Being exceptional may cause a variety of reactions; some of those responses are supportive, but others can discourage or discount one’s talents.
“I got that whole precocious thing [as a child]. I had no reason to doubt my own abilities or not share my opinion. The adults were offended, and the kids were resentful. I was persona non grata in both camps for quite a while.”
Diane Lane (Lifetime mag. Oct 2003) – the image is Lane on a 1979 Time mag. cover: “Hollywood’s Whiz Kids”
Many other talented people are drawn to arts and entertainment [see the list: gifted/talented arts celebrities] – and other fields, of course – and have had similar experiences as children.
Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D. notes in her article “If You’re So Smart, Why Do You Need Counseling?”, “The degree to which the individuals are different from the expected norm affects the way significant people (e.g., parents, teachers, age-mates) in the highly gifted people’s environments react to them.
“In other words, it is the gifted child’s perception of the acceptance, approval, or rejection that leads to the social and emotional adjustment.
She quotes a 45-year old woman:
“Some saw me as a person with rare insight, others thought I was crazy. It was very hard to see it clearly. I was often confused by the variety of responses… Seeing a list of characteristics made it very clear that I was probably in the gifted range, yet it was hard to accept.
“It feels like I am boasting, or somehow trying to claim something I have not earned. There is something bad about claiming to be smart, it is arrogant and boastful… somehow there is an idea that there is something wrong to see yourself as anything more than average.”
In another article, Social & Emotional Issues: What Gifted Adults Say About Their Childhoods, Dr. Ruf quotes a woman who became an attorney:
“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… I often thought that I was really stupid because I couldn’t understand why teachers taught things that I thought were obvious…
“It never occurred to me that I felt different because I was ahead of them intellectually.”
Another example: actor Sharon Stone:
“I was, like, forty at birth. When I wasn’t even a year old, I spoke, I was potty trained, I walked and talked. That was it. Then I started school and drove everybody crazy because they realized I had popped out as an adult.
“I had adult questions and wanted adult answers.”
Trying to recapture early support
Even seemingly positive responses may be challenging, even self-limiting.
In her article Social & Emotional Needs of the Gifted, Adults and Children, Dr. Ruf says, “An intellectually gifted child begins life receiving feedback that she is a surprising delight to her family. She receives positive feedback for her speech and vocabulary and for how quickly she figures things out and learns to do things.
“I believe many gifted people spend much of their remaining life trying to recreate this positive feedback and wondering what they are doing wrong.”
Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D. is author of Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind.
She founded her company TalentIgniter to “help the families of gifted children, particularly highly and profoundly gifted children, to know where to begin their search for answers related to gifted issues.”
Many gifted and talented people learn how to accommodate to being exceptional, and gain satisfaction and accomplishment in their lives.
For example Diane Lane has achieved much acclaim for her acting, with many awards and recognition, including an Academy Award nomination for ‘Unfaithful’ (2002).
Author and personal development coach Tama J. Kieves faced a number of challenges after graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, and feeling compelled to leave her career as “an overworked attorney” to follow her “soul’s haunting desire to become a writer.”
In her new book “Inspired and Unstoppable” she writes, “As a creative individual, visionary leader, independent thinker, soul-healer, or entrepreneur, it’s your birthright to utilize other talents, insights, resources, and innate strategies.
“You are not made to fit into the world…but to remake the world, heal the world, and illuminate new choices and sensibilities.”
You can hear a brief audio clip of her talking about “What stops us?” in my post Tama Kieves on inspired desire and new directions.
One of the challenges many of us have as multitalented people is to face the consequences (such as social reactions) of being uncommon. We also need to honor our discomfort with mediocrity – in others and ourselves.