Gifted People at Work

giftedadultI have been reading The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, trying to understand what it meant to have been identified as gifted. At the age of ten, I was  placed into gifted and education programs. I struggled with being teased as a goody-two-shoes and a know-it-all, being told to quit acting like I know everything, and feeling afraid of expressing myself.

The book illuminates territories of the mind which were previously shrouded in mystery. While reading this, I felt that perhaps it was as if Sherlock Holmes were missing his partner, John Watson—that Mary-Elaine Jacobsen‘s book was a missing catalyst I needed in order to truly strive for self-actualization.

Now that I realize giftedness is a real psychological phenomenon and that people who are gifted are actually multinodal thinkers with more dendrite branches and physiological differences in the brain and nervous system, I can understand who I am better and perhaps support the cause of advocating for other gifted people. I realize that I have to practice focus, self-control, exercise creativity, engage in challenging activities, reach out to other people like me, and practice self-care.

This is a definition of giftedness I found from The Columbus Group:

Giftedness is ‘asynchronous development’ in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.
(The Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992)

People who are gifted come with enhanced abilities in creativity, problem solving, rapid thinking, and seeing connections branch out into the bigger picture. They can be either embraced in the workplace for their abilities or shunned for being eccentric, knowing too much, testing authority, or not coloring in the lines. In addition, giftedness also comes with intrinsic psychological issues such as high sensitivity, being prone to sensory overload, perfectionism, fear of failure and underperforming, and exhibiting non-conformist behaviors. It is highly common for gifted people to change career paths often or change jobs within two years or less, in some cases.

If they cannot exercise their creativity or engage their abilities in the workplace, it is urgent for a gifted person to find activities outside of work, such as playing music, joining a soccer team, volunteering to build homes for Habitat for Humanity, painting, or taking university classes for personal enrichment. Otherwise, they could be susceptible to withdrawal of interest in everyday life, sudden bursts of agitation, insomnia, persistent fatigue, irritability, and physical manifestations of lowered immune system, digestive disorders, or migraines.

Birds of a feather really do stick together. One way that gifted people can adjust better to their workplace is if they can find another gifted individual that they identify with, to give them a feeling of normalcy and belonging. In an environment where they feel they are the only different individual, it is possible that they will feel heightened alienation and perceived hostility from other coworkers. In one place where I worked, I had a gifted officemate I chatted with and spent break times with regularly. Outside of work we would discuss ideas about society, culture, the arts, and education, and we would enjoy activities like going to an orchestra performance together. I also had a gifted supervisor who often went out of his way to give me more challenging, diverse, and uncommon projects to tackle. He knew I would treat these projects like puzzles and drive hard to solve them and that if he made me do the same fieldwork all the time, I would fall into an existential coma like Han Solo being stuck in graphite.

Anyway, I digress. I inserted a personal story to help you feel what I was talking about. I found a Quora discussion about common problems of gifted people in the workplace. The definition of giftedness from this discussion is wrong, giftedness is not entirely attributed to an IQ, the majority of gifted IQ is around the top 15% of intelligence, and giftedness is not related only to intelligence but also psychobiological makeup, genetic variation, and psychological difference. The people here are discussing their experiences, what they have learned, what they have seen in other people, and how they have fit into their workplaces. Most identified gifted people who have had the opportunity to receive structured homeschooling or enter gifted programs are taught about socialization and adjustment. Those who are not identified or adjusted may have more of a struggle, a series of crises, and detrimental conflicts.

Succeeding in the workplace and with a self-actualized life requires a constant striving for self-care, self-control, adaptability, awareness, connecting to people for support, and recognizing when to back out of where one does not belong:

Psychologist Hans de Vries gives some practical tips in his book with regard to coming into better contact with everyday life and thereby with society. One such tip is ‘Don’t do it’ as the theme for avoiding becoming involved too quickly and with too many things. Corten emphasizes the importance of self-management with regard to one’s career: the gifted show, by nature, a tendency to reason rationally based on what they are able to do, what needs to be done, and which specific circumstances this demands. And, subsequently, to be surprised or disappointed when they discover that this does not automatically lead to them connecting well with their work environment. Contact with their own feelings, with that which they really want and whereby they become motivated, appears often to be a better basis for contact with colleagues and profiling in the work environment than real qualities. (from SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted)

Gifted people are sometimes subjected to accusations that they are show-offs, know-it-alls, or pretentious. Even if they are not meaning to toot their own horn, they can be seen as a peacock showing up to a party of quails. They’re not dress-appropriate. They stand out. They’re not welcome just anywhere. It takes self-control not to take these painful factors too personally and to adjust the levels of socialization where necessary. It is completely alright and necessary for the psychological wellbeing of the gifted individual to walk away from a work environment they cannot adjust well to no matter how hard they try. It might take considerable time and searching to find a workplace where a gifted individual could feel welcome and stay, but it is worthwhile once they do find it.


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