How Gifted Adults Think
How Gifted Adults Think
An Insight into how Gifted Adults Think
When you meet a gifted person, you are meeting an individual that brings emotions, feelings and thinking at a far more deeper level than the average person and it shows in the work they do. Take examples of gifted Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Nicole Kidman & Quentin Tarantino all masters in their fields but as gifted individuals think quite differently to the average. Below I highlight the start of how a gifted person develops through to common thinking traits they all potentially share.
Most gifted persons grow up not knowing they are gifted until identified in later years at school or through the person pursuing answers as to why they feel different in their lives or careers.
Self-identity usually starts in two ways for the gifted:
Firstly, they usually begin by comparing themselves to others and secondly, they pay very close attention to listening to what others say to them about them. These two things can lead them to judge their self-worth. If others are positive in their assessment of them, they have a neutral view of themselves. If others criticise and are negative towards them, they plunge themselves into a territory of self-criticism and experience a sense of shame.
This can start in childhood, for example when the gifted child arrives home having achieved well at school but the parent reacts in a negative way. The gifted child starts to equate their personal value based on what they have achieved via their performance. This can continue as they grow into an adult. Their want to be successful all the time can become very intense and if they don’t achieve success 100% of the time, they continue to have a negative view of themselves.
From a very young age, the gifted usually are segregated from their peers for certain subject areas which they naturally excel at. To not be extended in some form would have these youngsters crawling the school walls with boredom. Regardless of whether you see it as a good idea or not, the gifted need the extension, they see things & feel things differently. When they grasp concepts and excel at their work, their peers can become jealous and the gifted person may feel rejected and have a sense of not belonging. This can make them feel alone and isolated.
This is no different in the workplace. If the gifted worker is not amongst other gifted employees, they can behave by dumbing themselves down in the hope that they will connect and satisfy the need of belonging to the organisation group. This is not healthy for the person as they know deep down that their abilities are not valued and career needs for growth are not met.
Finding the right environment that supports their difference can however be a fine line and requires careful consideration. If a gifted person moves to work environment that is a better fit, it can also lower their self esteem if the challenge is too much. Reduced motivation results as well as the want to attempt hard job tasks. It very much depends on the individual and how their concept of self has been built from when they were a child. If a self-concept starts off negative, further judgements in the workplace that are negative, will have their self-worth suffer and their self-view conditioned by others.
As humans we all want to belong and feel connected. When the gifted feel like an outsider, their desire to apply themselves and achieve personal goals can diminish.
Thinking you need to do things perfectly is very common among gifted people. This behaviour can again go back to childhood where a child will draw a picture and if they feel it is not good enough will throw it out before anybody sees it. They avoid getting an adults’ judgement and therefore can avoid perceived criticism of their work. This behaviour follows through to teenage years and many develop later on in life as presenting as gifted adults anxiety. It is not uncommon for this anxiety to paralyse the child in the later years of high school stopping them from actually sitting the Higher School Certificate.
Concerned that they will make mistakes and their work isn’t to their high standards, can make them feel embarrassed & think they will suffer humiliation. They play close attention to the expectations of others and anticipate the criticism that may come from them.
Perfectionism can start early with gifted individuals having parents who are perfectionists themselves. These parents are heavily focussed on achievement & success and high standards are set early for the gifted child. The standards are so high that they are unrealistic so the individual always feels like a failure unless they do things perfectly. Growing up with phrases like “Don’t fail”, “you can do better” and if they scored 95% a perfectionist parent would ask “what happen to the other 5%?”. Frequent criticism from parents and no opportunities to make mistakes can follow the gifted into the workplace and fear of failure as well as procrastination can be constant companions.
While the gifted adult can be super critical of themselves they too can be critical of fellow employees and their superiors. This is fairly typical in an unchallenging work environment and they find it difficult to maintain long lasting friendships. Damaging social relationships at work can be a source of depression for the gifted as they spend the majority of their waking hours at work. The importance of a healthy, challenging and non-toxic work environment is crucial to the wellbeing of this group.
Related: Toxic Culture in the Workplace
The fact that our society reinforces the idea of perfectionism doesn’t help this thinking either. The media in Australia are big on painting the perfect career, the perfect mother, the perfect relationship, the perfect body etc as well as our praise of Olympic sporting identities, distinguishing winners & losers. Perceived success on social media more recently has presented another layer to thinking one needs to have the perfect life, the perfect career.
I am yet to meet a gifted person who is not creative. When I refer to creativity, it is not isolated to the arts and crafts arena. Creativity is at the heart of every human being, it’s what we are all meant to do. For a gifted person, their brains are wired to create and innovate. This occupies most of their thought patterns. Work that does not allow thinking space and creative opportunity can lead to job dissatisfaction and a missed competitive opportunity for the organisation who employs them.
To be creative the gifted always consider a diversity of perspectives and pay great attention to the details that matter. They can look at a complex problem and strip it back to basics to provide a simple yet effective solution. They enjoy taking risks and thinking of possibilities that others would deem to be impossible. Elon Musk with chief engineer Jerome Guillen are examples of this with the planned release of the innovative Telsa electric semi-truck to cover 500 mile range on one single charge reducing diesel emissions and disrupting the trucking industry as we know it.
A fair day’s work equals fair recognition in the eyes of the gifted. Nothing annoys these individuals more than when they are having to pick up the slack of others work particularly when they are not considered of equal capability & the other employees don’t care. A strong sense of fairness is a common thought pattern. Gifted employees will work hard but expect to be recognised for this individual hard work. The academic/sporting or artistic awards they received at school for their high performance is an expectation and constant need they crave in today’s work place. These awards serve as motivation and recognition to others that their gifts are valued.
Achieving Balance & Job Fit
Gifted people don’t want to settle for a job, they secretly yearn for meaning, making a difference and challenging work that contributes to something bigger than themselves. They are also aware that achieving a balance of family, friends and work are part of their immediate career life goals. Today’s work environment suits these individuals more than ever before. The opportunities to work with flexibility, on particular projects or tasks and to work anywhere in the world can give the gifted opportunities for growth and learning while still achieving work life balance.
Thinking around issues of self-worth, being different, perfectionism, achieving creativity and work balance are part of being gifted. Giving a positive inner voice to those issues is important to the wellbeing of all gifted in our workplaces. If you work with a gifted person, understanding the way they think & feel allows you to develop better working relationships and understand how to increase their motivation at work. To have others recognise and value their giftedness provides these individuals with the encouragement to keep learning and desire to contribute to work that makes a difference.
Have you ever worked with a gifted person?
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