Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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Gifted Children and Adults — Why Are They So Misunderstood?

photo courtesy of ketan rajput, Unsplash

A gifted child is:

The four year old who says the car is not red, it’s crimson. The five-year-old who is lonely because the other kids don’t understand the complex worlds and creatures she invents. The six-year-old who explains the difference between a laceration and a contusion. The seven-year-old who chooses Rembrandt as the person she respects most because of his use of light. The eight-year-old who cares for the hurt children on the playground. The nine-year-old who complains when his parent confuses the words precision and accuracy.  The ten-year-old who cries when he reads about injustice in his community and around the world. The eleven-year-old who is an environmental activist. The twelve-year-old who wants brain specimen coasters for her birthday.

These children are not show-offs or arrogant know-it-alls.  They sincerely and enthusiastically love learning, language, analysis, debate, creativity, beauty, exploration, and accuracy. (or is that precision?) They are being themselves. Naturally curious, hungry for new ideas and intellectual exchanges, emotionally intense, and highly sensitive and empathetic.

They don’t necessarily know they are intellectually advanced. Even when parents acknowledge their traits and abilities, they may still just feel out of sync and freakish. Or, when there’s excessive praise for their smartness, they may feel pressure to achieve. Pressure to please those adults. Pressure to live up to their great potential. Pressure to be perfect.

How we respond to them, understand them, educate them, and love them, matters.

But, just as walking into a tropical rainforest is an intense sensory, emotional, and intellectual extravaganza, so is being with a gifted child. A child who is gushing with questions, intellect, sensitivities, empathy, and emotion.

You were one of those kids.

But it may be hard for you to acknowledge that you are, in fact, gifted. You assume that everyone can do what you can do; they just aren’t trying. You don’t realize that the mental, emotional, and intuitive/spiritual capacity you have is larger than average. Maybe even enormous.

But I get it. You can’t really tell that to anyone. It wouldn’t make you popular. You may not even acknowledge it to yourself. And if you grew up in a chainsaw family, well, that would add to your confusion.

But you need to know that you are gifted. For yourself.

Knowing that you have a rainforest mind will explain things. It will explain your craving for new ideas and experiences. Your obsession with philosophical questions. Your disabling perfectionism. Your horrible loneliness. Your highest standards. Your multiple career paths. Your beautiful sensitivity. Your stunning intuition. Your intense emotions.

It will explain why you are constantly misunderstood.

And then, you will start to breathe more deeply. You will find other rainforest minds who will understand you. You will start to give yourself permission to grow into the person you are here to be.

And then you can show us your brain specimen coasters.

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To my bloggEEs: Do you have trouble acknowledging your giftedness? Why? What are some examples of how you’ve been misunderstood and how you misunderstand yourself?

One place you can meet other rainforest minds is at the SENG conference in July. This year it’s in Houston. I’ll be presenting my talk on adults, subtitled: Your Rainforest Mind–The Musical. I have a second talk with New Zealand therapist Maggie Brown titled: Gifted Adults Living in Tumultuous Times.  I’d love to meet you there.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I Ditched the PHD for the Argentine Tango or If I’m so Smart, Why Aren’t I an Astrophysicist?

My First Tango Lesson

I thought I should get a PhD. It made sense. There was a professor who asked to mentor me. I wanted to write a book. So, I thought, why not write a book and get a PhD at the same time? I applied. Was accepted into a program. Got funded.

Then I thought. How many years of my life will this take? What if I die just as I finish? Will I be glad that I spent the last years of my life in a PhD program?

Um. No.

So, I ditched it.

I took Argentine tango lessons instead.

I do not regret this decision.

But I know what you’re thinking. If she were really smart, if she were gifted for heaven’s sake, she’d choose the PhD. She’d be a super achiever. An academic superstar. An Einstein or an Edison. An Elon Musk or a Steve Jobs.* 

Oh wait. Did they even go to college?

But I digress.

Maybe you’ve been ruminating like this: If I’m so smart, shouldn’t I get a PhD? Don’t smart people excel at academics? If someone is supposed to be gifted, don’t they become scholars and university professors? If I don’t become an astrophysicist, does that mean that I’m a failure? That I’m not gifted? Will I disappoint my parents, my teachers, and myself if I choose tango lessons instead of a PhD? 

You do tend to ruminate. We know this.

But, here’s what I think.

Yes, some gifted folks choose academia. Some are high achievers. Some even invent things that are “insanely great.” And we love the high achievers. If you are one, we love you.

But you’re not all going to be interested in astrophysics. Or you may be fascinated by it but you also love poetry and violin and languages and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and mycelium, and on and on. Not only that. Schooling might not be so appealing if you had less than fabulous experiences there as a child.

And what does it mean to be gifted anyway? There are so many different definitions. Eminence? Achievement? 10,000 hours of practice? Grit? Talent? Wiring? Motivation? Financial success?

In my world, gifted means rainforest-minded. A human who is bubbling over with intellectual capacity and passion for learning. An effervescent love of beauty. Multi-dimensional creativity. Unending interests and abilities. Intense curiosity. Depth. Finely-tuned sensitivity, intuition, and empathy. A need to make the world a better place and to dance the tango.

A rainforest mind.

So. Maybe you get a PhD. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you learn the tango. Maybe you don’t. Whatever you do with that rainforest mind of yours, what matters most?

Perhaps it’s this.

Maybe it’s all about love. How do you love? How are you Love?

What if you “…measure your life in love.

“Measure your life in love.”

(From the musical Rent by Jonathan Larson. Seasons of Love.)

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To my bloggEEs: Tell us about your struggles with achievement and identifying yourself as gifted. What are the ways you measure your life?

Thank you to the colleague (getting her PhD) for her inspiration.

(*I know. They’re all white men. They’re the easiest examples to make my point. But I do apologize.)


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If You Still Don’t Believe That You’re Gifted

What will it take to convince you? You’ve been reading my blog for how long and you still think that I’m writing about someone else?

Here are your arguments: I’m not a rocket scientist. I don’t remember what I read. I lose trivia contests all the time (or I win trivia contests but it’s, um, trivial). I watch stupid TV instead of reading Tolstoy. Sure, I know I’m not normal; but I’m not exceptional either. I’m too emotional. I can’t make decisions. I’m not a lawyer, or a doctor, or a neuroscientist. I don’t like chess. I was never good at math. I know people who are much smarter than me. I was in college for seven years and didn’t graduate. I’m not changing the world; I’m just changing the sheets. 

Uh huh.

It looks to me like you’re still under the influence of the mythology around what gifted looks like. You think that gifted equals high levels of achievement. Sure, rocket scientists are probably gifted. Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. Gifted. But what about all of the people you’ve never heard of?

Like Rita. Dedicated and highly sensitive mom of two teenage boys and a golden retriever. Fascinated by and very knowledgable about neuroscience, yoga, floral design, mindfulness meditation, psychotherapy, Reiki, business development and marketing, botany, painting, calligraphy, engineering, creating beautiful spaces, writing, gardening, intuition, event planning, architecture, and organizing anything. Rita didn’t win a Pulitzer prize or a scholarship to Harvard. But talking to her, it was easy to see that she had multipotentiality and a deeply sensitive, thoughtful, analytical, and intelligent way of being. She had ravenous curiosity, strong intuition, sweet sensitivity, sharp intellect, and a sincere desire to impact lives for the better. You can find little stacks of books here and there all over her house and more books, art supplies, and botanical dissecting kits in her car.

In my world, giftedness is a way of being, not a way of doing. It can include high levels of achievement but it doesn’t have to. (And what is achievement anyway? Eh??) Sure, there is a spectrum. You can be at the profoundly gifted level or you can be barely gifted or somewhere in-between. And sure, the rainforest-minded are a certain variety of gifted. Not all gifted folks have your empathy, sensitivity, and multipotentiality.

How then, can I convince you once and for all?

Today, I’ll get some help from two other psychotherapists who work with gifted clients. They are great resources if you’re looking for more evidence.

Here is P. Susan Jackson‘s description. You’ll find much more on her website. Her writing will move you. (She’s located in British Columbia.)

“Imbued with a finely tuned and advanced perceptual system, the gifted adult processes information-of-all-kinds with a voracious appetite, and stunning capacity.” P. Susan Jackson

Here is some inspiration from Imi Lo, a therapist in the UK. She also has some beautiful descriptions of rainforest minds on her website.

“Claiming your place in the world is not just a real act of courage, but also a form of noble public service. By showing up to the world as the sensitive empath that you are, you are championing not just for your rights, but also all the passionate and porous souls that come before and after you. By standing up for yourself when others call you a ‘drama queen’ or ‘too this and that,’ you are helping your soul sisters and brothers to fight against injustice. Being unapologetically honest about your emotional reality is not only personally healing, but also transpersonally meaningful.”    Imi Lo

OK, oh voracious, stunning rainforest-minders. It’s time to claim your place.

We’ll be right there with you.

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Thank you to the clients who inspired this post. And to Sue Jackson and Imi Lo for their important work.

To my bloggEEs: Do you still question your giftedness? Or are you starting to find more self-acceptance? Let us know. As I reread comments, I am so honored to be among you. Thank you so much. Oh, and I have a surprise for you. I’m experimenting with creating an audio blog so people can hear my posts if reading isn’t their preference or for those of you who have been dying to hear my sultry, melodious voice. Click here to listen. Let me know what you think in the comments. Your feedback will be most helpful. And don’t worry, I’ll also keep writing! I love you too much to stop!

 


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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?

photo courtesy of rawpixel on Unsplash

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!