What happens if you realize you are smarter and more capable than most people? Do you celebrate being exceptional, or try to hide?
Being different can be painful, but those who honestly acknowledge having greater abilities, and nurture them, can gain more fulfillment and perhaps recognition, and make a bigger impact on the world, than those who deny and hide.
One of the many inspiring quotes by Steve Jobs is this:
“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”
See video in post: Steve Jobs and Thinking Differently.
Also see post: Steve Jobs: Intensities and Obsessions.
But Jobs also recognized he was exceptional.
In his bio of the Apple co-founder, Walter Isaacson relates a story about Jobs coming to an important realization about himself and his father:
“He was not an educated man,” Jobs said, “but I had always thought he was pretty damn smart. He didn’t read much, but he could do a lot. Almost everything mechanical, he could figure it out.”
Isaacson notes, “Jobs had been taught by his father that microphones always required an electronic amplifier.
Jobs found that wasn’t true for a particular type of microphone: “So I raced home, and I told my dad that he was wrong.”
“No, it needs an amplifier,” his father assured him. When Steve protested otherwise, his father said he was crazy. “It can’t work without an amplifier. There’s some trick.”
“I kept saying no to my dad, telling him he had to see it, and finally he actually walked down with me and saw it. And he said, ‘Well I’ll be a bat out of hell.’”
Isaacson continues, “Jobs recalled the incident vividly because it was his first realization that his father did not know everything.”
Jobs said, “It was a very big moment that’s burned into my mind. When I realized that I was smarter than my parents, I felt tremendous shame for having thought that. I will never forget that moment.”
Isaacson comments: “Another layer of awareness occurred soon after. Not only did he discover that he was brighter than his parents, but he discovered that they knew this. Paul and Clara Jobs were loving parents, and they were willing to adapt their lives to suit a son who was very smart — and also willful. They would go to great lengths to accommodate him. And soon Steve discovered this fact as well.”
“Both my parents got me,” said Jobs. “They felt a lot of responsibility once they sensed that I was special. They found ways to keep feeding me stuff and putting me in better schools. They were willing to defer to my needs.”
Isaacson adds, “So he grew up not only with a sense of having once been abandoned [he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs], but also with a sense that he was special. In his own mind, that was more important in the formation of his personality.”
From bio Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Francis Heylighen, PhD writes, “Parents can also vacillate between being proud of and being scared of the achievements of the highly gifted child.” – From article Gifted People and their Problems.
In the Prodigies chapter of his book “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” Andrew Solomon writes:
“Many parents dream of having accomplished children, but children who manifest genius at a young age may prove utterly confounding. They are likely to suffer from asynchrony: having an intellectual age at odds with their emotional age. As a result, with no real peers, such children may be desperately lonely.
“Some families neglect such brilliance in an attempt to bestow the comforts of ‘a normal childhood’; others pressure their children to perform and thus poison the children’s relationship to art, and sometimes to themselves.
“Prodigies can be damaged by either error. Yet some grow up largely unscathed and produce music that contributes substantially to the beauty of the world.”
One example of that:
“If my father had pressured me like this and I had not done well, it would have been child abuse, and I would be traumatized, maybe destroyed.
“He could have been less extreme and we probably would have made it to the same place; you don’t have to sacrifice everything to be a musician.
“But we had the same goal. So since all the pressure helped me become a world-famous star musician, which I love being, I would say that, for me, it was in the end a wonderful way to grow up.” — Lang Lang
– From post Lang Lang: “Pressure…but a wonderful way to grow up”.
Talented females may face more challenges
One example of recognition for intellectual ability is this photo: St Stanislaus College 2012 valedictorian Bianca Phillips, from post: Strive for nothing but excellence.
In her article Underachievement in Talented Females, Sally M. Reis, Ph.D. writes about the “confusion about appropriate behavior and the mixed messages intelligent girls receive from parents and peers” and says it is “best described in a letter I received from a nineteen-year-old female” – she quotes:
‘Caught in the double-bind of being labeled talented, being told I can do anything, being treasured as a bright young person, and at the same time being told not to compete, not to try to “run with the guys and not to show off,” to “be a lady,” I spent many years and much invaluable energy in the psychic bind of the talented girl.
“Even now, although the circumstances have changed (after all, I am in college!), I still fight the same old battles of outside expectations, awkward roles, and self-sabotage.’
Reis adds, “Talented females with many questions and ideas may suffer more than any other group from the mixed messages they receive from their parents, teachers, and peers.”
Intelligence and expectations and stereotyping
Masi Oka has an improv background and computer science degree, and worked for George Lucas’ visual effects studio, ILM, before acting.
His first leading role is ‘Hiro Nakamura’ in the TV series “Heroes”.
On the Tavis Smiley Show (April 27, 2007), he addressed stereotyping and expectations related to high intelligence:
Masi Oka: You see, I’d rather kind of lower everyone’s expectations. I’d rather be kind of dumb and exceed peoples’ expectations rather than like raise the bar and not be able to meet it, which is like constantly my life.
Tavis Smiley: The flip side of that, though, I would think, Masi, is being burdened by the intellect. You ever feel burdened? That is to say, the expectation on you from your parents and others is so great because they know your IQ is high?
Oka: Yeah, my mom definitely had a very high expectation of me, and myself as well. I’ve learned through the years that it’s much easier to live if you lower your expectations.
Intense and driven
In her book The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen writes, “To feel like an outsider, to constantly pressure yourself to hold back your gifts in order to fit in or avoid disapproval, to erroneously believe that you are overly sensitive, compulsively perfectionistic, and blindly driven, to live without knowing the basic truths about the core of your being – too often this is the life of Everyday Geniuses who have been kept in the dark about who they are and misinformed about their differences.”
She adds that no one explained:
“Of course you’re different. You’re intense, complex, and driven because you’re gifted.”
[Painting: ‘Schwertberger-period1/6’ – Related book: Heavy Light: The Art of De Es by Schwertberger.]
Impacted by intellect
In her article Social & Emotional Issues: What Gifted Adults Say About Their Childhoods, Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D. notes, “Although gifted people usually know they are smart they often do not know the many ways their intelligence affects them emotionally and socially. Just a few excerpts from subjects reveal how easily gifted people are both confused and hurt by lack of enlightenment about their giftedness.
“A woman who became an attorney wrote:
“I was aware of being the smartest person in the class in first grade, but even then I suspected that I was not really bright but that the others were very slow. [By the 4th grade she was so widely read that] I did not realize then why I felt left out and thought it was due to some personality flaw. I often thought that I was really stupid because I couldn’t understand why teachers taught things that I thought were obvious.
“I thought the other children were smarter because they saw complexities that I now know never existed. I had a hard time understanding other children.”
A couple of teens writing in the book When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers articulated some of this impact:
“Other kids made fun of us as nerds or called us stuck-up. It was not true, it was just that we weren’t sure how to relate to some of our peers. We were informed that we were smarter by our teachers, but to a child, that is just plain ‘different.’ We needed help understanding ourselves.” – Erin, 19
Quoted in my book “Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression” –
See book site with excerpts: developingmultipletalents.com
Talented women may hide abilities in order to survive socially
Some people hold a stereotyped view of what giftedness means (as merely high IQ, for example) and feel that an identity as “gifted” is incompatible with their self-concept.
Others may have a fear of failure or success related to living up to the label, or have an aversion to being thought “elitist”, “superior”, or “hogging all the glory” — and they may feel guilt, shame, or other destabilizing feelings about being exceptional.
“Many who are truly superior… are reluctant to consider themselves ‘better than’ or ‘above’ others, in large part because a sense of humility accompanies their personal and spiritual power,” author M. Scott Peck has noted.
In his book “The Road Less Traveled and Beyond” he describes an interview with a young woman: “‘I don’t want to be a whiner’ [she said]. ‘Then you’ll need to learn how to accept your superiority’ I retorted. ‘My what? What do you mean?’
“Jane was dumbfounded. ‘I’m not superior.’ ‘All your complaints – your whining, if you will – center around your probably accurate assessment that your dates aren’t as smart as you, your professors aren’t as humble as you, and your fellow students aren’t as interesting as you.'”
In a magazine article, Jane Fonda noted that the “shutting down” of expression may start early in life: “Girls lose their original spirit in early adolescence,” she said.
“The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, powerful girls shrink down to the size of a thimble… And the other women around us… send us the message that to survive as a woman, you have to quiet that voice.”
Research on the impostor phenomenon or syndrome began with the work of psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who wrote a paper on the topic in 1978. They found many women with notable achievements also had high levels of self-doubt which could not be equated with self-esteem, anxiety, or other traits, and seemed to involve a deep sense of inauthenticity and an inability to internalize their successes.
From my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.
This is not a challenge for only girls and women.
“At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.”
Actor, writer, director Mike Myers
If you think impostor feelings may be holding you back, take a look at my post ‘I’m a Fraud’: Gifted and talented but insecure.
Different kinds of smart
Writer and creative writing teacher Antonya Nelson has commented about the rewards of the writing process, saying: “I think it’s in self-discovery and in surprising yourself by being smarter at some emotional level than you thought you were.” [Atlantic Unbound April 11, 2002 theatlantic.com]
Listing of Books by Antonya Nelson.
In his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman notes, “When we talk about someone being ‘smarter’ than someone else, we tend to invoke the notion of quick reasoning and problem solving.
“This conceptualization pervades Western media — from descriptions of presidential effectiveness to TV shows like Jeopardy and The Big Bang Theory. But defining a term is one thing, measuring it is another. How can this definition be captured in the world? That is a much thornier issue.”
He also asks, “Does achievement always involve being original? What separates the good from the truly great? Where’s the dividing line?
“By the way, don’t unique life experiences matter? You see the world through a very unique lens. Doesn’t that count at all? Or what about your very unique talents? You know— that rare ability you have to yodel while break-dancing.”
– Quotes and photo from my post Don’t You Have To Be “Gifted and Talented” To Be Creative?
In a newspaper article, he asked: ‘What does it mean to be gifted in the United States? A national survey in 2011 found that the predominant method of assessment, by far, is the administration of IQ tests and standardized academic tests. At least 34 states, including California, consider such tests an indication of giftedness; they are mandated by at least 16 states. In contrast, only nine states require the use of tests that measure “creativity” and even fewer require the assessment of leadership, motivation or a talent for the performing arts.’
See post: American education and the IQ trap.
Reviews of the book include these:
“Kaufman makes a convincing case for incorporating valuable but less easily measured attributes into our view of intelligence…Most powerfully, Kaufman illustrates the importance of uncovering what gives each person his or her own brand of intelligence, taking into account individual goals, psychologies and brain chemistry.” — Scientific American Mind
“Ungifted shows that many of us have special gifts that can lead to greatness.” — Dean Keith Simonton, author of Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity.
> See more Books on High Ability.
> Also see more posts on Identity / Self concept.
In a section of the book – Is it a Gift to be Uncommon? – he writes about how people who are Xi [eXtra Intelligent or Intense] may view their exceptional abilities.
Read the Foreword by Linda Silverman (and see link to the author’s site) in the post The Gift of Being Uncommon.
In his book Why Smart People Hurt psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel notes how intelligence is such a central aspect of our identity:
“Smartness is a smart person’s defining characteristic. Everything she thinks about the world—how she forms her identity, how she construes her needs, how she talks to herself about her life purposes and goals—is a function of how her particular brain operates.
“She is her smartness in a way that she is not her height, her gender, her moods, or her experiences. Her particular mind with its particular intelligence is the lens through which she looks at life, and it is also the engine that drives her days and her nights. It is her idiosyncratic brain, mind, and intelligence that determine how she will live—and why.”
– See more quotes in article: Brainpower and The Smart Gap.