While popular opinion may be that being gifted means having things come easy, the truth is that being gifted can be a painful experience. A gifted mind is one that has advanced neurological functioning which affects the whole person, the way they think, the way they perceive their world, the way they feel, and the way they interact with others. Heightened neurological functioning means experiencing life in an intense way, having heightened emotional sensitivities, perceptiveness, and drive for self-actualization. These heightened sensitivities create challenges for the individual because their experience of the world is different from the vast majority of their peers. It is nearly impossible to explain their experiences to others, as they are often responding to things that others are unaware of. This makes the gifted individual feel different in a way that can hurt their esteem and alienate them from others.
"Gifted young people often have an intense need to find meaning: the meaning of life, the meaning of who they are inside themselves, the meaning of interpersonal relationships to them. This search for self is the basis of development of both identity and good self-esteem if the gifted student is able to discover and learn to treasure his or her own uniqueness, and to find some means of connection to others.” (Silverman, Counseling the Gifted and Talented, p47.)
The evidence of this need for gifted youth to discover and embrace their meaning and purpose is clear from the many stories that parents and teachers share about these individuals crying when they see an animal in pain or developing an obsession with creating a compost heap in their backyard. These signs demonstrate the desire for gifted youth to know that they are putting their life to good use, even from the earliest of ages. They are deeply concerned about justice, fairness, and taking care of those that cannot take care of themselves.
We have seen that when gifted teens are connected to their passion and purpose their academic engagement increases, they authentically develop their personal brand that will have them stand out among the competition for college, and – most importantly – they create lives of meaning that are fulfilling for themselves and impactful for our world.
That is why at Volare we focus on connecting these teens to their passion and purpose and giving them tools to claim courageous and meaningful action in service of what matters the most to them (www.TheVolareDifference.org).
Unfortunately, we aren’t seeing this happen enough in the lives of our gifted teens. While we may be able to support their desires to do things that matter to them when they are young, by high school their lives become overcrowded with commitments that leave little to no room for creative expression of their passions and exploration of their own purpose.
The rat race of keeping up: High school students feel the pressure to keep up with others, to take as many AP classes as possible, join as many clubs, be on sports teams, etc. in order to be competitive for college. My son recently graduated from a high school in which the top tiered students were taking additional AP classes online – in addition to their incredibly rigorous International Baccalaureate schedule – to beat each other out in their weighted GPA for the spot of Valedictorian. These classes did not enrich their lives or deepen the value of their educational experience, yet they dedicated their time and attention to them. This frenzied focus on GPA reflects the insanity of our competitive system, which in turn takes the focus of our gifted away from doing what they are passionate about and dilutes their opportunities for meaningful experiences and for significant contribution to society.
The plight of the underachiever: Other gifted teens, those who aren’t driven by competition and who often are our more divergent thinkers, find themselves disconnecting from an education system that does not meet their needs and does not provide meaningful learning experiences. This results in underachievement and the loss of reaching their full potential. It also impacts their self-esteem and their ability to develop healthy relationships. However, if these individuals are given the opportunity to explore something that they personally care about they are able to soar in reaching their potential and bringing innovation into our world. This is evident in the lives of many of our most prominent gifted adults such as Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein to name a few.
What if we encourage our gifted to spend more of their time outside of the classroom working in service of their passion and purpose instead of checking off college application boxes with Sharpies or mentally checking out of their academic endeavors? Would our underachievers become our next potential Steve Jobs? Would our highly driven come up with the new Facebook?
When gifted teens discover their compelling purpose, they have a reason to apply themselves and stretch themselves to reach their full potential, they have an outlet for their creative expression, and a playground for developing their emotional intelligence and dimensional leadership. We see this happen in our teen programs and we see the lasting impact it has on our participants lives. To learn about a program coming to Orlando in January, visit http://www.thevolaredifference.org/events.
As a professional coach I work with gifted adults who want to create fulfilling lives. There is a common experience of emptiness among them because of living a life that they fear doesn’t matter. So often they express that they know they have something inside of them to offer the world, but they don’t know how to do it. This experience of emptiness can be overwhelming. With coaching and commitment, they are able to redesign their lives so that they prioritize honoring their value of living a meaningful life. But how many individuals never get the chance to do this? And for those that eventually do, how many years were wasted in living a life that they thought they were supposed to be happy in, instead of creating the life that they longed for?
This does not need to be the reality for our next generation of gifted adults. When our teens are connected to their purpose and they use their passion and strengths in service of this purpose, they feel confident and valuable. They feel connected to themselves, to meaningful service, and to others who share a commitment to this service. They find direction in the path they want to go down. They are able to develop healthy relationships that support and nurture them reaching their full potential. These are the elements that create the foundation that fulfilling lives are built upon, the foundation our gifted teens deserve.
About the Author: Regina Hellinger is Director of Volare, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting gifted teens to their passion and purpose. She is a professional coach and educator with an extensive background in gifted education, providing coaching and consulting for families of the gifted and professional development for educators in the field. To receive future articles or make follow up inquiries contact Regina at: Regina@TheVolareDifference.org.
Reference: Silverman, Linda Kreger. (1993). Counseling The Gifted and Talented. Denver, Colorado: Love Publishing.