Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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Nobody Likes a Know-It-All and Other Familiar Refrains That Gifted Souls Endure

photo courtesy of Annie Sprat, Unsplash

Have you heard any of these all-too-familiar refrains?

Who do you think you are? You think you’re so smart. Ha! You made a mistake! Nobody likes a know-it-all. You are such a nerd, geek, loser, dork. You’re too loud, curious, sensitive, dramatic, and intense. Why can’t you ever be satisfied? Why are you so critical? Stop asking so many questions. You think too much. Lower your standards and expectations. You’re not allowed to read ahead. Don’t be a show-off. Why did you get that B? You think you’re better than us. You’re not working up to your potential. Just pick something already! You’re changing jobs again? Why can’t you just be happy?

We need to start a club. The I-don’t-care-what-you-think-of-me-anymore club.

We’ll have meetings. You can talk about gravitational waves or dark matter or metaphysics or your latest passion for hazelnuts. You can change careers every two+ years. You can make really big mistakes. You can ask questions that no one can answer. You can read more than one book at a time. You don’t have to finish a project if you’ve already learned what you want to learn. You can be super intense and super intuitive and no one will run away. You can be enthusiastic about libraries. You can read a book a day. You can be in therapy for ten years. You can binge watch Doctor Who, again. You can be optimistic about the future. You can explain the connection between chess, illusionists, martial artists, and heart rate variability (thank you Josh Waitzkin) and we’ll all be fascinated. You can say that you’re gifted.

Of course, I don’t want you to stop caring about others. I don’t want you to lose your sweet empathy. I just want you to consider that what others think of you may come from their own misunderstandings, insecurities, envy, and confusion. Not from reality. Not from an accurate assessment of the truth of who you are.

Even if it’s your parents and other family members who’ve known you since you were a little tyke. They still might be coming from misunderstandings, insecurities, envy, and confusion. Naturally, your family members have a huge impact on your self-perception so it may be hard to not-care-what-they-think-of-you-anymore. I understand. It’s hard to not want their approval, acceptance, and understanding.

But if they don’t really know you, or they can’t understand you, or if they outright reject you?  If they say that you’re too sensitive, too critical, too intense, and a know-it-all?

Well, then, we’ll make you club president.

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To my darling bloggEEs:  I realize that you don’t all live in Eugene, Oregon. So we may have to settle for meeting here at our RFM blog clubhouse until you all move to Oregon. But I have an idea. Consider starting a silent book reading group in your town. Or see if there’s already one that you can attend. I bet you that some other RFMs will appear.

And until your in-person club gets started, here’s a video version of what it’s like to have a rainforest mind and not be, um, understood. You’ll want to watch it to the end (it’s short and fun). Thank you to my lovely friend Grace for sharing it.

Please tell us your thoughts. What else would you want us to include in our club? What are the familiar refrains that you’ve heard? Thank you, as always, for being here.

 

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A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum — Part Two — Anxiety and Perfectionism

photo courtesy of Thought Catalog, Unsplash

You may have read about Ben. He’s the gifted teen who said “I have to know it before I learn it.” He learned to read early. No one taught him. Learning was easy. He knew what they were teaching in school before they taught it. He came to believe that all learning happened this way. He didn’t feel particularly smart, though. Doesn’t everyone remember everything that they read? Isn’t everyone fascinated by fractals? Doesn’t everyone want to be an anthropologist-poet-engineer-actor-scuba diver when they grow up? 

It’s assumed that these kids will be fine because they’re so smart.

Not Ben. Not the gifted kids I know.

Anxiety. Perfectionism. Expectations. Pressure.

To the max.

Does this sound like you or your kids?

“I should be good at everything. I feel lost, empty, and helpless when I don’t know something. When I was very little, I was frustrated when adults didn’t respect me. I didn’t have the words to express my intense feelings and I felt powerless and angry. My body couldn’t accomplish what my mind could imagine. I can still feel that helplessness. Probably why I need so much control now.”

“They kept saying that I was so smart so I felt that if I didn’t get high grades, I’d disappoint them. Or worse. They’d see that I wasn’t so smart. And that would be devastating. Who was I if I was average? Or mediocre? I couldn’t even bake a cake without worrying that I’d make a mistake.”

“I feel everything so intensely. That includes frustration. Sadness. Empathy. All of it. No wonder I’m anxious.”

“…I am so afraid of failure. I tend to work on skills privately to protect my self-image. If it’s not ready for prime time, no one sees…”

“Up to a certain point, most things came easily. When I didn’t automatically know what to do, I watched or mimicked a few times and then the information or process was stored for good. But if I didn’t think I’d be successful at something in a short period of time (or at all), I wouldn’t even try…”

“…when you can imagine the ideal creation in greater detail…(or when you can imagine so many more different VERSIONS of perfection) then it’s much harder, emotionally, when you inevitably fall short…The scary thing about actually working to achieve something is that there’s always the possibility that, even if you work hard, the product could be mediocre…” 

“…I’m now in my forties and have multiple advanced degrees, but I still struggle with forgiving myself when learning doesn’t come easily. My daughter exhibits similar behaviors, and as I help her learn about how her brain functions, I’m finding the compassion to help myself…”

What, then, are some ways that you can help yourself and your kids?

• Understand that your perfectionism and anxiety might exist not because of something that you’ve done wrong but because of the nature of growing up gifted. The complications begin at an early age. You have a right to take the time to focus on your self-understanding and growth.

•  Make a list of self-soothing techniques that work for you. Try the different apps that exist such as Calm, Insight Timer, and Headspace. It often helps to create a daily meditation practice or exercise plan. Some people have found morning pages from The Artist’s Way to be useful. Notice if food sensitivities or hormones are a factor. Get help from a smart, sensitive practitioner, such as a bodyworker, acupuncturist, naturopath, or therapist.

• Make a list of calming reminders. Here are some items on one teen client’s list: I’m a fallible human. I make mistakes, like everyone. I’m learning. I’m experimenting. Making a mistake does not make me a bad person. Am I catastrophizing? Do I need to be this upset? My body tends to be anxious, but I’m actually safe. It’s going to be OK. I’m older now and I have more control over my experiences. Now that I’m older, it makes sense that there will be many things that I won’t know. 

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Bourne is a good resource if you need many specific techniques.

Procrastination by Burka and Yuen is a good resource for perfectionism and procrastination.

•  If you’re a parent, share these ideas with your children. Listen to them as they share their frustrations and fears. Careful listening and reflection often works better than advice giving or rescuing. If they’re very young, give them the specific words for their emotions.

• You have great compassion for others. Let yourself receive some of that sweetness, too. Forgive yourself for not being perfect.

And remember, above all, your kids and you will learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. And your memoir will be much more fascinating because of your failures, your foibles, and even your fears. Where would David Sedaris be today without failures, foibles, and fears?

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To my bloggEEs: You may notice that some of these quotes come from your comments. Thank you so much. What else do you have to say about anxiety and perfectionism? Clearly, sharing your experiences helps us all! And thank you to the client who inspired this post and gave me permission to use some of her words.

Thank you to those of you who’ve read my book. If you could write an imperfect review on Amazon, I’d be so grateful. And if you don’t have my book yet, well, ahem, what are you waitin’ for? And, if you go to my About page, you’ll see I’ve added a podcast and an interview about parenting gifted kids. Sending you all much love.


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What Does Gifted Look Like in My World?

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The controversy is intense.

How do we explain giftedness? Is it high achievement? Talent? Productivity? Eminence? IQ? Financial success? 4.0 grade point average? 10,000 hours of practice?

Nooooooooo. 

I shriek.

Politely.

I mean, it might include any of those things. Sure. But it doesn’t have to.

Instead. Here is my explanation.

Totally anecdotal. If you want data, you can stop reading now. Or skip to the end and the link to neuroscience.

If you want experience, I’m your gal.

Gifted looks like Ebony. Sixteen. Intense. Talks fast, thinks fast, moves fast. Asks questions no one can answer. Struggles in school: Doesn’t turn in papers that aren’t up to her standards. Procrastinates to avoid feeling like a failure if she gets less than an A. Tries to engage her classmates in some intellectual repartee when all they want is to watch Netflix. Some teachers think she’s arrogant. Feels a spiritual and intuitive connection to the ocean and the ravens. Lonely for a friend who gets her and who has read Lord of the Rings 11 times.

Gifted looks like Carlos. Forty-two. Self-taught, successful IT expert. Highly sensitive, empathetic, and emotional (although he hides it well). Bullied in school because he preferred grasshoppers and string theory to football. Spends hours writing a three sentence e-mail. Repeats himself often in an effort to be deeply understood and to calm his anxiety. Researches for days in order to make a decision. A slower, deliberate, deep thinker and processor. Learning to dance the Argentine tango so that he can finally experience being followed.

Gifted looks like Martin. Eight. Energetic. Extremely curious and kind. Wants to be Richard Feynman for Halloween. Refuses to complete worksheets of arithmetic problems that he already knows. Teachers complain that he must be ADHD and not particularly bright but he can concentrate for hours at home building complex lego contraptions or reading Popular Science. Sleeps with a dictionary when he does sleep, which he resists mightily. Exhausts his parents with his emotions and his need for creative and intellectual activity.

Gifted looks like Frances.  Fifty-nine. After running her own children’s bookstore, raising two kids and their friends, volunteering on the board for the ballet, and remodeling her home, she’s in her latest job working as a city planner. She’s considering going back to school for another Masters degree because she’s always wanted to be an art therapist or a landscape architect or a stand-up comedian. She thinks she’s flakey or shallow because she’s walked so many different career paths. Her sense of social responsibility keeps her awake most nights. Her intuitive abilities frighten her.

Gifted looks like Carmen. Thirty-six. A successful social worker and loving mom who promotes energy efficiency everywhere she goes. Been in therapy for years courageously addressing serious trauma from her family of origin. Dealing with complex physical symptoms due to chronic anxiety from growing up terrified and abused. In spite of her own pain, able to be generous, empathetic, optimistic, spiritual, and accomplished. Working on setting better boundaries with people who want her to rescue them. Learning how to create reliable, sweet friendships where she receives as much as she gives.

That’s what gifted looks like in my world.

And, if you really want to know, gifted looks like a rain forest. (Note: If people are like ecosystems, some are meadows. Some deserts. Some oceans. Some rain forests. All are necessary and beautiful.)

In his must-read book, We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, the tropical rain forest is described:

“The feeling of being in the rain forest is the feeling of being surrounded by life. It’s home for hundreds of thousands of animals, and their survival is connected to the survival of us all. The magnificence of the rain forest is something powerfully sacred, something so clearly worth protecting...the rain forest is one of the most important biomes on the planet for human survival…it offers us an unbelievable abundance of nourishment and resources…” 

Right?

Sounds just like you.

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To my bloggEEs: You’ve been doing an amazing job adding your comments to my posts. Thank you so much. Let us hear from you now. What does your giftedness look like?

(Note: For those of you who are persnickety, and who among you isn’t, I have a confession. I made rain forest into an adjective, as in rainforest mind, and then made it one word. You may have been wondering about that for a long time. You’ve noticed my inconsistency. The truth is finally revealed.)

(Another note: The people described above are composites of clients, students, and other assorted gifted folks I’ve known. Names, of course, have been changed.)

For those articles on neuroscience and giftedness, click on this link.

 

 


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I Have to Know it Before I Learn It — A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum

photo courtesy of Talen de St Croix, Unsplash

My 16-year-old client, I’ll call him Ben, was struggling in school. No one thought he was gifted. His grades were average. He didn’t turn in many assignments. He didn’t get high test scores. He was so anxious, he’d miss many days of school. His parents were confused. They knew he was capable of completing the homework. Why didn’t he just do it?

Because I’d seen many kids like this, I could tell that Ben was, indeed, gifted. He asked penetrating questions. Had multiple interests. Spent hours online researching musical genres , computer coding, bike repair, mathematics, psychological theories, and on and on.  He was highly sensitive and empathetic with all plants, animals, and humans.

Ben had difficulty relating to youngsters his age. The friends he did have, he wanted to rescue. They were often the troubled kids. He could feel their hopelessness and their anger and felt a responsibility to intervene. He didn’t understand why they didn’t respond well to his help or why they weren’t interested in his intellectual pursuits.

Ben wanted to learn what he wanted to learn and when he mastered, say, a new guitar playing technique, he’d raise the bar and keep questing for the next big thing. He’d spend many hours worrying about the future of the planet and how he might make an impact.

These are the traits of a gifted human; a person with a rainforest mind.

One day he said to me, I have to know everything before I learn it.

What?

I have to know everything before I learn it.

It took me some time to understand what he meant and why this was his experience.

Like many gifted children, Ben learned how to read at an early age. No one taught him to read. He just started reading. Learning was easy. He’d read and he’d remember. He could watch someone riding a bike and be successful on the first try. He taught himself guitar. When he started school, he already knew the material. He knew it before he learned it.

This was the conundrum.

He came to believe that all learning should come easily. If it didn’t, there was something terribly wrong. Ben never learned how to study. Or that it was normal for some learning to be a struggle. Ironically, even though he felt like a failure and like he wasn’t smart because of his experiences in school, he also believed that he shouldn’t have to study something to understand it. This created confusion, anxiety, paralysis, and avoidance when there was a chance that he might not grasp a concept fast enough or succeed at a task. If it wasn’t easy, he didn’t do it.

With gifted kids who, unlike Ben, have been told repeatedly that they’re so smart, this is still a problem. They also know it before they learn it. And they can feel great pressure to achieve, to please the adults who are praising them, and to prove their worth through their accomplishments. So, for them, if they’re facing a difficult task, their identity is threatened. And they, too, can experience confusion, anxiety, paralysis, and avoidance.

Either way, having to know it before you learn it, is a tricky proposition.

And you wondered why it was so hard to parent these kids?

Or to be one yourself?

Welcome to your rainforest mind.

And to one of its many tangled, multi-layered, sticky, complicated conundrums.

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To my bloggEEs: Was this you? Tell us how you dealt with the pressure to always know it before you learned it. To have the right answer. To prove how smart you were. Do you avoid activities where you might not succeed? Did you learn how to study? We’d love to hear from you. Your experiences make this blog so much richer. And thank you, dearest ones, for being here.

And for more information about gifted kids, here’s a recent podcast interview with me and Kathleen Casper of the Florida Association for the Gifted. We’re talking about the social, emotional, and academic issues gifted children face. Join us!

 

 


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Don’t Give Up On Yourself And Your Rainforest Mind

photo courtesy of Nadim Merrikh, Unsplash

Don’t quit. Don’t stop striving. Don’t stop growing. Don’t stop believing.

Don’t give up on yourself.

Even if you grew up in a family of chainsaws. Even if you have been told over and over and over that you’re too sensitive, too dramatic, too smart, too quiet, too noisy, or too weird. Even if you think you’re too old or too young or too whatever. Even if you’re overwhelmed by politics or racism or natural disasters or anxiety or depression or physical disabilities. Even if you procrastinate. Even if you’ve changed jobs multiple times and never learned how to build rocketships and send them to the international space station. Even if your hair is curly and free range. Even if you don’t look like George Clooney or Beyoncé.

Even if you haven’t partnered with the person of your dreams and you don’t have perfect, high achieving children. Even if you feel like too much and not enough at the same time. Even if you’re post-menopausal. Even if you’re grieving for the planet and are anxious about the future. Even if you’re gluten-free. Even if you can’t leave your home. Even if you don’t have a home. Even if you haven’t renovated the school system. Even if you didn’t go to Harvard. Even if you did go to Harvard. Even if your curiosity has been misinterpreted as arrogance and know-it-all-ness. Even if you weren’t popular in high school. Even if you can’t decide what to eat for breakfast. Even if you can’t afford psychotherapy. Even if you’ve been in psychotherapy for years. Even if you don’t speak seven languages fluently. Even if you’re seen as extremely successful in your field and yet you still feel bereft and lonely. Even if you haven’t saved the world. Yet.

Don’t stop believing.

You never know. You could be a late bloomer. You could start tango dancing at 47. You might become a blogger at 62. You might get your first book published at 64. You could discover that people around the world love and admire you. You could be helping smart, sensitive people self-actualize and find their purpose(s). You could finally accept and love your curly free-range hair.

You could finally know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that. you. are. gifted.

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To my bloggEEs: I am so inspired by all of you and so grateful for our community. Let us know your thoughts, questions, and reactions to this post. Your comments add so much! And thank you for being here. This post is part of a blog hop from the amazing site hoagiesgifted.org. For more posts on the topic: Things I Wish I Knew Back Then, click on the image below. And for those of you who are parents of gifted children, here’s a little treat. My colleague, Tina Harlow, edited this eBook that has lots of great advice from professionals (including me!) in an easy-to-read format. It’s available free to download.


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Creative, Sensitive, Deep Thinkers in the Workplace — A Tricky Proposition

photo courtesy of Easton Oliver, Unsplash

“…Your high-strung nature, your baggage, your achievements, your defenses, even your garrulous, confident nature — all of these things are often interpreted as a selfish inability to play nicely with others…Your complexity makes you untrustworthy. Your sharp mind makes you suspicious. Your separateness makes you unlikable. And even a supernatural effort to be friendlier, better, simpler, sweeter, quieter, and more agreeable will only make it worse. You will only seem fake. You will try too hard…” Heather Havrilesky,  Ask Polly

Having a rainforest mind at work. It’s a tricky proposition. More questions than answers. Here are some.

When do you speak up? When do you stay quiet? How do you deal with boring, repetitive tasks? How do you tell your boss that there’s a better way? What do you do with the extra time when you’ve finished an assignment but are tired of fixing your co-workers’ mistakes? How do you get your boss to trust you with the tasks you find more stimulating? What about colleagues who don’t like you because the answers come easily to you and they think that you’re arrogant? What about employees who complain that you’re overly demanding and unrealistic? When do you let your perfectionism run wild and when do you rein it in?

How do you cope when you do all of the work and someone else gets all of the credit? What do you do when no one wants to implement your creative, forward-thinking ideas? What about the colleagues who steal your suggestions? How do you cope with unethical behaviors? What if you’re sincerely interested in doing a thorough job and your co-workers just care about the paycheck? How do you deal with a narcissistic, charismatic boss who everyone loves but you? What happens when your co-workers and boss act an awful lot like your dysfunctional siblings and parents?

What if you’ve been labeled Troublemaker? Renegade? Rebel? How do you change the system when you’re overwhelmed? What if you want to fit in with colleagues and be invited to their Fridays-at-4 but are conflicted because you also feel frustrated, impatient, and annoyed by them?

Lots of questions.

But you knew that.

For now, let’s sit together in the questions. You’re not alone if you’ve been accused of “a selfish inability to play nicely with others.”

You can play here with us. We love your sharp mind.

“…Because you have so much energy, so much emotion, so many wild, brilliant thoughts in your great big head, and you can achieve anything you set your mind to. You are focused, and you don’t mind working hard, and underneath all of this people-pleasing, you really don’t give a fuck. You are a raccoon with hearts bursting over your head, but your claws are ready to strike. They should be envious, and they should also be afraid. Forgive them for not caring that much. Forgive them for not knowing how formidable you are…”  Heather Havrilesky, Ask Polly

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To my bloggEEs:  Tell us about your experiences at work. Share your thoughts, feelings, answers to these questions or more questions. Thank you to the reader who sent me this Ask Polly article. It’s worth reading the entire piece. A great resource, especially if you want support making changes within your workplace, is Rebels At Work. Check it out!


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Giftedness, Achievement, and Guilt

photo courtesy Samuel Zeller, Unsplash

How are giftedness, achievement, and guilt related?

I’m glad you asked.

Here’s how:

People find all sorts of ways to define giftedness: High IQ, exceptional talent, 10,000 hours of practice, task commitment, academic achievement, high test scores, straight A’s in school, Nobel prizes, eminence, etc. Typically, high achievement is the main requirement.

If you don’t fit into the high achiever category, your teachers, relatives, therapists, and pets may not think that you’re gifted. And you may agree with them.

Not so fast, sweetie pie. Can I call you sweetie pie?

In my humble opinion, based on my many fabulous years communing with gifted kids and adults, high achievement may or may not be part of the picture.

And what is high achievement anyway, I ask you. Wealth? Awards? Good grades in school? Celebrity? iPhones? But I digress.

The gifted humans that I know were born with their rainforest minds. Whether they’re creating masterpieces or not, they’re highly: sensitive, intuitive, empathetic, curious, perfectionistic, analytical, creative, smart, and emotional. They’re obsessed with learning when they’re interested in the topic. And, their interests are many and varied. They’re fast, deep, and wide thinkers.

So far so good?

Here’s where the guilt shows up:

Pressure. Expectations. “If you’re so smart why aren’t you…rich, famous, like Elon Musk?”

Feeling like you’re disappointing your parents and teachers. Being impatient with slower people and excelling at everything you try. Changing jobs every 2-5 years.

Not living up to your own high standards. Not living up to your potential. Not saving the world.

Those are just some of the reasons for guilt.

Looking for more? Read this post. And this one.

And, yes, even gifted “high achievers” can feel guilt. Such as: When is your achievement high enough? With all of your success, why are you still depressed and anxious? If you’re so smart, why are you so lonely?

See what I mean?

The achievement-thing, the guilt-thing. They’re tricky if you have a rainforest mind.

So here’s one idea:

Having a rainforest mind, being gifted, may involve designing energy-efficient electric cars and sending rockets into space. It may involve intense compassion, empathy, intuition, and generosity.

That all sounds like high achievement to me.

And, I promise not to feel guilty about it.

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To my bloggEEs: How do you define achievement? When do you feel guilt related to your smartness? Can you describe how you deal with pressure to achieve “greatness” because you’re “so smart?” Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts and feelings. I’m writing a little less often (I’m feeling guilty!) because my body has been tweaking out a little from all of the sitting/typing. But know that I’m still thinking about you.

For those of you who’ve read my book, I’d be so grateful if you’d write a review on Amazon. It doesn’t need to be long or perfect, ok? And you don’t need to feel guilty if you don’t do it… 🙂

If you want to read posts from other bloggers about giftedness and achievement click here.

And, finally, please know that I’m not saying that you shouldn’t find your work/purpose in the world or you needn’t make a significant contribution. I’m just suggesting that your giftedness isn’t dependent on what you do. It’s much more about who you are.