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Picture
As a high school senior, he was finally nearing the place he’d wanted to be since kindergarten—somewhere else. Institutionalized education was never a good fit, and he was ready to break out. But his fantasized version of the afterlife crashed into dull reality—when his scorned daydreaming became unappreciated vision. 

He grew tired of constantly hearing how he should be leading his life—how he wasn’t doing enough, underperforming, on the edge. All he wanted was to live on his own terms, in modest comfort. Pursuing grand outcomes wasn’t for him. And he’d had enough of battling to become who everyone thought he should be at the expense of what he believed was right.

You see the world around you increasingly measuring giftedness in terms of achievement or tangible output. You watch as the emphasis on talent continues to revolve around degrees, professional status, and wealth acquisition. And you think to yourself, those aren’t my goals—that’s not who I am. Perhaps, then, I’m not really gifted; I haven’t accomplished anything at all.

But you know that isn’t true. And, even if it were, you don’t owe the rest of us your brilliance or your creativity. Just as it’s acceptable to aspire to greatness and to proudly share your achievements, it’s also okay to not
 wear your résumé on your sleeve and to modestly walk your own chosen path or quietly enjoy a service-centered existence.

You may have an intuition for mathematics; that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to be a universally renown physicist. Or you may be a technological whiz kid; that doesn’t commit you to endless days in a computer lab. Or, perhaps, you’re a masterful writer; that doesn’t dictate your future as a cutting-edge journalist or widely published professor. 

Being gifted doesn’t mean that you owe a debt to the world. Possessing exceptional abilities doesn’t come with a demand that you share them. Living your best life doesn’t require you to follow a road paved with the skills to which you’re predisposed instead of pursuing one lined with your passions.

As Ellen Fiedler notes in her recently published book Bright Minds: Uniqueness and Belonging across the Lifespan,* in a chapter discussing gifted grown-ups she calls “Invisible Ones,” there are those bright adults who “quietly pursue their individual passions, even though the fruits of their labors may never be seen. This may be because they do not need external validation from others for what they do, or it may be because their creative inventions are not yet recognized by society as relevant or valuable.” 

So, when it comes to gifted underachievement, sometimes it’s not about achievement at all.

Sometimes it’s about passion for passion’s sake. Or about making a difference. Or about leaving an imprint that remains long after you’re gone. Because, to you, these options are what represent the clearest reflections of success. 

Resources of interest:

Bright Adults: Uniqueness and Belonging across the Lifespan
, by Ellen Fiedler, Ph.D.
The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius
, by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D.
Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope
, by James T. Webb, Ph.D.

*Full disclosure: I worked as an editor on this publication.

This post is part of the February Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop. Click below to read more!

 


Comments

02/01/2016 4:13pm

Beautifully written, Ann. And so true. I love this: "So, when it comes to gifted underachievement, sometimes it’s not about achievement at all."

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Ann
02/01/2016 4:49pm

Thanks, Paula!

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02/01/2016 7:05pm

"Being gifted doesn’t mean that you owe a debt to the world. Possessing exceptional abilities doesn’t come with a demand that you share them. Living your best life doesn’t require you to follow a road paved with the skills to which you’re predisposed instead of pursuing one lined with your passions."

Amen! Thanks for this. <3

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Ann
02/01/2016 9:23pm

You’re welcome, Colleen. I’m glad the post resonated with you!

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02/01/2016 8:24pm

I love that you brought up passion. So true! Some of our passions don't mesh with what is classically seen as "achievement" and that's just fine. I'd rather be happy and have happy kids :)

Thanks for this!

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Ann
02/01/2016 9:28pm

Absolutely. It’s so important that we don’t mistake ability for passion and that we don't trivialize happiness!

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Cindy
02/01/2016 9:11pm

This put everything into perspective. As mother of a gifted child I will make sure not to force my child into the direction "I" think his gifted abilities should take him but let him follow his own dreams even if his abilities don't play a part in that dream..

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Ann
02/01/2016 9:40pm

I’m glad you found the post valuable, Cindy. It’s not always easy as a parent to step back. Nor is it always easy to apply this line of reasoning to ourselves. :)

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02/02/2016 7:56am

I agree completely. I spend a lot of time making a difference and preserving the legacies of my ancestors through family history research. Powerful post!

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Ann
02/02/2016 7:52pm

Thanks for commenting! Yes, we all have the power to make a difference, and our impact can be that much greater when it's related to our passions. I can only imagine how fascinating your research must be for you. :)

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02/02/2016 9:26am

Excellent post. "Living your best life doesn't require you follow the road paved with the skills to which you're predisposed Instead of pursuing one lined with your passions." Bang on!

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Ann
02/02/2016 7:55pm

Thanks, Susan. Yes, I'm partial to that particular sentence myself!

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02/02/2016 9:36am

Good points about following one's passion and not necessarily playing by the rules. Thanks.

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Ann
02/02/2016 7:56pm

You're welcome, Gail. And thank you for commenting!

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06/04/2016 9:08pm

I'm late to the party, but I really like this one! As I embark on the second phase of my life leaving behind one career, I wonder what lies ahead for me. One part of me pushes towards the next phase of accomplishment while the other reminds me to slow down and enjoy what I have right in front of me. Thanks!

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