It may be natural to feel frustrated at not being able to solve a math problem or some other challenge when we are growing up and still learning, but how do you feel about your abilities and your self, your identity, when you confront a deep gap between what you would like to accomplish, and what you believe you can?
Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel describes this kind of pain:
“It is a poignant feature of our species that we can contemplate intellectual work that we can’t quite accomplish.
“A person in possession of an IQ of 160 is not a better person than someone who possesses an IQ of 120 but she is better equipped to do abstract math.
“However, she herself is less equipped than someone with an IQ of 180; and that person is less equipped than a person with an IQ of 200. That is all natural.”
“It is also natural that we will experience emotional pain when we recognize that the work that we would love to do, whether it is physics at the highest level or constitutional law at the highest level or psychological fiction at the highest level or biological research at the highest level is, if not completely unavailable to us, just unavailable enough to make it doubtful that we can proceed and just unavailable enough to make our efforts feel like torture.”
From his article: The Smart Gap.
In this video (“Acquiring a Creative Mind” from GuruTubeVideos), Dr. Maisel points out more of these kinds of gaps:
In his book “Why Smart People Hurt” 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.”
He notes that every smart person experiences challenges, and lists fifteen of them that many people have in common, including:
Living in a society and a world that does more than disparage smartness, that actually silences smart people (because the power and privilege of leaders is undercut by smart people like you pointing out fraud, illogic, and injustice).
Doing work day after day and year after year that fails to make real use of your brainpower… Getting trapped in a narrow corner of a field or discipline where you are forced to do repetitive work for a lifetime.
Possessing good ideas but, because of the power structure and practices of your work environment, not having a way to implement them.
Falling prey to physical ailments and bad habits like jaw clenching, head scratching, and cigarette smoking that arise as you try to focus hard on an intellectual or creative problem.
Feeling alienated from and out of sync with your culture, your family, and your friends.
Finding yourself in a culture that tracks children, thereby keeping late bloomers and children of poverty out of intellectually interesting professions.
Dealing with a racing brain that, because it doesn’t come with an off switch, inclines itself toward insomnia, manias, obsessions, compulsions, and addictions.
[Photo: a corporation that reportedly nurtures high ability people is Google – this is an office of theirs in Zurich, from article: Giftedness in the work environment by Noks Nauta, Sieuwke Ronner.]
“It certainly isn’t the case that smart people as a group have it harder than other people. Smart people are more suited for and more likely to grab society’s highest-paying jobs, from doctor to academic to stockbroker, and have a better chance at material ease than other people.
“We could name countless ways in which smart people have it easier than, or at least no harder than, other people. Nevertheless smart people encounter many special challenges that can cost them their equanimity, their self-confidence, and their emotional health.
“Among these challenges, and the one that I want to explore first because of its vital importance, is the challenge of meaning.”
From book: Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative by Eric Maisel.
[You can also find multiple articles by Eric Maisel in which he addresses meaning, and other topics related to personal growth and living a creative life.]
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This “racing brain” may be part of the experience of “overexcitability” detailed by Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski and others.
It is a translation of his word that means ‘superstimulatability’ or ‘superexcitability’ or simply ‘intensity.’
This is an image of Sarah Bernhardt from one of my articles on the topic: Intensity and Being Creative [an excerpt from my main book.]
Also see page with more information: quotes, books, articles:
Dabrowski / advanced development.
Eric Maisel, PhD used to have an online course “Why Smart People Hurt” – this summary lists more of the challenges high ability people may face:
- How distressing states like mania, insomnia, and unproductive obsessing are the natural consequences of a good mind gone racing.
- The ways in which our families, schools, churches, work situations, media, and other social and cultural institutions dumb us down.
- The challenges of dealing with more depression and more anxiety than the next person.
- The sheer hardness of thinking, as evidenced by how hard it is to grasp the plot of the novel you’re writing, produce a breakthrough in your scientific field, or see enough moves ahead in chess.
- The surprising self-unfriendliness of a good mind: a mind that involves itself in personal inquisitions, torrents of self-recriminations, repetitive brooding, and other painful self-reprisals.
- The “smart gap”: dealing with the gap between the smarts you have and the smarts you need in order to get your chosen work done
- The unfortunate mannerisms, tactics, and tics, like jaw clenching, head scratching, nail biting, or cigarette smoking, that you use to canalize energy and reduce anxiety as you try to think.
Triple image at top:
Frustrated girl at blackboard also used in articles:
Growing up exceptional: Am I still gifted?
Raising Gifted Kids: Carol S. Dweck on the Impact of Mind-set.
An adolescent girl student in Mali writes on her classroom blackboard in 2012. Image: Tanya Bindra/UNICEF – from article: AFRICA Learning! – UNICEF Mali scale efforts to reach half a million displaced children.
Matt Damon as a math prodigy in movie “Good Will Hunting” – also used in article Higher IQ than Hawking – But what challenges may Victoria Cowie face?