Gifted: Older and Wiser, But Not A Failure

“Carminis,” from the Verba Series. Toned Cyanotype.

I read this post today and it made me stop and think.  It made me remember.  It made me reconsider who and what I’ve become.  I see a lot of myself in what the author says and it was a sobering punch from the past.

The author, identified only as Jenn, said

I’m a gifted kid turned into a mediocre adult — in short, a failure.

I don’t know the writer at all but I want to give her a big hug and tell her that gifted isn’t defined by achievement.  If she was gifted as a child, she’s still gifted now.  It’s how you’re wired, not what you accomplish.

Actually, I want to go back in time and give myself a big hug too, because the tortured, stressed teenager that I was thought the same way that Jenn did.  And when you’re a teen with your whole life ahead of you and you think you’re a failure, that’s tough.  That’s depression material.  Suicide material.

The difference between Jenn and I was that I was never labeled gifted.  I was accommodated and challenged, but never tested.  I’m not sure why.  Given the environment I grew up in, I’m guessing it had something to do with my warped dysfunctional family and the viewpoint that I was a girl.  Not worth it.  Not expected to do anything but marry and have kids.  Honestly, I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone that my quirks and emotional intensities could possibly be gifted.  I wasn’t some mad intellectual genius either, and what intellectual capabilities I had were expected because we were homeschoolers.

I still haven’t been tested, outside of basic IQ tests on the internet.  I can safely say that I’m pretty close to my husband’s genius level IQ.  Not that it makes a lot of difference to my daily life.

I never truly experienced the pressure from teachers and family to measure up to the “gifted” label.  Instead, I put that pressure on myself.  I knew I was smart.  Different.  I knew I was capable of a lot.  I was a perfectionist constantly seeking approval from the male figures in my life, and I was never good enough for them.

So I thought I was mediocre.  I thought I wasn’t good enough.

Like Jenn, I didn’t understand that accomplishing things was a good goal, but not essential to who I am.  I am gifted.

I was the child who stopped dead in her tracks to watch a bird fly overhead, glorying in the love of flight without having feathers to comprehend it.

I’m the adult who reads a story about child abuse and starts to cry.  It’s too much.

I was the child who ranged through her world devouring every possible book she could.  The child creating vast, imaginary worlds to escape to, modeled after some of those books.  Feeling awkward, ugly, and weird didn’t matter when I was imagining myself as telekinetic or an elf in Tolkien’s world.

I am the adult who can taste mold on food when it’s not even visible  (and gags on it.)  The adult who can’t handle sock seams rubbing the wrong way, and can’t stand being around people wearing perfume.  I was the child who abhorred eating mushrooms because they squeaked on my teeth.  I hated okra because it was hairy.  Ewww.

I was the teenager who contemplated suicide to get away from my family situation, but decided with cool logic that it was a poor choice because the rest of my life was only a few years away.

I am the adult who questions everything and wants to learn about all those interesting things I didn’t get to do when I was a kid.

This is who I am.

What have I accomplished?  As the world measures success, I’m not one.  I’m a homeschooling stay-at-home mom.  Some of my difficult daily tasks involve changing diapers, fixing food for kids, and chauffeuring kids around town.  I am a slave to my kids’ needs.

I am also an artist.  A thinker, who makes time to read the Washington Post, and researches countless studies and articles on my son’s diagnosis.

I am an educator.  Not only do I teach my son, I have to create a lot of his curriculum so that it’s tailored to his needs and interests.  I make puzzles, create flashcards, and design worksheets.  All with the goal of challenging him and helping him learn things that are far-ranging and completely out of a public school’s focus.

I can hold my own in a political discussion on foreign policy with my husband and I can discuss the finer points of conveyor belts with my son.

Being gifted influences how I think, how I view the world.  Growing up didn’t change that.  Becoming an adult gave me a more balanced view of gifted.  A sadder, wiser viewpoint that what you do doesn’t matter sometimes.  What you accomplish isn’t important sometimes.  It’s how you live that’s important.  Your passions, your dreams, your choices.

If I had one thing to say to my teenage self and all those other gifted teens out there making the transition from child to adult, it’s this:  find something you love.  Something you’re passionate about.  Then embrace it wholeheartedly and focus on it – all those other things like expectations, jobs or college will fall into place around it.

Don’t be like me – don’t wait until adulthood to find your passion.  Or worse, not find it at all.

Because that, my friends, that is truly failure.









  1. What utterly beautiful writing. I loved it all, and your message. Your descriptions of your sensitivities and intensities are – dare I say it – perfect! 😉


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