I had never thought of myself as “gifted”. It felt strange to find myself attending a conference for highly gifted individuals. I’ve known people who go around claiming to be smarter than everyone else, but who didn’t seem worth the oxygen they consume; those are the people I had always associated with the label “gifted.”
I had also never considered myself to be all that smart. After all, I did not spend my childhood developing new mathematical models, composing breathtaking symphonies, or advancing medical research. Like most other children, I loved to play, and hated school. I really hated school! During class, I would read novels, draw, daydream, or write stories instead of taking notes. When a teacher would admonish me for my lack of attentiveness, I would simply devise more surreptitious ways to continue doing as I pleased. I never actually studied or put much effort into my schoolwork, and I derived precious little enjoyment from it.
I could never quite figure out how to relate to my classmates either. I wanted to make friends; but for some reason other kids consistently rejected or ignored me. School, as far as I was concerned, was something to be endured until it was over. Yet had you asked my teachers or parents about how school was for me, they would have said that everything was great — couldn’t be better! The other students, while rejecting me, also envied me. My report cards said: A+, A+, A+, A+, A+. By all the available measures I excelled in all subjects, and I was a model student. Most of my classmates had a very different experience of school; it was difficult for me to grasp that, yes, there were kids who were giving their absolute best effort in school and yet struggling to comprehend the material.
I suspect that most people assume that their mental landscape is essentially similar to everyone else’s, and it is only when reality smacks them in the face that they can possibly consider otherwise. Realizing exactly how different I was from the general population has been a gradual process. My life as an adult began as a quest to find relevance and meaning in a world that seemed to have neither. The lives of my parents or any of the other adults around me had never appealed to me. Seeing the rest of my life as something to be endured, as they had done, salved by drugging themselves with television and church, was inconceivable to me. I was driven by the need to understand everything, and most importantly needing to understand myself. I exhaustively examined every aspect of my life as I became aware of it, and wondered how I fit into a universe that seemed entirely alien.
When I first came across another person who also approached life with that same intensity, scope, and depth, I was excited in ways I had never before thought possible. Our lives collided in brilliant synergy, exploring new territory and building a connection unlike any I had known before. Early on, my new friend brought up the concept of extreme giftedness, and that I, too, should be included in that category. At first I was wary: Me? Extraordinarily gifted? Unthinkable . . . . My friend was gently adamant about the “fact” of my exceptionality, while leading me to understand that this was not about being better than other people, or even more—that this kind of “wiring” meant that the ways my brain functioned were different from the norm, and that those differences permeated not only my academics, but also the ways that I perceived, sensed, experienced and processed every aspect of my life.
That my friend embodied profound giftedness was undeniable; but I was not too keen to assign this characteristic to myself. When we spent time together, I didn’t change or hide any of my behaviors, even when I considered them less than genius-like; I cautiously anticipated eventually being told that this kind of giftedness did not apply to me after all. As our experiences together expanded over time, I became aware that the characteristics of extreme giftedness explained more and more about my experience of the world, and the ways that I responded to and processed it. My friend acted as a sort of mirror that enabled me to see my qualities through a new lens. What really solidified my relatively new-found identity, though, was being invited to Beyond IQ.
What does a fish know about being wet? Sometimes the only way to become aware of a long time condition is to notice its sudden absence. Such was the case for me at BIQ. Prior to the event I had a much foggier idea of how utterly different I was from the vast majority of the population, even though I had long known that I was way, way, waaay out there in terms of weirdness. It was the absence of neurotypicals at Beyond IQ that had such a stunning impact on me.
The first difference I noticed between BIQ and every other conference or event I had ever attended was that, in the young adult program, the organizers had laid out a vast array of toys (silly putty, bean bags, markers, coloring sheets) in the middle of the room. Without being told I knew that these were there for the attendees to use during the presentations. Throughout the weekend, everyone in the room seemed engaged either with these toys or their own devices while the presentations were going on, and that was to be expected and accepted (OMG, yay!) Despite this apparent lack of attention, the discussion and participation could not have been more engaged. Most striking was a child of about nine who, while playing animatedly, peppered every discussion with comments and insights.
What marked the experience as unique, however, was the discussion on gender. Gender is a subject that I have exhaustively excavated, and I have attended/helped to give presentations on gender several times in the past. I had become used to the pace, the general reception of the topic, and how most people in the audience struggled to shift their ingrained assumptions on the topic. At the young adult BIQ program, however, ALL of that was different! The presentation was only an hour long, and it began at the place where other presentations had more or less ended: “Gender is a social construct that has little meaning on an individual basis. Obviously. Given this, how are the ways that gender impacts our lives? ” Compared to those other gender presentations, the pace was intense. Nobody seemed to be struggling to comprehend any of the ideas presented, and these young adults were chiming in with the info from recent psychology and neuroscience studies (I had read those too!). I had gone with the idea in mind that I was there to contribute my expertise on the material; but with the presenters being both masterful and comprehensive, there was little for me to add. Another first!
The contrast with any other class I had ever taken was stark. I left that presentation feeling emotionally overwhelmed, and I cried while recounting the presentation to my friend. I realized that the tears came from the immense relief I felt—for the first time, I was not always the first to grasp a concept, perceive a nuance, or reach a conclusion. Having the experience of not feeling like the smartest person in the room let me realize that in every group setting up to that time, without naming it, I had felt that I was.
When considering whether to attach my name to this article or not, I realized something important — I was concerned that people might be able to search on my name to discover me writing about being gifted! This was quite shocking considering that every other aspect of my identity (much of which is considered controversial and weird by society at large), I am perfectly fine with laying everything out for all to see. There is such a powerful stigma against giftedness! To claim to be gifted, especially to be exceptionally gifted, is tantamount to claiming to be better than everyone else—anathema in our allegedly egalitarian society. Even though my exceptionality is often commented on (“Wow, I’ve never seen anyone catch on so quickly!” “That’s amazing! How did you figure that out?”), it seems unacceptable for me to claim it. Will these people who read about my tales of academic ease judge me to be a self-important ass? It is exciting for me to realize that this is a final frontier of taboo for me: to claim and proclaim the identity of being exceptionally gifted. I claim the identity not as a conceit, but as useful characterization. These are the many ways in which I differ from the norm. That differentness in me is characterized by some things being much easier for me, like absorbing new information and skills; and some things being much more difficult, like socializing; and yet other things simply being different, virtually without reference in the neurotypical world. Up until recently, understanding myself was like trying to dissect a frog using an anatomy map for a fish. Now that I better comprehend what kind of an animal I am, I find that the more I embrace those differences, the better I am able to accomplish projects, relate to other people, and be more comfortable in my own skin.
This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”). To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_