t spell, had terrible grammar. Basically I felt a bit retarded. They had a bit of a problem when I scored 10 grade+ on my science achievement test in 5th grade. Wondered how I beat the test. Repeat that for 6th grade. Private middle school (7-9). Mostly aced science, math. Miserable at grammar but improving, English teacher started reporting dual grades because my literature grades were good. Bad speller, but evidently according to notes from the teacher I recovered from my parents when they died, I taught vocabulary to the class at least one class. (One of the effects of the stress is memory blocks). My writing made it into the school magazine (surprised the heck out of me). 10-12th did well, English teacher ripped my writing out my clinched hands and submitted for publication but it was too dark for the publisher. Read it all the honors English sections behind my back, stripping my anonymity for a while. You know what that means (school had 2400 students). Got bullied by the science teacher into a high school science contest involving *reading* mass quantities of college level articles and taking tests. I think I set the low score on that one. Senior year discovered a life skill. Some people started slipping computer time to me for some reason. I burned so much I got them in a little trouble. But I wrote a paper about what I was doing, everyone was happy, They were no longer in trouble, I got more money. Hit the wall in college after about the first year to year and a half. Spent 5 totally miserable years in an engineering physics major making terrible grades in some courses. But had the best summer of my life when a professor got me an NSF grant for the summer. Do the stuff I want, write a paper, get money. Too bad it was one summer. Even worse, because I did good with it but my grades were bad, I was labeled a lazy scum bag and that sent a lot of hostility my direction. But the school research labs did hire me. I learned more there than in school. This is getting long so I will fast forward. I got rescued by a genius professor who put me into computer science for grad school. I did well in that. So fast forward to a little more than a year ago. At 54, I discovered what giftedness was (I never knew) and what 2e was. It explained a lot of lifelong mysteries and frustrations. Even bigger surprise, I raised a daughter that was gifted without knowing it. The first test she hit that would have indicated giftedness was a Mensa test in 9th grade and they did not tell the parents it even occurred. When I shared the papers on giftedness, she shared the results (as an adult). Raising a fairly gifted kid without any knowledge of giftedness — that’s enough to make a parent nuts (I guess that explains a few things too!)

    • Rusty – I love hearing about your experiences. Thank you so much for sharing. I concur with Lisa – self reflection is such an important key.

  2. Rusty, thank you very much for sharing some of your experiences. I think it is crucial that we look back to weave together parts of our pasts that now make more sense once we understand more about the complexity of who we are. I know that other readers will see themselves in what you wrote and be prompted to reassess their own histories. Our stories are powerful.

    Your daughter will learn much about her own adult journey from watching your personal self-discovery. I wish both of you much joy in the years to come.

  3. I wish I had hit the wall in college. I got through law school and even peacticed law for a bit without ever experiencing the need to buckle down and work at something. It wasn’t until I had a 2e child to parent that I had to learn perseverance and I hate seeing the impact my struggle to learn has had on my children.

    • Lisa–Thank you for sharing the info on fixed mindsets vs. growth mindsets. I remember feeling like the dumbest one in my “gifted group,” though I still felt like I was one of the “smart kids” at school. I was lucky enough to either have been taught to appreciate learning for the sake of learning (not sure who taught me that, or if I absorbed it somehow?) and that being gifted didn’t mean that I had to be good at everything.

      Kate–some people might consider graduating from law school and passing the bar exam and then actually becoming a practicing attorney, “buckling down and working at something.” (!!) but then when I was a single mom of twins, I was also working as a paralegal–going to work everyday, working in the law office (with adults!) was like a mini vacation compared to what it took to be home with my kids –not that I didn’t enjoy being home with my kids–just that my job as a paralegal was easier!

      • Donna: You are sweet to say so. But, I got through law school by going to class and vaguely revising for exams. I spent most of my time working on theatrical productions while my classmates were studying. It was fun, but if I had worked hard, I got have gotten one of the prestigious jobs in the judiciary that actually appealed to me rather than paying off my debt in actual practice-which I had never wanted to do. But it was too late and I had graduated before I realized that.

      • Also, single parents have my undying admiration. And of twins, that’s some seriously hard work.

      • Donna, the phrase “the dumbest one in my gifted group” gave me a smile and is such a good reminder that we can’t assume how others are feeling about themselves or their abilities. My experience is that gifted children are far harder on themselves than we usually realize, so added pressure from adults is the last thing they need.

    • Kate, I would guess that you might be affecting your child in more positive ways than you know. What I learned from watching my mother come into a greater self-understanding was something I appreciated only when I was an adult, and the struggle is what I remember and what shaped me in good ways–not that she struggled, but how she got through it, so that now when I struggle, I know it’s part of a larger process.

  4. I had some significant life stresses growing up – stresses that combined with my own emotional intensities and left me feeling crazy much of the time. School was always were I felt strong and confident. Even when I let my grades drop in an effort to “fit in”, I was able to quickly pull them up in order to meet college goals (most of them, at least). But – I really didn’t “understand” myself and my intensities until I researched this field for my job. Then I had a million Ah-Ha moments – moments that have permanently and positively shaped things to come for me.

    Than ks for the great post Lisa!

    • Christine, I am constantly fascinated by the breadth of experiences of both gifted children and gifted adults! A million Ah-Ha moments–that pretty much sums it up. :D Thanks so much for the opportunity to be among so many great writers here.

  5. All day, I have been fixated on the image of a group of highly gifted people all feeling like the ugly duckling in comparison to the rest of the crowd and realizing that, even now that I understand myself more deeply than ever and know intellectually that I am a swan, that gut-feeling of being the ugly duckling is still with me at a very primal level.

    I’m in the middle of a massive transition. Somehow, all of those Ah-Ha moments are adding up to a radical transformation in my self-understanding. Finding fabulous, highly gifted folks online to share the journey with has been crucial.

    And here I am, still stunned to be part of this blog, with the authors of two of the books that were crucial in my decision to make the most radical transition of my recent life – home-schooling my eldest son to protect his emotional + mental health. And it is hard to reconcile my self-image carried from years of only seeing my weaknesses to realizing that I am among my peers.

    • Oh Kate – I can not tell you how much I completely “GET” what you are saying. I am in the throes of the cognitive dissonance more than I care to admit at times – and yet, I get to hang out with GT people, hang out with creative writers and pinch myself wondering how the heck I managed after 45+ years on the planet to actually find a peer set. It is pretty amazing, you know?!?

  6. The stories, the reflections so resonate. The impact of being an army dependent played into my experiences. Responsibility, set standards of performance (fitting in was almost a command) and yet a father (worked his way up through the ranks) always wanting to try new and different things, ready to move on, to explore. That still hangs with me very strongly. Self-reflection has been very much part of my journey. Managing my excitability was a necessity to come close to fitting in or meeting the army standards for dependents (it very much reflected on my father’s career). This lead to me limiting myself greatly, doubting myself because of those limitations, and yet knowing I was smart. Did not even approach the term gifted until raising my two sons and advocating for them. It is so important to make the connections like here – to know we are not alone (individual stories yes, but connected in the overall experience) and continue the reflection with additional input and points of view – in many ways to rewrite our story and at least add some interesting side trips. Thanks Lisa for a marvelous post and all for sharing.

  7. Fascinating to think that half a world away, intelligent women were learning the same lessons as me – fitting in is more important than using our abilities to their full capacity. And now, still half a world away, here we are unlearning that foolishness and embarking on a whole new journey of self-belief and possibilities. Extraordinary!

    • Some of us never managed to do that “fitting in”. I stood out like a sore thumb throughout my first 9 years of school for many reasons, so there was never much incentive to hide my brains. But there was also pretty little incentive to actually USE my brains, so I just did well in all subjects. My moment of truth in regards to making an effort did not come until my second stint at hotel school, 8 years after finishing the first part and what felt like an eternity in hospitality/customer service jobs. Realizing I had forgotten how to learn, and had never learned how to keep at it once the interesting part was done meant a very difficult transformation. I made it, however, with a GPA of 8,23/10 that semester, short of my goal my an astounding 0,27 points. Too bad the last semester brought along so many circumstances beyond my control that my GPA went down by almost a point.

      By the grand old age of 43, I struggle even more. Social relationships are hard, as I am “too much” of everything for people to take in extensive doses. And I pick up every teensy wheensy signal that someone is less than pleased as a reflection of me. In just about every conversation I am stumped when I realize that the person I’m speaking to not only does not understand what I’m thinking, but actually has no chance of understanding it, and that they don’t care.It is a very, very lonely feeling!

      It is a relief to find people like you online, like I’m finally getting a glimpse of my tribe. Thank you for your visibility!

  8. I was identified early (in first grade), but came in to my own much later (in my thirties, once I had my own gifted kids). Like Donna, I felt that I was the dumbest of my gifted group while in high school – my grades were at the bottom of that group, and they were all getting awards and scholarships, and I was missing it *by that much*.

    Now that I’m teaching my own gifted kids and have had opportunity to reflect on the idiosyncratic nature of intelligence, I realize that what I was (and am) really terrible at is memorization. I like to process, create new things out of existing materials, find the story line, consider the philosophical nature, etc. etc. I am no good at remembering names, stats, dates, etc. And of course, that’s what was encouraged and tested in school. So I struggled and struggled, spending weeks of study time to do not quite as well as my gifted peers. It gave me a complex, and for a long time I never took the time to consider what potential I had.

    Educating my kids has made me see myself in an entirely new light. I will admit to spending a bit of time regretting missed opportunities in my youth; I wasn’t a deep thinker then, and I wonder if I was encouraged, who I would have been and what different choices I would have made. I especially feel that when I take my kids to events like Science Olympiad, or when I watch them speak in front of groups about their passions. The energy there – I crave it so much for them, because I lacked it in my own educational experience.

    But I am so thankful that I have this opportunity now. I feel that through teaching them, I am experiencing my own renaissance. I will be 40 this year. A new leaf. A new chapter. Better late than never. :)

    • I am in pretty much the same position. I was identified as “gifted” (still not a big fan of that word) when I started school at age 4. I am now raising a gifted 4-year old and getting ready to turn 40. In needing to find answers and support about our daughter, my husband and I (he’s gifted, too, identified at age 7 – the year he says that school stopped being fun, because he was tested and pulled out and put into the “gifted and talented” classes) have really found out so much about ourselves. It’s amazing to re-live our own childhood experiences as we hit each new milestone with our little one. We see now just how HUGE being gifted was in our own histories, how much it makes us who we are. The support network I have found in parents of other gifted kids is truly the place where I feel the most normal. Other parents don’t seem to get it. A lot of what our daughter does makes perfect sense to us, we can follow her thought process easily. The world at large doesn’t seem to get it. It has come as an enormous relief to find others who “get it” and who realize that we are normal.
      Advocating for and defending our daughter has strengthened us and made me re-invent my own self, and accept myself much more. I think some of that insecurity will always be there (am I the “dumb one” among all these gifted people? is my daughter?) but it is helpful to remember that the insecurity seems to be a common gifted trait, and everybody else is probably thinking the same things. We always remind ourselves and our daughter that it’s not a competition. Giftedness is a way of seeing the world, a way of thinking and putting the world together. It isn’t a test result.
      Hopefully we can use our own experiences to help make our daughter’s experiences more positive and less painful than our own. Maybe all 3 of us will find peace in who we are and come to accept that there is nothing wrong or bad or scary about being gifted. We are who we are, and that’s a good thing.

      • Heather, it’s amazing how similar our stories – how so many of our stories – are. We all think we’re the oddball out. I know I do. But we’re out there. Maybe we’re scattered and far away, but I’m so thankful for forums like this that help us see that we’re really not so crazy after all! Since we’ve already crossed through this stage (my kids are now 8 and 11), anything I can do to help, please let me know. I can at least share reading and online resources, and perhaps some experiences we had in our own advocacy efforts. Let me know.

  9. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. Impostor feelings affect so many high ability women – and men. “I can be very hard on myself. I convince myself that I’m fooling people.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
    Rosalyn Lang (Ph.D. in molecular biology) said she takes little credit for her successes. “I felt inadequate the entire time I was in graduate school. If I got a nice compliment, I just felt, ‘What? They’re trying to pull my leg! I can get kicked out at any minute.’” – From my post Dealing with self sabotage: Getting beyond impostor feelings
    http://talentdevelop.com/2434/dealing-with-self-sabotage-getting-beyond-impostor-feelings/

  10. It’s amazing how similar some of our stories are. I realized in about grade 7 that it wasn’t really a compliment to be called “Einstein,” and that my Hermione Granger-style in class (thrusting hand into the air) wasn’t winning me friends. I then spent the rest of my school days focussing on being popular, rather than smart (watching others for cues as to how to behave). My marks suffered and so did my confidence. I began to believe I wasn’t very smart. No one ever mentioned the word “gifted” and my school was content to watch me slip through the cracks (or, at least, fall off the honour roll). My parents recently confessed that they thought it odd that I spent so much time off by myself reading as a teenager; although, when she heard I joined Mensa (in my 30s) my mother said, “I always knew you were smart.” It was just never discussed.

    I never learned how to study properly, and always managed to get into the next level of my education by pulling up my socks at the last minute (no joy of learning in that process at all). I continued to believe I was dumb through law school, even though it was my LSAT score that got me into Mensa, by a wide margin. I refused to put my hand up in class for fear that I would prove to everyone that I really didn’t belong there.

    Finally, when I started practicing law, I started to get feedback from various players in the system and I had a Sally Field moment: “They think I’m smart. They really think I’m smart!”

    I married a brilliant man and had, not surprisingly, kids that were pretty clever. Like you, Lisa, I soaked up everything I could get my hands on about giftedness — ostensibly to understand and advocate for them, but it also gave me great insight into myself and my husband. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon your book on homeschooling, but it helped me to make the decision to homeschool my boys with confidence, and we’re still at it 4 years later.

    I still find it hard to find my own niche in the real world. I’ve never quite found a peer group (outside of law) in my fellow homeschoolers or my neighbourhood. I suppose I get different things from those relationships, but they’re not entirely fulfilling. I am grateful for the internet connections I have made over the years — these are people who truly understand me and my kids and are a safe haven.

    I’m thinking of trying to start a book club/discussion group for gifted women locally, but I haven’t yet figured out how to market that one without rubbing people the wrong way. And, as an introvert, I waffle on how much I really need or want that much social interaction, lol.

    Sorry, I used your blog for a post of my own here! You must have struck a chord. Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa (& Kate and other commenters).

    Lisa

  11. I was you up until the point where you not only made it to college, but you graduated too. When I could no longer skate on by nobody was there to push me to learn how to learn, and at 34 I’ve enrolled in college 3 times, and dropped out 3 times with no real progress. I just can’t get past the part where I have to sit down and start studying, I just feel incapable. I’m so afraid of failure that I’d rather fail because I didn’t try, rather than fail because I’m not good enough.

    Now that I have an 8 year old in the same situation, all of my fears and insecurities are back with a vengeance, because now I have to deal with worrying I’m not going to do a good enough job of helping my daughter reach her best potential, knowing I failed at doing it myself. I feel like an imposter talking to other gifted parents, because almost all of them are gifted themselves and have done amazing things with their talents. I feel like its a fluke that I got this child, as if I don’t have the ability I know I do.

  12. I’ve always known I was smart. My parents never intentionally put pressure on me, but I remember in first grade throwing away papers that I didn’t think we’re good enough so my parents wouldn’t see them. It wasn’t too difficult to do well in my small school. I was always different and never fit in. I excelled in things that weren’t popularity based – basically all organizations and activities that didn’t involve sports or singing. I was valedictorian and happily went off to school. I LOVED college because I actually found people like me.

    In hindsight, I see where my ADD and Irlen issues started showing up, but didn’t realize it at the time. I compensated enough that I was able to cope, but not without damage to my already fragile self esteem.

    I ended up married to a very GT guy and teaching. When I found information on GT, I had the aforementioned AHa! moments of understanding for me and for my husband. I’m now a single mom of two wonderful boys. The oldest is 2e. I’ve learned so much because of him – he’s my hero. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

    Stress doesn’t help, and right now I’m in a difficult job situation that’s really made me question what I do. What is it about 40 that makes you start questioning things and get willing to actually do something out it? Perhaps unwilling to continue putting up with stupidity and things that just don’t make sense? Existential depression anyone?

    I don’t know. I’m just tired of simultaneously feeling completely inadequate and the only one who sees the big picture.

    • Can I ever relate to being the only one who sees the big picture! Frustrating, isn’t it? I haven’t found a good answer for this one – if you do, let me know! :)

  13. Wow. I actually feel really lucky. I did feel really different throughout school, but at the time I didn’t really think too much about why. It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I realized why I felt so different. I grew up in a family of gifted intellectuals, so being that way didn’t seem so weird to me. (My aunt had the 2nd highest IQ when tested by my hometown school district at the time; the highest was obtained by a student who at the age of three reportedly asked his rabbi father, “Father, If God is everywhere, does God become smaller when I walk into a room?”).

    I work as a scientist for a consulting company with several different business areas. I am the only person who works both as a biologist and an environmental scientist. My coworkers are all either scientists or engineers, and I am known as the office nerd. :)

    My husband is a software engineer and is gifted as well. There is a joke between us about who is smarter. Of course, our 5-year-old son is gifted. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I started reading more about giftedness and understood how my sensitivities and intensity go along with being gifted. My son is a lot like me, and both of us being smart didn’t think too much of our 3-year-old using words like “enormous” and the fact that our now 5-year-old is teaching himself addition. We are just starting the journey of advocating for our son in the school system. It should be an adventure!

  14. Thank you all for writing and commenting it helps in the journey of finding myself. I didn’t get my ah-ha moment until I was through Management/Industrial engineering school, diploma in hand thinking – how on earth did they give me this diploma.

    Now I’m seeing a lot of my school struggles in my 7 year old and am flailing a bit as to how I’d best help/support her, especially in a school system I never had to deal with (I grew up in Denmark and moved to the US after University).

    To this day I still wonder what I’ll do when I grow up :-) Never really feeling entirely like an Engineer. I can pretty much do what I set my mind to (not that I like it necessarily) and when nothing stands out as a great passion it becomes hard to find direction.

    Thank you all for sharing. It help tremendously to keep my sanity to know that I’m not the only one out there with similar struggles :-)

  15. I’ve had a similar experience as well. Along the way I was told everything from “You’re brilliant!” to “[you] got the highest mark in the class even though there are other students more capable.” What to believe? Who to believe? I hit a wall in university too – if only I knew then what I know now! I feel, though, that my experience as a gifted, likely 2E, child without guidance is helping me advocate for my own children,one of whom is also 2E.

  16. It wasn’t until I had my own gifted children that I realised that perhaps I was a bit different to others. I still struggle with self sabotage and feelings of being an imposter.

    I am afraid to take the Mensa test in case I fail and am proven to be nothing more than average, even though my IQ tests would suggest otherwise..

    In fact, right now I am struggling with hitting submit ! … I feel like the ugly duckling in a pond of swans.

    (I am from NZ and we do spell realised like this :))

    • I hear you on the Mensa test…. I think you just have to understand yourself and make the most of what you have to offer to the world. Don’t worry about the labels. Most people don’t understand them anyway. What you know about yourself, is all that really matters.

    • I could have written that! I, too, am afraid to take the Mensa test, as I am worried that I am not “smart enough”. If there’s one talent I excel at, it is self-sabotage. There was no such thing as GT when I grew up in Canada (I’m 45 now), and it caused a sensation in our school district when I was permitted to skip a grade. I, too, feel as though I never lived up to my potential. Now I have a profoundly gifted 9 year old (shh, other moms will say I’m bragging) but through the GT group, I’ve met some other gifted adults. I still feel like the under-achieving ugly duckling but at least I’m around people who think like I do. Good luck on your journey, Lou. Thank you for your post. I know I’m not alone.

      • Thank you Carrie. I have a HG 10yr old son… I see so much of him in me it is scary ! .. we knew something was “wrong” all his life.. but had him tested at 6 yo and he was functioning at the processing ability of a 17 yr old. I know what you mean by not talking about it with other mums. It makes me so sad. I once told a friend about him and she laughed.. and said well we all think our children are gifted don’t we… so that was that.. It is SO lonely where we are (Queenstown, NZ) which is very small… there is no GT group for him (nor me :)) I think I will go ahead and do an IQ test with a registered Psych to gain entry to Mensa instead of the Mensa test.. that way I figure it is less pressure – which I dont do well under.

        I remember being a 3rd or 4th grader at school.. and having finished all the books in the box (it went from red through to Gold) I told the teacher I was done. To which she replied start on the next colour then. When I told her I was Done with the entire box- she simply smiled at me and told me to start over from red again ! :) … ha ha ha … I quickly learned that I could finish my “work” and then get “free time”.. or help other students finish theirs…

  17. I’ve had such a different experience. I was labeled as gifted with an IQ test at age 4 in order to be accelerated into kindergarten early. I have always known that I was different. I, too, was told that I was too sensitive (and I was), but my intelligence was always out in the open. I had numerous teachers actually discuss my memory capabilities in front of my classmates. My problem was that I thought that my intelligence was all that I had. My other skills and strengths were completely ignored by peers, schools, and family.

    Now that I’m the mother of a gifted second grader, I’m trying to use my experience to help him, and I’m not doing a great job. I remember what it was like to be bored out of my mind at school. I remember what it was like to have one teacher be excited by my giftedness just to have another teacher really annoyed by my giftedness. I’m trying to be the advocate for my son that my parents never were for me. My parents just assumed that the schools would take care of me, and they didn’t. Now I’m seeing my son go through some of the same pain I went through and I feel helpless about preventing it. The good thing is that he has no peer problems. His only problem is a lack of challenge, but I know that this can lead to a lack of developing study skills that he will eventually need. This ties into my sensitivity and perfectionism, so I worry, worry, worry.

    • Lonna,

      I related to your story of thinking that your intelligence was all you had. In my case, everybody referred to my “potential.” And my father used to tease that I was the smart one and my brother had the common sense, which added to my idea that I wasn’t really expected to be practical with my potential.

      Kate

  18. nobody gifted in this house…. what is ’2e’?

  19. Reading this makes me want to cry–for myself and for my son who is currently struggling with the same issues. Thanks for sharing. It helps to know one is not alone.

  20. I was identified early on (2nd grade) but we moved subsequently to a small town in Texas, where we were coloring animals in fifth grade, and I was correcting the teacher who made pronunciation errors giving the spelling test (not a wise move for gaining popularity). I was new to the town, I didn’t fit in, and I lost my confidence. The talent I’d shown early went dormant until high school, when I still gave only half an effort unless I really cared. Of course, because I wasn’t valedictorian or even in the top 25 (graduating class of 900), I didn’t think of myself as “really” brainy … just sort of smart. Besides, my elder siblings were the *truly* smart ones in the family, I believed.

    Later, in graduate school, I was surrounded by many amazing women friends. They seemed so smart, so capable, and their fields of study seemed so much more intense. I stuck with the PhD (in Russian Literature) only to prove to myself (after a lifetime of starting something, diving in, then dropping it to move on) that I could finally finish *something*. I was so sure people would figure out I didn’t know what they thought I knew. That these *truly* smart women would get that I didn’t belong now anymore than I didn’t belong in that little closed-minded town in elementary school.

    After receiving my PhD, I worried illogically that someone would come take it away because they’d realized I’d pulled the wool over their eyes. But in later conversations with some of the same women I looked up to, it kept coming out that each one of *them* felt the same way, just as mentioned above.

    Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to enter counseling with a therapist in Seattle who specializes in working with gifted adults. And for the first time, I realized I was okay. That I wasn’t a fraud. Or a bad mother because my children were showing the same overintensities, and I couldn’t “control” them as I’d been controlled as a child. Through the counseling and the amazing gifted community I’ve found in researching for my kids, I’ve learned to embrace myself. A great deal of regret comes with being a gifted adult whose confidence suffered and who missed many opportunities for fulfillment. I’m still struggling with this aspect and would love to hear from others on how to deal with that.

    But I’ve forwarded all of this information along to those other amazing yet self-doubting women I knew, and telling them, “You are gifted! You are *not* a fraud!” And I know for many of them, it’s been liberating. Perhaps if we all meet again and sit around the table, we’ll be able to laugh at our insecurities. But it’s again one of those times I’ve occasionally wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier/happier to be one of the other 97.5% who weren’t dogged by a lifetime of intensities.

  21. I was raised all over the U.S. I attended 22 schools by the time I graduated from high school. Once in the 4th grade (we actually lived in that town a couple of years) I was put into “special” classes where I got to read advanced literature and do more advanced projects. But by the time I hit jr. high, I hated school. I was smart, but just didn’t care anymore. I was very sensitive, and a very deep thinker. School no longer held any interest for me and I was bored. College was a different story, and the liberal arts college I attended gave me the inspiration and motivation to explore and discover the many things I found fascinating in life. Fast forward to the near- present time… it wasn’t until just a few years ago (I was 51 years old then) that I discovered (on the SENG website) what being gifted meant.. Talk about an Ah-ha moment! For the first time, I really understood myself and realized that my way of looking at the world wasn’t wrong, it was just different. (I lived my whole life being told I was to sensitive, too passionate – it got to where I would cringe inside when someone described me as passionate; I just wanted to be normal…) I don’t tell people that I am gifted – most think it means genius. I am still not comfortable with the word – social stigma, I assume. But for me, understanding myself, in all my complexities, is the key to well, everything!

    • Your post really resonates with me! I feel much the same. And I don’t tell anyone about my giftedness, my intensities,etc, either…of course, they figure it all out fairly quickly ;)

    • YES ! My whole life I was told to stop being so sensitive… furthermore… I always get the feeling that other people see me as flighty… taking on too many projects… flitting from one project to the next … too many ideas… “not knowing what I want to do” … not choosing one thing and sticking to it etc ! … I feel so NOT normal.. it scares me.. and have often thought I must have ADHD to have such a busy mind

      • Lou — I can relate to your experiences. I was the emotional, flighty one who threw herself into thing after thing, while my gifted (but introverted, serious) siblings trekked the straight path toward academic and other achievements. I was always told to settle down, be quieter, not be so sensitive, etc. As a child, I always wanted to put on shows and perform — which was merely tolerated with patronizing smiles. Now I see my 5-y-o gifted son demonstrating the same tendencies. He’s always loud, always performing — and I now know how to encourage him and support him instead of raising one mocking eyebrow. When I brought up my “inability to stick to things,” my gifted therapist said, “So? You like to sample and taste what the world has to offer. What could be wrong with that?” It was like this wonderful release, permission to be myself, and I started crying. That was last year (and I’m 42, by the way).

      • I am with you on the projects part… I start something, go into it intensely, then get bored after awhile and I’m done! So many ideas and opportunities to try things new. I do get frustrated though, when I see situations at work (I’m a social worker) and can clearly see how to improve what we are doing, but those in upper management look at me like, “Here she goes again.” I have learned to keep most of my ideas and thoughts to myself. It just leads to frustration when others are so stuck in their old ways of doing things that it is impossible for them to see better ways of operating. Wondering if others ever feel this way? I throw my “intensities” into creative projects now that I can do on my own. An introvert by nature, it seems to work better this way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter or resentful…. I’ve just spent so many years trying to get people to open their eyes and their minds, that you get tired of trying to do good things with people who don’t or can’t see the situation the same way.
        I felt like I wasn’t “normal” for years. I even prayed asking God to take these passions from me if I could not do anything with them… It was very difficult for many, many years; until I understood how my mind works. It’s still hard at times now and sometimes I feel like no one really understands me.

    • yes you are right. one feels at odd with himself until one finds somebody who shares the same thoughts and provides validation to the way we look and process the experiences. I would love to communicate with gifted people and keep in touch. There are levels in giftedness too and the more gifted that you are the more the challenge in life.

  22. finding out i was highly gifted at age 46 was like winning the lottery in Confederate dollars. I am faced with mourning all my lost potential and the knowledge that now at age 56 I don’t have the time left to make anything significant happen.

    i can only hope my gifted nephew pulls out of his morass and sprouts wings in college.

    • There is still so much you can do with your life. You’re not dead ;) My suggestion is to find something locally that you believe in, and give of your time and energy – finding a way to express your gifts and passions to benefit others around you is very satisfying.

    • The idea that you don’t have time to do anything is pretty much false. What you do – well, realize that you have been this way the whole time…So, I’m assuming that you have not wasted your life. If you have not wasted your life then carry on living knowing in better detail why you are ‘a little weird, but in a good way’ or whatever it is…That tells you a lot about how I experienced it…There’s good weird and bad weird, for some reason when a person is abnormally intelligent or emotionally intense or athletic or creative or can form and lead groups…other people find it to be ‘a little weird’ or ‘a bit strange’ but it isn’t necessarily negative.

  23. Wow! I am reading these responses (and the responses to the responses) and experiencing a rush of emotions and gratitude for your generosity and candor. This topic is one that I am currently wrestling with (and writing about), and it helps all of us simply to know that we aren’t alone in our questions and doubts.

    For anyone who isn’t already familiar with Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and its application to gifted adults, please take some time to check it out. Hoagies has a good collection of links and resources: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/dabrowski.htm

    Dabrowski’s theory more than anything else has helped me to begin to make sense of the ups and downs of my life (so far!).

    Much love and hope and joy to us all.

  24. Thank you for the great article. I have enjoyed reading all the responses. It is amazing how much our gifted children have taught us about ourselves.

    My story is is much like many others that are 2e. I wasn’t school material, couldn’t get into honors courses in high school, never really quite fit in and had a math score on my SATs that was twice my verbal. Unfortunately none of this was a flag to a teacher until I finally made it to a university. After starting in community college, I made it to a state university and took a course load of math and engineering credits (to avoid any reading or writing) while registered in the school of business, fearing the school of engineering wouldn’t let me in. My calc III professor brought it to my attention that I was unique, that I would get the easiest problems wrong and the most difficult right. A computer science degree was the easiest solution for someone like me that didn’t have study skills and great visual spatial strengths. Unfortunately I always thought my degree was a fluke, that it was because of my photographic memory, that I hadn’t really earned it because there were some gaping holes in my knowledge and ability to express my capabilities. Perhaps some of this is related to being a woman with strengths usually seen in men….

    Thanks to my son being just like me, I understand myself so much more and wish I had been given the encouragement to follow all my intense passions, proper resources for my weaknesses and acceptance of being me. There are so many uniquely gifted individuals out there that will never understand their potential because it was never identified and supported. I am the best advocate for my son, and can’t wait to see what unfolds for him!

  25. Hi, I don’t really have a childhood story related to giftedness..I am not sure I am gifted. I have not fit in much since my childhood & have worked very hard to hold on to a few friends cos I was labelled to be a loner.
    I am from India..a therapist. We have few resources for gifted children, mostly none for gifted adults. Whatever I have learned, is by reading articles by leading propogators of giftedness & books.
    Though I still have a childhood story..is it related to giftedness, remains to be seen. I have great academic record..I was in a class the last 4 years of my high school meant for high academic achievers, not really defined as gifted. I never fit in, they were too cold, unemotional for my taste. My teachers didn’t know me cos I wasnt in the first five toppers. I was labelled too emotional, too sensitive & possibly emotionally weak enough advised not to opt for psychiatry.
    I had decided when I was about 9 years I would fight for women’s rights. In India the scene for women is much more liberal, than when I was growing up..then when I was 12 years old I had changed it to become a politician to bring out reforms & legislative changes..by the time I was 14 I wanted to be in the field of psychology cos I didn’t want people to suffer alone the way I had..I have had a few traumas along the way..I have always believed that my mind saved my self through difficult times..
    I am struggling to make sense of the past 30 years of my life with respect to my mind..
    Can anyone here offer me a perspective?

  26. If there is one single trait that defines giftedness then that is intensity. The gifted are a lot more intense than normal people. There are other traits such as being emotional, passionate and a certain depth to living but intensity is the core attribute of the gifted people. They are intense. And if one is lucky to channel that intensity and passion into art or literature then one accomplishes something but it is quite often difficult because gifted personalities will have relationship issues because though they can be charming, it is hard and almost impossible to have a relationship with normal folks….one should be able to find other gifted people to relate. In a sense being gifted is like being mentally handicapped.

  27. I’m 35 and haven’t hit the wall yet.
    While I see merit in your discussion, it also needs to address a problem related to gifted underachievers.
    Many gifted students-who for whatever reason are not in a challenging learning environment-are severely penalized for not “working hard” enough in their studies, despite the fact that these students can easily complete the work in front of them. School now becomes a no-win trap: they must complete their work, AND complete it by giving a large degree of effort. This demand on top of demand seems unreasonable, excessive, and draconian.
    I enjoy playing with new things, not taking the learning process to seriously. I do not have a “work ethic” and have managed just fine by continuously learning all the time.

  28. Reblogged this on Overexcitable and commented:
    The comments on this post play my emotional overexcitabilities like a cello. Deep reverberations, sweet tones, and all the rest.

  29. I think its a burden. I think that if I had the chance to go back and decide weather or not I wanted to be “gifted”, I would choose to not be. It’s not that being gifted means we’re “smarter” or “better”, its that we have a whole different way of thinking and reasoning. I feel like a different species. I’ve had so much trouble working for bosses that didn’t think like me. In grad school my fellow social work peers hated me for applying rational evidence to support emotional arguments. Even if I agreed with them, they thought I was evil because I even needed this rational evidence for something so obviously emotional. I’ve worked for lawyers and in mental health and in various un-skilled jobs and have encountered so much inefficiency and corruption. And as we all have likely read, gifted adults have such a sensitivity to injustice. I feel like I know too much. I see the idiocracy around me, and it makes me angry and nauseous with disgust. And idiots say to me “you think you’re so smart.” I am. I am smart. And why should I be made to feel ashamed of it? I notice the contradictions in what they say, and I point these contradictions out to them. And instead of learning from it, like I would, like how I question everything I think and feel and know, they instead get defensive and nasty about it. And they stay stupid, even as it becomes more and more obvious to me. It’s like I have the curse of Cassandra. I speak the truth, and no one believes me. I think it would be easier to not know the truth. If ignorance is bliss then we gifted are living in hell.

  30. I remember throwing fits as a child if my socks didn’t fit perfectly on my feet. I remember going to the lake in the winter and sitting on the dock for hours. I would cry because I felt the beauty of the cold mud and sticks weren’t noticed by anyone but me. I went to private schools with challenging curriculum and a lot of competition from other students. I found myself doing the bare minimum to maintain a B average. I could review material for 10 minutes before I took a test and still get an A on the test. But I wouldn’t do my homework, so my average would be a B or a C. I felt like this made me fit in more, since I wasn’t considered a “nerd”. I often felt offended by what my theology teachers would try to teach me about the bible and Jesus. I would argue with them and feel confused about my religion and what to believe in. I’ve always felt deeply connected to God, but offended by religious institutions. I never considered myself to be gifted, I just felt different and overly emotional.

  31. I’m sitting here and going through what you went through in grad school. I am attempting to study for a licensing exam which encompasses a large amount of information. Ive procrastinated for weeks, never planned and expected things to go easy, better yet perfectly. Like you, i never even learned how to put a real effort into anything. After all, it would mean that im not that smart.. and if i wasnt, then what am i?
    Today i learned by chance that i was a gifted child fitting every criterion. But how do i handle myself now that im an adult, and the hurdles are higher?

  32. I did not have a lot of friends in elementary school and early middle school. I had a very high reading level, exceptional vocabulary and verbal skills at an early age, and a high IQ. I was not challenged early on and this led to becoming completely disinterested in school. They (my teacher and psychologist) diagnosed my adhd which gave me the inability to ever be let into gifted or advanced classes in my school district due to being diagnosed with a learning disability and the thought that I would be a distraction to the other students. I scored high on all the aptitude tests and things just naturally came easy to me. This led to feeling completely abnormal and left out. I have constantly felt different ever since. This has been very isolating and I have spent a lot of my time feeling lonely even when surrounded by people. I never felt like I fit in with the rest. I had to, in essence, change myself and dumb myself down to be understood by peers. I always got along better with teachers and adults then fellow students. It has been hard to cope with the fact that people don’t see things like I do or view things the same way. Things that I find logical and obvious, other just haven’t grasped as easily. As I started applying myself less and less in school, it just led to being told more and more that I could do better and I could be better which has left me with a very unhealthy sense of perfectionism. Being categorized and placed into a labeled box has given me the feeling that being me just isn’t good enough. In high school I turned into an outgoing party er and for the first time in my life felt accepted and appreciated by people my own age. I learned later in drug and alcohol counseling that it is not atypical for people of high intelligence to turn to substance abuse. In fact, I stumbled upon this article while researching the effects of being gifted in adulthood and have found that the way I feel is not uncommon at all for people that have gone under the same circumstances. I’m 28 years old, am about to go back to college a second time, have two sons a third child on the way and wonderful person to spend the rest of my life with and am trying to get a handle on the negative effects this has had on me emotionally and mentally because I do not want it to effect my family. It does help just knowing there are others out there who feel this way and have to cope with the same issues. Mostly importantly my oldest son, who is seven, is extremely intelligent and I want to be able to help guide him to be the best him he can be without being pushy or overbearing. I do not want it to effect him in the way it does me. I’ve found some self-help type books on amazon to read and have begun thinking about counseling, but if anyone has some advice or tips, they would be openly accepted and appreciated.

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