Finding Your Flock

Though I’ve recently set out on the path of a different topic, today’s post returns to the subject of gifted adults, as that’s the topic for this month’s Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop.  So I thought I’d take this opportunity to review how my understanding of the topic has grown and evolved since I first posted about it a year and a half ago.

As I discussed then, the label is undoubtedly tacky to many, and it can lead to an assumption of arrogance.  My purpose in exploring the topic, however, was in many ways closer to the “giftedness as special education” topic; indeed, it was more a question of trying to figure out why, if I was told by teachers I had so much promise, I also kept running into walls.  And sure, to some extent, that’s just life.  But I did seem have particular types of struggles that others didn’t seem to face: why do you always have to do things the hard way?  Why can’t you just do what everyone else is doing?  I asked myself this for the first time in college, but even then I retorted to myself, “Because this is what works for me!” and went at it.

And it was always the right choice for me.  But it was usually harder, and usually came at a cost, because that is what happens when you seem to have a compulsion to forge your own path—maybe because you just are stubborn like that, or maybe because you actually have unusual needs.  I couldn’t tell which it was.

As I forged along my own path, I did meet some kind and caring elders who wanted to help me find my way.  But sometimes they approached it as helping the ugly duckling fit in with the other ducklings: Oh, dear.  Are you sure you want to do that?  Maybe you’d rather do this!  It would be easier.  Probably less trouble.  And we know how to help you down that path!  Fewer mentors know how to help ugly ducklings learn to be swans.

Or maybe even flamingos!

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And the strain of this made me want to curl up and hide at times.

For me, the adult giftedness conversation was what led me to understand about ducks, swans, and flamingos.  Articles and blogs on the subject helped me reflect on why various difficult paths were worth the trouble for me, even when they weren’t to others—including others who are also almost certainly gifted adults.  Though the challenges I faced are perhaps more common among the weird-brained alumni of gifted programs, not everyone who comes out of one faces the same types of troubles.  Some sail along the prescribed path just fine, and faster than everyone else, after all…

…which is surely what we expect of the alumni of these programs.  Which did lead me to wonder if something was just “wrong” with me.  Those scare quotes reflect that I mean no value judgment about the various diagnoses that lead a gifted person to be called “twice exceptional.”  But they do pose certain defined challenges—and those are challenges for which there is help!  And even community!  This article, moreover, describes certain traits of weird brains…did I, perhaps, fit one of those definitions?

Take ADHD, for instance.  I’m “ADHD” in the way that a lot of knowledge workers are in our digital age; and in the way that a lot of multipotentialites are when they haven’t figured out how to settle on one or two topics, or how to meaningfully advance those projects.  Exploring multipotentiality, as it turned out, helped me do better in both these areas.  But when I talked to a friend who was identified as gifted and ADHD as a kid and heard him describe what the pathological experience is like, I saw there something tougher than what I faced.  (It also seems that my occasional brain fog and corresponding acute deficits of attention are linked to high pollen counts and, possibly, dairy, as I am now learning as my battle with sinusitis continues.  At the moment, I think mental functioning is more valuable to me than ice cream….)

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…but the jury is still out.

In my blogging on this subject, I also have learned that there are also a lot of women out there who feel weird and who therefore consider whether they have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is said to be underdiagnosed in women.  A lot of traits described by Aspies are equivalent to signs of giftedness, because there’s lots of overlap between these populations.  And hey, I have synesthesia, which is another thing I’ve seen autistic bloggers cite.  Was that, perhaps, my type of weird brain?  But when I read more about what the full picture entailed, it didn’t fit.  Those communities seem like great places, and I sympathize with them as fellow weird brained people.  But as it turns out, synesthetic plus quirky doesn’t equal autistic.

And so I kept looking for my flock.  Because when your experiences seem to differ from the norm, it is a valuable thing to find other people who have experienced the same kind of weirdness as you.  If you’re an awkward adolescent flamingo, you need to figure out how to grow as a flamingo, and not just a duckling or even a swan, which is the default because swans were the first and most famous ugly ducklings.

But part of the adult giftedness conversation is learning how to live with being, sometimes, a subcommunity of one in a much broader and more diverse community, where some will share some of your experiences, others will share others, and some will just be you.  Even flamingos come in various shades of pink.

There are, of course, people who are so lonely, so eager to find a tribe, that they will try to wedge their square peg into an octagonal hole, just because it’s a better fit than the round ones they’ve found so far.  If you can’t find a square hole, it’s understandable that you might want to do the best you can with what you’ve found.  Dabrowski’s emphasis on autonomy and authenticity will take you some distance, for sure: you have to be stubborn enough to keep from trying to carve yourself into a round peg.  But disintegration is exhausting; reintegration even more so.  It can get lonely after a while.  We are social creatures, and we do benefit from the support and guidance of others who have followed paths like ours.

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You guys like the water?  Hey, I like water, too!  I’m so sick of hanging out in trees!

I did, for the record, find my particular flock in the broader family that encompasses adults who have once been labeled with the G-word and who may or may not in any way “live up to” it.  The “lived experience” model that fit best for me was the one best described by Dabrowski as overexcitability, or superstimulability if you prefer: being more of a sponge, taking in more, reacting to more, and processing more.  It’s probably similar to the more well-known idea of being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), which I’ve been meaning to read about because I almost certainly do fit that particular group, but haven’t done so yet because OE provided a wholly satisfactory narrative for me.

It comes down to this: know thyself, in all your strengths and weaknesses.  See if the weaknesses become strengths if, instead of trying to run, you fly or swim.  “Finding your tribe,” as an overexcitable gifted friend of mine here in DC puts it, is also healing after feeling weird for so long—even if it is just realizing that many of your friends already are part of that tribe, and that’s why they’re your friends.  They’re weird in compatible ways.

One thing bears repeating: the adult gifted sphere really is diverse, and includes many people who would not see themselves in that label, and whom society would not recognize it to fit.  I already understood this from my reading, but to discuss the topic in a public forum is to see the evidence first hand.  Even my proposed neutral term, “abstract-intensive,” surely will not fully capture everyone who could benefit from reading this month’s blog hop.

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Hey!  I’m not a flamingo!

So if the swans are the powerful careerists, consultants, and public servants, and the peacocks are the STEM folks who go on to get PhDs and then grants to do their scientific research, then the flamingos are the artists, social visionaries, and other sensitive creators who surely feel disordered and defective because there is no solid economic path for aspiring visionaries and artists, and little in the way of community support for them.  It always seemed like it would be easier to try to fake being a swan, and just do solitary flamingo things when I get home after an exhausting day of posing as a swan.

But in the end, I realized that I still have to do the thing, even at high personal cost.  And maybe flamingos have to learn this the hard way: who, after all, can be blamed for failing to teach me how to find a secure path when the secure path doesn’t exist?  It was up to me to understand what it meant to stop looking for it, stop living a swan life, and make the jump to trying to create—to get to that place where I always imagined gifted class would point me—regardless of whether anyone saw that as “gifted,” “cursed,” or just plain “nuts.”

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It’s nice to have a break from feeling like an ugly duckling every now and then.

And speaking of Doing The Thing: I’ve cleaned out much (still not all) of the multipotentialite static and am hard at work on a couple core projects (two are active, and two are eagerly waiting in the wings!), though you won’t see results right away.   But most of interest to readers of this blog, I’m working with some others who care about issues relevant to flamingos as well as peacocks and swans on a more expansive, semi-professional publication than this particular medium.  It’s not ready to launch yet, but if you’re really curious, you’re welcome to contact me privately.  I’ll also be presenting at the Dabrowski Congress in July, so if you’re planning to make it out to Chicago, drop me a line.  I would love to bring more people on board, because I’m just one small part of a much bigger story and am not a flock to join.  (But it would be nice to have a place for the flock to compare notes, wouldn’t it?)

In the meantime, check out the other posts in this month’s blog hop.  I’m betting you’ll hear not just from flamingos, but peacocks, swans, mallards, and macaws, too.

Image credits: Pexels, Alexas_Fotos, picjumbo_com, and talibabdulla on Pixabay

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This post is a part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop.
Follow the link for many thoughtful takes on this topic!

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24 thoughts on “Finding Your Flock

  1. I loved your post, for many reasons, especially because of how much I identified with it. I feel, and have always felt, in way you’ve so poignantly described; even with my blog, I’ve decided to forgo convention, and similarly with clinical framework, which I was advised against: I was told no one would understand Existentialism, but I kept pushing along.

    Thank you for your work; it immensely affected me.

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    1. Leon, I’m really honored and humbled by your comment. I’m so glad that this piece resonated with you. Even if they are rare, there are plenty of people out there who will be looking for a therapist who goes against the convention. Someone has to do it, or who will they turn to?

      By the way: I have three of your posts open in tabs that I’ve been meaning to read and comment on for days. And an article about RFK in the works! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really appreciate so much of what you write about, as well as the “bird” analogy. It is such a struggle for gifted adults to find their tribe, to feel OK, to feel normal, to feel accepted – and especially hard after navigating childhood and adolescence as gifted, often feeling weird and different and misunderstood.

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    1. Thank you, Gail, and sorry for my delayed response! (I’ve been planning a wedding and then got sick at crunch time, which is why this blog is so sluggish and why I’m behind on reading this month’s blog hop, which looks so full of good posts…!)

      So glad the analogy resonated. I wrote this post quickly because I wanted to participate in the blog hop, and it turned out that it got some of the strongest reactions from readers that I’ve had to any of my posts on the subject. We really do learn over childhood and adolescence that we’re weird, because we’re not doing proper duckling things.

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  3. I tried so hard to come up with a joke involving vultures at a Tower of Silence, but I’ve got nothing. I must be slipping. 🙂

    It seems Dabrowski is a good fit for a psychological theory in reference to both socialists and the gifted. Do you have any thoughts about what schools of philosophy may be well suited for them?

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    1. I should get back to posting more often so you can stay in practice. 🙂

      And on schools of philosophy, no, I don’t! I only have a cursory knowledge of various philosophical schools, perhaps because I never came across one that addressed this particular niche. 😉 I do want to read more about the Stoics, though can’t say that answers your question. Any suggestions on your part? Could be useful for one of my upcoming projects….

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      1. I don’t know that much about philosophy and I’m not sure if two people have ever agreed on what the Stoics actually thought. 🙂 John Michael Greer wrote about them here https://www.ecosophia.net/zenos-laughter/. I have a soft spot for the Cynics – there is a certain appeal to living in a barrel and being rude to an emperor. In Ancient Greece ‘insane misanthropic philosopher’ was also a job equally open to women https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hipparchia_of_Maroneia. But ultimately I don’t see much future in that kind of withdrawal from society (and I like my comforts too much).

        Some of the more extreme interpretations of Marxism are probably philosophies in themselves. If you read what Lenin thought a revolutionary, and particularly a revolutionary leader should be able to do, it is a whole way of life. Nietzsche would probably be a poor choice. We (both the gifted and socialists) have a bad enough reputation without anyone saying ‘ubermensch’ or ‘master race’ too loudly. I don’t know if you’ve read it yet but The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes includes the story of a guy who destroyed both his friendships and his capacity to be a socialist by starting to think of himself as an ubermensch.

        One philosophical distinction that could be useful for thinking about both giftedness and socialism is to question to what degree each is Apollonian or Dionysian https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollonian_and_Dionysian. The short version is Apollo is order and authority, Dionysius is chaos and hippies. 😉 How much of each is required in gifted education and the struggle for socialism? I originally thought Dionysis for both, but then started thinking while the end goal is freedom it isn’t a constant state of ‘I want’ (whether that of a perfect consumer or a freeloading hippy). I suspect it’s more like the goal of enlightenment, the ultimate freedom, but it requires living like a monk for twenty years to get there. The answer is probably both, sometimes in balance, sometimes swinging to one extreme or the other at certain times and under specific circumstances.

        Something else this has made me think about is how pop psychology views the concept of acceptance. There is even a book called Radical Acceptance. This led to the question do socialists accept the world or reject it? On one hand our obvious dissatisfaction with the world and the extent to which we want to change it suggests we reject it. But to have come to the realisation of how much is wrong with the world we have to have spent a long time thinking about it and not try to excuse or deny what we found. In that sense we accepted a cold reality and decided to do something about it.

        Previously you said you can tell pretty easily what MBTI type someone is. Which do you think I am?

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  4. “Hey Jessie—You should stop using the landline for connecting to dialup and start using it to talk to BOYS”. I figure you got at least some of that type of advice! 😄

    I’m with you… finding flocks, or tribes as it were, seems to be very hard… I think folks who suggest some sort of vulnerability, such as Brene Brown, may be on to something. There are folks who also suggest self compassion (as a more targeted and realistic subset of “self esteem”) and I have found this thought pattern helpful as well.

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  5. This resonated with me on so many levels and I thank you for your exquisite timing as I exit, at age 61, yet another “career” I started at 59! Your article was a great reminder that I’m leaving because my strengths don’t fit in, not because they are weaknesses! I know there are others in my flock there but they have other reasons for nesting in a square hole. I will continue the search for a niche that fits in this stage of life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan, welcome and thank you for sharing your story! There are so many others like you out there, but we all struggle against the current, the social narrative that tells us how we’re supposed to be living and using our gifts. They don’t realize that this really is the way that’s best for us. All the best to you, and I hope you do find a great niche for your 61-year-old self!

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      1. Thanks. Learned lots while raising my now 23 year old twins and then studied the field during an “old lady stint” in grad school. I thought I could figure out how to fit in after understanding why I didn’t, but it didn’t work!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. As I already told in an earlier comment, I don’t consider myself as gifted and only follow your elaborations as an uninvolved bystander, but I nevertheless feel compelled to add two points:

    First: I’ve eliminated dairy products from my diet and in fact am vegan.

    Second: Achievements in areas where I lack talent were always more gratifying for me than achievements which came easy. It made me proud, when I succeeded against the odds, when I was able to overcome personal shortcomings and handicaps.

    I’ve seen that also in many of my pupils. Some of the most talented eventually lost interest and dropped out while some of the less talented kept struggling on and even successfully pursued a musical career.

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  7. I have to say that I found Elaine Aaron and the HSP theory before I found Dabrowski and it brought me to tears. I finally had found something that sounded like me! I had spent so many years being told I was too “sensitive”, yet people would take advantage of some of my abilities related to that. Finding Dabrowski was almost as moving, but being older and more integrated, it just was a deep resonance. Thanks to your mention of the ElementOE, I found a short online test that shows me to be 75% and over on Sensual and Emotional OE and 50%-75% on Imaginal and Intellectual (intellectual just edging out the Imaginal). Yet my IQ is not considered in the gifted range. I think age and experience though adds a bit more to your IQ number from back in elementary school.

    I do feel as though I perceive the world differently than many people. I see things many do not. I use the word “see”, but I guess sense would be better. I feel things deeply, but have learned to keep it to myself.

    I also consider myself a polymath. My interests are varied and I seem to rotate through them or add new ones as I am quickly bored with them. I often come back to old ones and they are fresh again. Currently it is quilting. I am enjoying creating with color and visual design and texture. Then the end product is useful!

    I don’t check in here often, but I enjoy your posts very much. Thank you for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michelle, with apologies for my very delayed response, thank you so much for sharing your experience! The HSP polymath (who cares about IQ, that was just an imprecise measure to get the conversation started, as far as I’m concerned) is clearly the sort of person who is in my “flock” or “tribe,” and it’s wonderful every time I come across such a person, so welcome!

      Did you happen to see my most recent post, about the magazine I’ve recently co-founded? It’s at http://www.thirdfactor.org, and it sounds like you’re a member of our hoped-for target audience. I recently picked up Elaine Aron’s work, finally, and I see what you mean. For me, since I found Dabrowski first, that was the one that moved me to tears, but I see how the HSP materials could have had the same effect at an earlier point in my life.

      My question is always, “Okay, what now?” I mean, yes, it’s certainly worth it “just” to feel healed and acknowledged!!! But then I keep having this impulse to “do something” because I realized I actually have superpowers and not just defective mutations. (Nothing like a good narrative frame to change one’s life, huh?) So that’s what Third Factor is for. Even if the “doing someting” seems small, it’s still SOMETHING. In addition to posting my own work over at Third Factor rather than just a WordPress blog, we also have some wonderful authors with credentials and experience in this field lined up, so I hope you’ll take a look. Thank you so much for coming by.

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      1. Hi Jessie, I have already read the Kennedy article and loved it. I have yet to poke around more in the new mag, but it is looking good to me so far 🙂

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        1. Oh!!!! Thanks for reading (and loving) the RFK piece. I admit I miss the comments section at the end…but we’re hoping that the magazine grows enough that a comments section like this would become unwieldly. So happy to know a CounterNarration reader enjoyed it…you’ve made my day!! ❤

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