Gifted adults: Brilliant innovation and extraordinary contributions

“There are many confusing notions about what giftedness is and is not. Indeed, in several respects, the life experience of the gifted individual seems paradoxical (e.g., being considered highly successful while secretly feeling like an impostor).”

From article Encountering the Gifted Self Again, For the First Time, by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D.

In another article, Dr. Jacobsen elaborates on more challenges for gifted adults, particularly in the workplace – challenges that can impact how well high ability people understand themselves and how much they are supported in effectively using their advanced potential.

‘Unfortunately, most gifted adults are no better informed on the subject than nearly everyone else,’ she says. 

‘Even if they were identified as gifted youngsters few gifted adults really understand how their minds operate, and most know even less about their innate intensity, complexity, and drive.

‘What they have learned is that who they are, what they do, and how they do it are usually “too much” for other people.  Throughout their lives most have experienced an array of confusing criticisms about their differences (e.g., “You’re too smart for your own good!”  “Why can’t you just go with the flow?”). . . .

‘If managers and talent developers are accurately informed about giftedness, they may come to realize that distinctive features of giftedness that seem excessive at first glance might be in just the right proportion for brilliant innovation and extraordinary contributions.’

She adds, ‘The wise employer knows that excellence and creative productivity are the result of a particular blend of internal and external factors: awareness, a supportive work atmosphere, appreciation, a great deal of challenge, and as much professional freedom as possible.’

From Giftedness in the Workplace: Can the Bright Mind Thrive in Today’s Organizations? by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, MENSA Research Journal, Vol. 39 (2), Summer, 2008 – quoted on Dr. Jacobsen’s site Talent Psychology Consulting Ltd.

In an earlier version of this article, Jacobsen notes “Inspiring though they may be, tales of eminence often imply that from an early age the truly gifted know exactly what they must do and undeviatingly pursue their lifework.

“Such distortions exacerbate gifted people’s inner pressure to make their mark in the world. Furthermore, instead of the expected coming-of-age exhilaration, the transition from full-time learner to full-time worker can be painfully disillusioning.

“Dreams fade quickly when gifted employees begin to equate work with constraint and exploitation. Can the bright mind thrive in organizations?

“Could the goals of work and gifted needs be aligned? The key may be a systematic set of ‘street smarts’ for the gifted worker — a thorough understanding of gifted traits combined with a strategic plan that balances self-support with judicious compromise.”

From Giftedness in the Workplace: Can the Bright Mind Thrive in Organizations?

In her book, Jacobsen writes about some of the key issues high ability people find important, and need to consider in jobs and careers.

“A career path suited to our needs must provide us with a sense of meaning and large-scale purpose. … For many of us, it often takes years of varied experience to clarify a life mission and to find our niche. Frequently multiple interests and talents call for the creation of a tailor-made career…

“Change is a natural outcome of multipotentiality, self-directedness, and adaptability, not an indicator of instability. Many of us progress along a convoluted track of seemingly unrelated careers.”

From book The Gifted Adult by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PsyD.

More articles by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen.

The Multipotentialite Entrepreneur

“My resume reads like it belongs to ten different people. Music, film, web design, law, business, personal development, writing, dance, sexuality, education– all of these are or have been interests of mine. They come and go (and sometimes come again).”

Those are comments by author Emilie Wapnick, who uses the descriptive name “multipotentialite” for people with many talents, passions and abilities.

Read about her program The Renaissance Business system for the Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur on my Inner Entrepreneur site.

Her resume is one I very much relate to, and I have never had the sense of being on a clear or linear career path.

Barbara Sher writes about many people being “Scanners” – “also known as Renaissance men and women, eclectic experts, happy amateurs and delighted dilettantes.” See post: Are you a scanner personality? Maybe all you need is a good enough job – which includes the middle photo: “Untitled Film Still #13,” 1978, by Cindy Sherman.

I have had rich experiences in many interesting (and some not so interesting) jobs, including glue testing at a chemical company lab; being a customer service rep for a car dealer, and for a cell phone company; collecting beach sand for a marine zoologist; growing bread mold at CalTech for a geneticist; working as an assistant for a psychiatrist doing some of the early left-right brain research; repairing woodwind instruments; operating computer-controlled visual effects motion picture cameras, and working as a psychology counselor with depressed or addicted people.

Along the way, I’ve also done some photography, and acting in community theater plays, and as a movie extra. I’ve also led support groups for gifted women.

Those comments on my “Scanner” career path are also in my book:
Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression
[Kindle]   [Website]   [Free sample PDF]

Photo at top: Google office – a company that has a reputation for attracting and supporting a wide range of engineers, designers and other creative, high ability people. Source: L.A. Office Opens – Nov 2011 – caption: “The reception desk is a tangled tree sculpture.”


Some related articles:

Giftedness in the work environment, by Noks Nauta, Sieuwke Ronner

Career Planning for Gifted Adults, by Cathy Goodwin

Work that Works for Sensitive Souls, by Jenna Avery

How Passion Can Interfere with a Just-Right Business, by Molly Gordon

Book by Molly Gordon: The Way of the Accidental Entrepreneur, The Practical Path to a Business that Fits Just-Right.


Originally posted 2012-08-18 17:45:47.


  1. […] Gifted adults: Brilliant innovation and extraordinary contributions – Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D. (author of The Gifted Adult) comments, “‘The wise employer knows that excellence and creative productivity are the result of a particular blend of internal and external factors: awareness, a supportive work atmosphere, appreciation, a great deal of challenge, and as much professional freedom as possible.” […]

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