I’m currently leading a discussion with a book that changed my life, The Gifted Adult by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. After starting a group to support gifted adults with our (yes, I said ‘our’) worries and dreams, I fell comfortably back into teacher-mode wanting to help others learn to be themselves…again. The group seems to be blossoming into more than I imagined. Though my current role is quite different because I’m guiding others (and myself) as adults, it’s also quite natural; like an old pair of slippers.
One of the most powerful struggles of the gifted seems to be the idea that you have the right to be yourself. It sounds simple enough. While most of society (I’m pretty sure), struggles through the same kind of identity crisis on a more predictable timeline and scale, according to Jacobsen (1999) the gifted “cannot escape the pull toward self-actualization”.
“Knowing thyself means puzzling out how identity and fulfillment, meaning and destiny, are inextricably linked.” ~ Mary-Elaine Jacobsen from The Gifted Adult
Though we are an assortment of diversity, we all have one tie that binds us- a different way of looking at the world, through the lens of giftedness. It’s a colored lens through which we see what’s natural in our own mind’s eye while viewing the world as it is; instead of the world we imagine it could be. That divide is seen, felt, and heard as a wall that sometimes separates us from others, who take our struggle to be more light-hearted. It’s a true, ongoing struggle that never seems to disappear. It only evolves in more and increases its depth of scope and understanding. The best we can do is to be comfortable with the struggle and accepting of what it is as a natural part of our world.
As a young child, we are all warned that we may not touch a hot stove, nor may we cross the street alone. Yet, as time goes on those warnings seem to morph into warnings not only about personal safety, but also into societal expectations. Expectations, which unfortunately, gifted children and adults struggle to understand. What is easy is hard, and what is hard is easy for the gifted.
I do not understand why I must greet people whom I do not know with the obligatory, “Hello. How are you today?” It’s a societal nicety that is arbitrary, but expected. Disobey and you will receive a look of questioning, or worse as the label of rudeness is affixed to your identity. It’s how a “proper” conversation begins though it has nothing to do with the intention of the conversation. It’s a small, but meaningful example which highlights the disconnect between expectations among gifted and others. Though as gifted we are not constantly trying to cure cancer and solve the world’s poverty crisis, upon greeting, we are usually already thinking ahead to the real focus of our interaction; instead of the greeting.
This illustrates one way that not meeting expectations begins a road towards questions unanswered and permissions ungranted. I may dispense with the niceties of society and be branded as rude, or I may find it often irritating, comply, and be treated with respect. Sometimes, my haste gets the better of me and I proudly accept the consequences, yet often I find it disconcerting that I must follow what I perceive to be is another set of rules, only to ask a question. And so it begins; a minor distraction that requires “permission-granted” to proceed. Even after many years of practice, I still fail in this common area of ease. I often cut to the chase and am met with a look that reminds me I’ve failed in some societal expectation. And thus, the disconnect and failure in the minds of gifted may begin.
The example I provided may seem trivial to many, but it is merely an easy way to illustrate core differences in personality that add to a power struggle. It can be a power struggle when you are repeatedly labeled as something you are not (rude vs. quick or lacking in empathy vs. focused elsewhere). It is part of the slippery slide that leads to a denial in self and an eventual need for ‘permission granted’ to think the way I do and be the kind of person I am without additional strife. I have heard countless times that my group of gifted adults is a place to “be myself”, a place of “acceptance”, and a place where people understand “my kind of humor”. I find myself alternately proud and excited, while also saddened and disheartened. If you are one who struggles with being yourself, know that now you will receive from me a hearty,