Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


Paralyzed By Your Great Potential

photo courtesy of Josh Marshall, Unsplash, CC

When you were a child, you were praised for your abilities. You did most things earlier and faster than your peers. You scored well on tests. Everyone was impressed. And they told you so. They said that you had so much potential. So. Much. Potential. You determined that you had to keep performing at that highest rate to keep the attention and accolades coming. Before long, it turned into pressure. Your self-worth depended on it. It was something that you had to live up to or you would no longer be the superstar, the golden child, the winner, the prodigy.

Maybe you kept achieving in spite of the pressure. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, this great-potential-thing? It had an impact. A significant impact.

So now, in adulthood, you may ask: At what age do I no longer have potential? Am I no longer precocious because I just turned 30? If I actually achieve something, does that mean that I lose my potential? How do I live up to these expectations? If I have to work hard to achieve something, does that mean that I never really had potential? If I don’t reach my potential am I a shiftless, sluggish, slothful slacker?

So many questions. So little time.

Potential becomes a burden when we see it as a predestined calling to impressive accomplishments. Both parents and children can become seduced into focusing on performance rather than growth, on being The Best rather than making progress, and on accumulating external awards and accomplishments as the primary measure of worth. Worst of all, this one-dimensional perspective on potential creates a terrible fear of failure.”   Eileen Kennedy Moore

What if we rethink great potential? What if it includes impressive failures along with outstanding accomplishments? What if great potential means resplendent mistakes along with notable achievements?

And here’s a revolutionary thought: What if great potential has nothing at all to do with accomplishments?

Potential is not an endpoint; it’s a capacity to grow and learn. Nurturing children’s potential, in the broadest sense, means cultivating their humanity. It involves supporting their expanding abilities to reach out to others with kindness and empathy, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, to find joy and satisfaction in creating a life that is personally meaningful…and so much more.”   Eileen Kennedy Moore

So, go ahead. Cultivate your humanity. Reach out to others with empathy. Find joy.

Live up to your great potential.


To my bloggEEs: Do you feel pressure to live up to your great potential? What does that mean to you? How have you been impacted? What do you think of this new way of looking at it? I appreciate hearing from you. Your comments add so much. And, thank you to the readers who inspired this post.





What Does Gifted Look Like? Clearing Up Your Confusion

photo courtesy Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash, CC

People are astonished by how much you can do. You think you’re lazy. There’s so much that you’re not doing.

People tell you how smart you are. You feel dumb. You know how much you don’t know and you still haven’t decided what you want to be when you grow up.

People admire your (musical, artistic, mathematical, linguistic, etc.) talents. You think they’re patronizing you. You notice all of the mistakes you make. Surely, they do, too, but they’re too polite to mention them.

How is it possible that you see yourself as a lazy not-so-smart slacker and others see you as so-lucky-to-be-gifted? How can your sense of yourself be so different from how others see you?

Like life in the rain forest, it’s complicated.

Maybe it’s your super high expectations. You don’t realize that others don’t have similar standards. Doesn’t everyone want to create beauty, balance, harmony and justice all of the time? Don’t all people value precision?

Um, no.

Maybe it’s your enthusiasm for learning about, well, everything. Isn’t everyone obsessed with reading and researching multiple disparate topics instead of sleeping, which is such a waste of time? Aren’t all people thrilled that MIT is offering classes online? Doesn’t everyone dream of changing career paths every 3-5 years?

Not really.

Maybe it’s your capacity for observing and perceiving and noticing. Isn’t everyone bothered by the buzzing florescent lights, the crooked pictures on the wall, the house in your neighborhood that was painted chartreuse?


Maybe it’s your extra sensitivity and empathy. Can’t everyone feel the distress in the room? Isn’t everyone overwhelmed by the news? Don’t all humans want to save the world?


So, if you’re confused by the difference between the feedback that you get and your own self-perception, time to get unconfused. Maybe it’s your highest standards, your zest for learning, your keen capacity to perceive, your intense sensitivity and your exceptional empathy.

Maybe that is what gifted looks like.


To my bloggEEs: Thank you to the reader who suggested this topic. Let us know if you’ve lived with this confusion and what you think and feel about it. I appreciate hearing from you! By the way, there’s another factor that might contribute to your confusion: Growing up in a dysfunctional family. Find out more here and here.

There’s a new podcast interview of me. You can find it here. It’s a two-parter from Christy Harvey about gifted adults and parenting gifted kids.

And here’s an earlier podcast, if you haven’t heard it. This one is from Aurora Remember with a focus on me!


Gifted Kids, Rainforest Minds — Still Misunderstood After All These Years

photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash, CC

Way back in the later 1970’s, I was teaching in public schools in N. America and feeling the heat of the Does-Giftedness-Matter-Debate.

You know what I’m talkin’ about.

I remember the superintendent at the time saying: “There are no gifted children in our district.” Really? None? Oh boy. But schools in Pennsylvania were mandated to identify their gifted children and meet their needs. In spite of the superintendent, gifted children were, in fact, found. I had the fabulous job of teaching them.

But there was controversy. Discomfort. Misunderstanding. Defensiveness. Anger. Hurt. Bullying. Sadness. Frustration.

And, after about 35 years, there still is. Controversy. Discomfort. Misunderstanding. Defensiveness. Anger. Hurt. Bullying, Sadness. Frustration.

A big concern is this: If some kids are gifted, then others are not. If some children are included in a gifted program in school, others are left out. And being excluded hurts. We want all of our kids to feel special and cherished.

This has been a conundrum for all of the years that I’ve been in the field.

But why label people at all? Why determine that some are gifted? Why not say that we’re all the same? All equal?

Here’s the thing.

We’re not all the same. And isn’t that grand? We have different strengths and weaknesses. Different skills and abilities. Different sizes, shapes and colors. Different beliefs and values. Different languages and religions.

But we’re all equally human. We all deserve respect, compassion, love and opportunity. To be special and cherished.

And: We all know children who are faster and deeper learners, thinkers and feelers. Kids who learn to read when we’re not looking. Who know things we’ve never taught them. Who correct our errors. Who feel our pain. Who perceive sounds or sights or textures or emotions or tastes or intuitions or patterns that the rest of us miss. Who ask questions we can’t answer. Who are wiser than we are.

What do we do with those kids?

Because their particular differences mean that regular schooling may not work very well. That the usual parenting and teaching methods may fail. That some normal life experiences may be overwhelming or disturbing or confusing or devastating.

What do we do with those kids?

First: We all need to calm down. Second: We agree on what’s obvious. That we love all of our children and want the best for them. Third: We use my people-as-ecosystems model to explain their differences and similarities. Then we celebrate all of our kids and determine what they need to thrive. Maybe they have meadow minds, desert minds, river minds or rainforest minds. All of these minds are valuable and beautiful. One mind isn’t better than another. We determine what each of them need to thrive and we give it to them.

And last: We appreciate those intense, complex, super-sensitive rainforest (also known as gifted) minds. We stop cutting them down. We let them do what they’re here to do. Be who they’re here to be.

We will all breathe easier.


To my bloggEEs: Thank you so much for your support! Let us know what you think of the label “gifted” and how you think we can resolve the controversy.














To Achieve Or Not To Achieve — That Is The Question

photo courtesy of Juan Ramos, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy of Juan Ramos, Unsplash, CC

What does it mean to achieve or to be successful?

You’re smart, so you’re a high achiever, right?

Maybe. Not necessarily.

And what is a high achiever anyway?

And then. More questions:

What is a reasonable expectation for your particular abilities and interests? Where can you find adequate feedback? If you’re proud of something you achieve does that make you arrogant? How do you deal with accolades when something was easy for you to achieve; do you feel guilty or undeserving? Does praise for your achievements feel empty? Are you always expected to achieve but the pressure makes your brain turn to jello? Have you decided that it’s easier to go underground rather than risk achievement or risk not meeting expectations? How do you help your kids find a real achievement experience in school if their academic needs aren’t being met? Where do you even begin when there’s so much suffering everywhere you look?

To achieve or not to achieve.

It’s a good thing that you’re smart so you can manage living in this jungle. It’s intense. So many mosquitoes  questions.

Here’s a place to start: You’re asking these questions because your ability to think, understand and process complex ideas is fast, deep and wide. You are not being too dramatic or too sensitive or too obsessive or too self-absorbed. These are real concerns. And the answers will require thinking time, research, chocolate and conversations with others who understand what it means to have a rainforest mind.

Here are some places to look for answers: — an online resource for gifted adults; classes, Facebook group, coaching

Paula Wilkes Coaching and Consulting — a coach with many years of experience in gifted education and in working with gifted children and adults, including 2e issues

GHF Press and GHF bloggers — an organization supporting parents of gifted/2e children (particularly homeschoolers) and gifted adults, the publisher of my book — an online website with a gazillion articles and resources, blog hops from parents and professionals — an organization supporting the social-emotional needs of gifted kids and adults through articles, webinars and conferences

Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth available now to order at and your favorite independent bookstore by Paula Prober (that would be me)

The Gifted Adult by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen

And, of course, inside your own compassionate intuitive heart.


To my bloggEEs: This is such a complicated topic. What are your thoughts and questions about achievement and success? What other resources are you aware of? Your comments make my blog so much richer! Thank you for sharing. (And if you’re feeling distressed about recent events, my post on sensitivity and compassion is here. Sending you love.)




The Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Love Your Impostor Syndrome

photo courtesy of Brian Chan, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy of Brian Chan, Unsplash, CC

As you may have heard, ahem, I have written a book that will be released next month, June 2016. I’m noticing just a teensy weensy bit of impostor syndrome.

Well, OK, maybe it’s not so teensy weensy. Possibly because it’s infused with generous amounts of fear: of failure, success, overwhelm, and, oh, utter humiliation and devastation for now and all eternity.

Because I know that you also have bouts of the syndrome, affectionately known as IMPS, it occurred to me that there must be some benefits. Right? Why would so many of us be afflicted if there weren’t something to gain?

So, here it is. My list of the top ten reasons why you should love your IMPS:

10. You can avoid the pressure and expectations that come with being seen as a very smart (not to mention gifted) person.

9. You’re protected from ever having to produce anything of note.

8. You don’t have to worry about being overwhelmed because no one will be paying attention to you and that’s the way your introverted soul likes it.

7. You might actually be an impostor so you’re not embarrassing yourself by admitting it now.

6. In a past life, you were burned at the stake for being brilliant, and that was kind of painful so you’d rather not repeat it.

5. Family members like you better when you’re not so uppity.

4. You were bullied in school for showing your intellectual enthusiasm so you decided that  mediocrity was a safe alternative.

3. You grew up with narcissistic parents and will avoid being like them — at all costs.

2. Your need to be fair and equitable to all humans overwhelms the evidence that you might be smarter than many of them.

1. People like you because you’re less annoying so they bring you tuna casseroles and cupcakes when you’re sick.

So, the next time you go out and write your book or speak your mind or believe that you’re gifted in spite of your fears of utter humiliation and devastation for all eternity, remember to love your IMPS.

And yourself.


To my dearest bloggEEs: Tell us about your experiences with impostor syndrome. What’s it like for you? What helps? And, thank you. When we meet? I’ll bring the cupcakes.



If You Haven’t Achieved Greatness, Can You Be Gifted?

photo courtesy of Cam Adams, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy of Cam Adams, Unsplash, CC

Here it is. That pesky old question. You’ve heard it. You grapple with it.

If you aren’t a high achiever, can you be gifted? If your achievements aren’t “great,” can you be gifted? If your work isn’t “insanely great,” might you not be gifted but just insane? (You may not have heard of that last question. I made it up. Just now.)

Then you wonder: What constitutes high achieving? What is greatness? Who decides? What does it mean to be gifted? Does it matter if you know that you’re gifted? What if you think you’re gifted, but you really aren’t?

Oh boy. More questions. If you ask the most questions, does that make you gifted?

Here are some things to think about. (You like to think, right? Does that make you gifted?)

High achievement, in itself, might not be a sign of giftedness. It could just be an indication of hard work, deliberate practice, a point of view, nepotism, or your family’s trust fund. It could also be a sign of giftedness.

Greatness. Even harder to explain than high achievement. You don’t have to be gifted to do great things. You could be but you don’t have to be. See what the researcher David Shenk says about it:

“People are not doomed to mediocrity, as conventional wisdom suggests. No one can really know his or her true limits before applying enormous resources and investing vast amounts of time. Greatness is something to which any kid—of any age—can aspire.”

So what are we left with? How do we decide who’s gifted? Do we need to? And, assuming that achievement and greatness are desirable, how do you get there?

First: If you have many of these rainforest traits, odds are pretty darned good that you’re gifted. Then: There are many reasons why you may not be accomplishing what you or others expect. Some of the reasons are described here and here. It’s complicated. Finally: Knowing that you are gifted will help you stop pathologizing these traits so that you can get on with being who you are meant to be. Doing what you’re here to do. Achieving greatness.

Your version.


To my blogEEs: How do you deal with the pressures to achieve and to be “great?” Were you called an underachiever when you were a kid? Do you still feel that way? Have you been successful as an adult? How? What’s that been like? What would you like to achieve? Looking at events in the world, do you feel an urgency to contribute? Thank you for reading and commenting. You all have so much wisdom to share.




Your Kids Are Gifted. Should You Tell Them?


photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash, CC

What do you do when your little darlings think fast, feel deeply, and ask questions you can’t answer. What do you do when they correct your mistakes, ruminate about the meaning of infinity, and prefer Beethoven to baseball?

Do you tell them that they’re gifted?

Do they need to know why the the other four year olds ignore their lectures on the life cycle of the butterfly? Do they need to know why no one else is crying when the trees are cut down? Do they need to know that other first graders don’t really want to read the dictionary every day?

You betcha.

But it’s tricky.

What do you say? How do you say it?

I know what you’re thinking: How do I explain this without implying that they’re superior in some way? How do I explain this without putting pressure on them to achieve greatness or  get straight A’s all of the time? How do I explain this without using a label that I dislike? How do I explain this and not sound like a pushy parent? 

Didn’t I tell you that it’s tricky?

Here’s what might happen if you don’t tell them: They’ll find other labels. Weirdo. Freak. Dork. Nerd. Loser. Crazy. And they’ll believe that something is wrong with them because they can’t communicate with their same-aged peers and they’re crying when everyone else is laughing and they’re overwhelmed at birthday parties.

Here’s what not to tell them: You’re so smart! If you’re so smart, why did you get that B? You’re so much smarter than Bobbie. This should be easy for you, why are you struggling? Smart kids don’t make mistakes. I expect you to always do your best. You don’t have to listen to your teacher. Stop asking so many questions. Don’t be a show-off. Don’t think you’re so smart. 

So what do you do? Here are some tips:

  1. Explain the rainforest mind analogy and ask them to draw a picture of their rainforest mind and tell you how it works.
  2. Talk about the word “gifted” and how you feel about it. Explain that it describes people who are advanced in certain areas (sports, arts, intelligence) and, yet, people are uncomfortable with it when it applies to mental/cognitive abilities. Tell them they are gifted intellectually.Talk about how to talk about it, including using the analogy. Make a list of areas in which they’re gifted and areas where they aren’t, so they understand that they don’t have to be advanced in everything.
  3. Discuss how all people have strengths and weaknesses. What are yours? What are theirs? Do they feel pressure to be smart all of the time? Are they afraid to disappoint you? Show them how you try activities that aren’t easy for you and encourage them to do the same.
  4. Explain that because rainforest-minded people think a lot and quickly, ask many questions, love learning, are emotional, empathetic, and highly sensitive, they may have trouble in friendships and at school. Listen carefully to their experiences and help them find solutions.

Your little sweeties need to know why the other seven year olds aren’t in love with the library and why they don’t care to save the spiders. They need to embrace who they are. And they need to learn how to thrive — in a world that doesn’t always understand or appreciate its rain forests.


To my blogEEs: It’s taken me forever to write this post. Thanks for waiting. And thanks to the mom who shared her ideas with me. Let us know how you talk to your kids about giftedness and if these ideas worked for you. What I wrote is just the beginning of the story. Your comments will add the depth.