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On Being Highly Intelligent

What is high intelligence or giftedness? What is talent?
There seem to be infinitely variable definitions for these two words. Let's start with the idea of intelligence. Most research suggests that the higher an individual's intelligence, the greater the degree of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual complexity there will be in that person's encounter with the world. In our culture, we tend to award achievement: the highest GPA, the best job, the most academic degrees, and the most money. Giftedness, however, is not about achievements in that sense. Please bear with me in the use of the word gifted. It is not completely adequate, but it is generally accepted as a way of describing high intelligence.

High intelligence, or giftedness, manifests as a way of being in the world. This way of being involves, for example, the developing of new ways to synthesize information; of solving problems through subliminal pattern recognition; of applying disparate facts and experiences to a new situation. To the truly gifted, a high GPA, academic degree, or great job, are all by-products of bringing passionate curiosity to the world, and of staying with something long enough to ride a question all the way through to an answer.

Most highly intelligent individuals have an experience that appears on the surface to be a great blessing: they have so many keen passions that it becomes difficult to make choices about which to pursue professionally and which to consider avocational interests. But this blessing can feel like a scourge in disguise, because a tendency toward perfectionism also accompanies intellectual giftedness, and a person wonders: so many interests, so little time! How can I do anything justice? 

That explains why the career paths of gifted individuals are often indirect.  To human resources personnel, such individuals can appear indecisive, noncommital, even flighty. But that is a misjudgment of the underlying psychology of giftedness. And it is deleterious to the individual who is already feeling pressure to perform at a level inconceivable to most people.

The fact is that high intelligence endows a person with a quicker cycling period, if you will. A gifted person can approach a subject, become completely enraptured with it, pursue it, analyze it, experience it, perhaps even develop and change it -- and then be finished with it, and ready to move on to something new. The cycle repeats. And the subjects of interest may not appear to be related at all to one another to an outsider, but there is a logical consistency from one to the other from the gifted individual's point of view. 

Gifted individuals benefit from support of this phenomenon. They thrive when encouraged to mine their interests to the extent that is possible. They also benefit from counseling in career decisions that is beyond the skills checklist approach that is often helpful to others. Career counseling for the gifted involves identifying core values, personal style, expectations, meaning in life, and purpose, all in terms of an understanding that these qualities may be expressed in a wide variety of professional fields over the course of a person's lifetime. It is this very flexibility and openness of expectations for life work that is now being encouraged in the work force at large. The gifted come by this pattern naturally. They have much to offer the world in modeling adaptive behavior and creating work environments that promote productivity and well being in employees.

There are some unique issues that come along with high intelligence, such as a history of being bullied, being the victim of unprovoked envy, of being viewed as different from everyone else; of experiencing intense purposefulness and self-discipline at a very early age. For the most part, however, it is a matter of degree and approach that differentiates the gifted client. There is an intensity in the involvement in the process of therapy, because there is an intensity in the involvement in every other life process. Enriched and precise vocabulary, abstract thinking, discernment of shades of meaning are all part of the gifted mindset. Such a person benefits from working with a therapist who can follow as well as lead at the edge of this intellectual and emotional process.

My way of looking at giftedness can be summed up in the following simple equation:  

genetic endowment: potential for greatness + nurturing environment + purposefulness + discipline = expressed talent

It is often the experience of gifted individuals that others think things just come to them, that they do not have to work to understand or create something, and that no effort is required. It is as if being gifted is to be born with talent on tap that flows through someone but is not a product of their own industriousness. The above equation suggests otherwise. All the talent in the world will languish unmanifest if it is not nurtured and developed. Mozart himself could have died quietly in Vienna had he not placed his music ahead of all other endeavors in his life. Shakespeare no doubt spent many hours at the candle and quill into the wee hours, alone with his inspiration and will to create. His writings did not appear on his desk without his agency.

My professional commitment is to my work as a psychotherapist. All my previous endeavors come together for me in my role as therapist. This is a calling above all others that rumble through me, and to work with individuals in counseling is the highest use of my greatest gifts. I am blessed to have found such a niche, to have a field that impassions me, and to have the opportunity to lift up my clients in the spirit of shared enthusiasm for life itself.