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