When Gifted Children Grow Up (Part 1)

I’ve been struggling. I’m not even trying to hide that fact. My reasons for struggling, however, are many and varied, but have a lot to do with work (which I admittedly don’t talk much about). I’ve tried to find the answer–the REASON–for the struggles. ADD/ADHD? Depression? Maybe. But then I got to thinking about the whole ADD/ADHD angle, and how the “symptoms” for ADD/ADHD are very similar for the “symptoms” that help label a child as gifted (or gifted and talented, which is I think the more common label in schools). And that led me to ask myself (and Google), “What happens when gifted children grow up?”

I was labeled gifted towards the end of first grade, despite the fact that, yes, I showed so many of the signs of having ADD/ADHD (excessive talking, anyone?). When I look back at elementary school, I honestly have to say that my favorite teachers were Mrs. DeShazo in Kindergarten, and Mrs. Van Cleave in First Grade. Kindergarten was a rough year for me–my parents were going through a divorce and I was bored out of my mind because, HELLO, I’d known the alphabet and how to read since I was two and a half. But Mrs. DeShazo was super understanding and nice, and even let me get away with reading during naptime. Mrs. Van Cleave was awesome in the first grade. Because I was so far ahead of everyone else (and because I would get bored so easily) she would work with me on reading while the rest of the class was working on math, and would work with me on math while everyone else was reading silently. Yeah, I had to do stuff with the rest of the class, but when I did I remember being this antsy little girl who’s hand always shot up first to answer questions because, c’mon, the stuff was easy. She suggested to my mom that I get tested for Gifted and Talented. I still remember sitting in the cafeteria by myself, taking that test and thinking through almost all of it, “This is stupid. Of course that’s a triangle!” or “Wait. The answer could be this in this case, or that if this were the case.”

In other words, I was bored taking an IQ test.

And then I finished way early and sat there, waiting, for someone to come get the test and me.

So I started second grade and was placed in the GT class. I stayed in those gifted and talented classes all through high school, although in high school GT was pretty much rolled into honors classes, we just had some extra stuff we got to do every now and then, but I don’t remember many GT-specific activities past the 9th grade.

I sailed through school. Graduated top 10%. Had my pick of colleges AND scholarship offers. I don’t remember what I scored on the SAT exactly, but I do remember that I only missed one question on the verbal portion of the exam. The math part I didn’t do quite as well on–because I transpose numbers due to my vision issues, so often times the answer would be off but the work and process would be correct. In other words–I understood math, but because I struggled with getting the correct answer by the time I was in high school I thought I was “bad” at it. But I never really had to study. I could skim required reading texts and ace exams on them and bullshit my way through essay exams (oh, those were my favorite). I could put together research papers in a day (I’m talking the kind where you had to have all the note cards and the outlines and everything) and get a 95 or better on them. In other words: high school–at least academically–was pretty freaking easy for me, even being in Honors and AP courses.

College was similar. The work was a little more difficult, and I did struggle with college algebra (again with the transposed numbers) and astronomy (physics=math=transposed numbers, plus I just wanted to look at the stars and not really do any calculations for anything), and by the time I finished my GPA wasn’t all that great because, quite frankly, I’d gotten really freaking bored by the whole college experience. Having to take classes because someone said I had to in order to graduate pretty much sucked for me–if I have no interest in something, I’m simply not going to apply myself. But in the classes I was interested in? Yeah, I kind of breezed through those, too. Hell, I took a communication course on the First Amendment (which was an awesome class, FWIW) and wrote a major paper the morning it was due–while still drunk–and made an A+ on it and received quite a bit of praise from the professor for that essay.

Quite frankly, when you can do stuff like that and still succeed, it’s easy to see why gifted kids, teens and young adults would get…I dunno…a bit cocky, I guess. And I think that’s the right word, because I know I’m not the only one who had experiences like that–those of us that were in that second grade GT class were pretty much together in the same classes through the 12th grade, and a decent portion of us even ended up at the same college and stayed friends throughout college. We were all having that struggle with boredom and skating by and struggling and excelling. And lots of us are still connected in some way today thanks to Facebook. Some of us are super successful, and some of us aren’t at all while some of us are stuck somewhere in the middle.

(As an aside: Grad school was probably the first time I REALLY had to work hard and apply myself, but since my Master’s degree is in Writing Popular Fiction and my thesis was a romance/women’s fiction novel, it wasn’t a lot like work, because writing is such an integral part of who I am that the whole thing was just natural for me.)

So what does happen when gifted children grow up?

To be honest, there’s not a lot of research out there. It’s almost as if being gifted is something that only applies when you’re a kid, but once you become an adult somehow your giftedness–and all of the personality traits and advantages and struggles that go along with being gifted–just disappear in the minds of researchers. And yet people like Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs and J.K. Rowling prove otherwise. Giftedness doesn’t just go away, and gifted adults sometimes struggle because of it.

I found this really interesting article called Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children. When I say interesting, I mean that I read it and was like, “Yes. Yes. That too. Yes. This explains so freaking much.” I had these reactions mostly while looking at the table that lists Strengths and Possible Problems that arise from those strengths. I can see those strengths within myself, but in some cases I definitely see the problems (in my case, I knew I was “gifted” and that I was smart, but no one really ever explained to me what all of those things meant–I just thought I was “different”).

This rabbit hole of research came about because, to be quite frank, I kind of hate my job. I like the people I work with–for the most part, I don’t really know any of them since we’re scattered across the country–and I like the pay, but I’m doing really boring stuff. I realize there are people out there who love doing routine things like downloading spreadsheets, matching leads, copying and pasting copy into systems and basically just following orders. And hey, more power to them. But I hate it. When I took the job I was admittedly desperate for a job after being let go from my last one (where I’d also fallen into the rabbit hole of being the person who uploaded leads and did lots of routine tasks, which quite frankly is a recipe for disaster for me), I didn’t know exactly what the job would entail (I was actually a candidate for two different contract positions, and didn’t know the specifics of day to day tasks until I’d accepted this one and gotten settled in), and I saw it as an opportunity to stick with it for a few months and get hired on permanently hopefully doing something I would enjoy a lot more. Well, seven months in and I’m still contract, still doing the same stuff with a little more thrown in that I’m having a really hard time giving a shit about, and I sit there and wonder what’s wrong with me that I can’t just be happy that I have a freaking job. I ask myself, “Why are you so unhappy? It’s a job! Why can’t you focus? Just suck it up, Buttercup, and get that shit done!”

And I’ll start my day with a list of stuff I have to get done. I’ll get a couple of things checked off. And then I get distracted by something that’s infinitely more interesting, or I start daydreaming or just stare off into space and totally zone out. Or I have to hop on a phone call or a webinar, and God knows THAT totally breaks my focus. And then I realize I haven’t gotten shit done and I feel bad because, hey, it’s my job but holy shit I just can’t do it. So then I feel like there’s something wrong with me and that I’m not “normal,” which is apparently a pretty common feeling for gifted children AND adults, because let’s face it–we ARE different.

“Let’s think outside of the box” is a phrase that is used way too often in the corporate world, and across departments (but it seems to be super prevalent in marketing). The problem that I’ve found is that managers don’t really want true “outside of the box” thinking–they want thinking that’s still inside the box but that maybe pushes the edges a little bit. Truly creative thinking and problem solving? That’s just crazy talk. This has been a problem for me at several jobs–to the point where my ideas were either outright dismissed with derision or ignored completely–and I ended up just shutting down and not contributing opinions or ideas at all, despite the fact that in my head I had so many ideas for how to solve a problem or position messaging. And then my managers are like, “You need to contribute more. Why are you always so quiet in meetings?” Um, because my ideas constantly get shot down and everyone looks at me like I’m fucking crazy? And then I get bored and restless and so over it all and I either get let go or start looking for another job. In the past five years I’ve had ONE boss who truly appreciated outside of the box thinking–because he, too, is an incredibly gifted man who’s fucking brilliant (and, yes, probably my favorite boss ever) and who encourages “crazy” thinking. Bosses like that are few and far between, unfortunately, so I just feel stuck and scared that I’m constantly going to be in the hamster wheel of dissatisfaction where my career is concerned, because deep down I feel like I’ll never be “understood” and that the corporate world doesn’t give a shit about what my talents REALLY are, they just want a monkey who can upload fucking leads and set up a WebEx event. And, hey, I need to Always Be Learning.

So it’s easy for me to see–after doing some research and reading about other people’s experiences as gifted adults–how my current dissatisfaction with my work (which IS important to me–because WORK is important), coupled with other stuff going on (like being worried about Phillip) could lead to me feeling a bit depressed and letting things slip away from me. It’s not that I have ADD/ADHD, or that I’m even “weird” or “not normal,” it’s just that I live in a world that doesn’t exactly provide the best intellectual or even emotional environment for me (because for me, intellect and emotion ARE tied together–I can be incredibly rational and logical in my arguments, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel passionately about those rational and logical arguments). I also constantly struggle with answering the question, “Who am I?” I NEED to know who and what I am, because those labels provide a weird sense of comfort, even when sometimes those labels are a bit oppositional (I think that’s my need to compartmentalize and organize things and people–which you would not believe if you saw my house or the truck, because those things are the very definition of disorganized).

Having an answer–a reason, if you will–helps me to feel not quite so out of sorts. I have this intense need to understand myself–I look inward A LOT (and possibly more than what’s “normal”–I don’t really know since this is MY “normal”)–and once I feel like I’ve solved at least part of the puzzle I can breathe a little easier and relax. It’s like my brain can rest for at least a few seconds. 😉 So now I have the WHY, but I don’t have the WHAT’S NEXT–and that’s ALWAYS the next question for me. Simply asking “why?” is never enough–it’s never been enough. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer and storyteller–motivation and goals absolutely fascinate me. I just feel overwhelmed right now. I know that the status quo isn’t doing me any favors, and that I have to make a change. But at this point when you look at my resume I don’t know how even I could spin my way out of being labeled a “job-hopper.” That doesn’t exactly get one on the fast-track to success, y’know. And I keep feeling like the answer’s staring at me, just right there in front of me, but for some reason I just can’t see it right now. And the harder I try to see it, the blurrier it becomes.

This whole thing has got me wondering, though, if I’m the only one who struggles like this, or if other gifted children who are now adults have similar issues. There’s not a lot of research out there on it, which I think is a shame–and not just because I’m one of those gifted children who’s now an adult. So tell me, readers–what are your experiences?


Some of the resources I’ve found:

Hoagie’s Gifted Education Page: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/10_highly_gifted.htm

Can You Hear the Flowers Sing? Issues for Gifted Adults: http://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/can-you-hear-the-flowers-sing-issues-for-gifted-adults

If Only I Had Known: Lessons for Gifted Adults: http://tip.duke.edu/node/919

Fostering Adult Giftedness: Acknowledging and Addressing Affective Needs of Gifted Adults: https://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/fostering-adult-giftedness-acknowledging-and-addressing-affective-needs-of-gifted-adults

Gifted Children: What Happens When They Grow Up?: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/attention-training/201009/gifted-children-what-happens-when-they-grow

Gifted Ex-Child: http://www.stephanietolan.com/gifted_ex-child.htm