Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Feel Like A Failure?

photo courtesy of Vanessa Bumbeers, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy of Vanessa Bumbeers, Unsplash, CC

Was this you? You were told repeatedly that you were so smart; that you had a high IQ. You were the top student. Your parents and teachers praised you often for your abilities and achievements. School was easy so you could get high grades without studying. You won awards. Teachers said that you were gifted. Your parents said that you’d do great things when you reached adulthood; That you could do anything you wanted. Expectations were high. 

And so was the pressure. But you didn’t realize it at the time. Until you got to college. Suddenly, you were surrounded by smart kids. You were no longer the star. Not only that. Some of your classes were hard; studying was required. Studying? What’s that? You got your first “C.” You loved psychology and philosophy but you’d never faced a workload like this. No one else seemed to be having trouble. You started procrastinating, as usual, but last minute finishes didn’t work anymore. It was confusing and overwhelming. Your identity was crumbling; you became anxious and depressed.

In your mind, it became clear that you’d been faking your smarts all of these years. You weren’t gifted. Never had been. You’d gotten by on your charm. Now charm wasn’t enough. You were a failure. Every little mistake, every question you couldn’t answer. Failure.

Is this you? Or someone you know?

Let me give you a hug and an explanation.

Kids who are gifted are often told, repeatedly, how smart they are, by well-meaning adults. High grades and other achievements may be praised excessively. This can lead children to believe that they’re loved because they’re “so smart.” Their identity becomes dependent, then, on their capacity to continue to show their advanced abilities and on the praise and attention they receive.

This can lead to unhealthy perfectionism: fear of failure, avoidance of activities that don’t guarantee success, impostor syndrome and procrastination. It can lead to anxiety and depression. Being smart becomes a static thing. You either are or your aren’t. And because you’re used to learning many things quickly, you think that’s the way all learning should be. If you don’t get it fast, well, it just proves that you’re not gifted. Not gifted? Not lovable.

What can you do?

Understand that your worth as a human isn’t due to your accomplishments. Your worth is about who you are, not what you do. It will take time to really believe this.

Make a list of your values. What do you appreciate about others? Compassion? Generosity? Sense of humor? Can you admire these values in yourself?

Imagine your life as a work in progress or as a form of artistic expression. Focus on the journey or the process instead of the product or the outcome.

If you’re in school, design a plan for studying and completing assignments. Break projects down into smaller steps. Look for resources online about dealing with procrastination, perfectionism, expectations, and fear of failure.

Learn about Dweck’s more recent work on mindsets. Even if giftedness is the way your brain is wired, that doesn’t mean it’s an all or nothing phenomenon. You can still have strengths and weaknesses. You can make mistakes and still be a lovely human. You can have high standards and not be perfect.

Make a list of your thoughts and beliefs about your “failures.” Are they rational? Replace your irrational beliefs with what’s actually true. If you’re really struggling, try this book. The book includes ways to self-soothe and calm your anxiety.

Read biographies of eminent people and make note of their struggles, mistakes and failures. Elon Musk and Steve Jobs failed multiple times.

If you’re a parent, avoid praise. It’s often meaningless. Instead, encourage your children by giving specific feedback and asking questions. “I noticed how kind you were to that boy.” “I’m enjoying the details about the characters in your story.” “How was it for you when your team worked so well together?”

If you’re a parent, encourage your child to engage in activities where they need to struggle. They will learn how to deal with mistakes, failures and set backs and will form a stronger sense of self.

And finally, hold on to your dreams!  Even if you feel discouraged and anxious some of the time, or a lot of the time, there is love in you. There is beauty in you. You can do this.

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To my bloggEEs: Thank you to the reader who inspired this post. Share your thoughts, feelings, questions and dreams here, please. We all benefit from your experiences!


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Are You Too Smart To Fail?

photo courtesy of Fabian Blank, Unsplash, CC

photo from Fabian Blank, Unsplash, CC

You don’t like to fail. In fact, you may be terrified of failure. And you have trouble not seeing any minor mistake as a monumental failure. Right? Am I in your head? Yeah? It’s pretty wild in here. So many monkeys.

But what is failure? What are the advantages of failure? Why do I think you should start failing as soon as you can, especially if you’re a parent?

( Just so we’re clear. I’m not suggesting that you begin to fail, as in, become a serial killer. Or start a cocaine habit. Or forget to pick your kids up at school for several days. Just so we’re clear.)

You weren’t born afraid to fail. Watch a child learning to walk. Lots of failing. Early learning includes much trial and much error. When did you become too big to fail?

And now, do you worry that you’re too smart to fail?

If you were a fast learner, if you were an early reader, if you used words like “entomology” when you were five, if you were told over and over how smart you were,  if there were piles of praise every time you aced a test, then, you may have felt that your abilities and your achievements were what made you worthy, what made you lovable. You may have concluded that anything less than perfect was a failure and failure meant that you were not such a smart person after all.

It’s time to start failing.

You don’t have to fail like Elon Musk and blow up a rocket. You don’t have to fail like Steve Jobs and be fired from the company that you created. Small “failures” will be just fine, for starters. Excellence instead of perfection, for example. A “B” on your final exam. A loud emotional outburst in the middle of a board meeting.

Eventually, you may even rethink the word failure. Instead, you’ll make a mistake, an error, a gaffe, a blunder. Small stuff. No big deal. And even if you experience an actual failure, you’ll know it’s something that you do, not something that you are.

Trust me. You’ll still be smart. You’ll still be lovable. And, you will learn much more from failure than you’ll ever learn from success.

Your children will thank you.

And your stand-up comedy routines? Well, they’ll be so much funnier.

“You gotta learn to love when you’re failing…The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you…”    Stephen Colbert

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To my darling blogEEs: (We’ve known each other for two years now, I think I can call you darling.) Yes, I’ve been blogging now for two years this month. I’m so grateful to all of you for reading, sharing, and commenting. Tell us how you feel about failure and if you’re able to accept and appreciate your blunders. When have you had a good outcome from a failure?


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I Can’t Show How Smart I Am To Anyone, Not Even To Myself

photo by David Evers, Flickr, CC

photo by David Evers, Flickr, CC

You hide. You stay small. You “dumb down.”

Why?

Because– (Pick one or more.)

1. It’s not cool to be too smart.

2. Other people will feel bad about themselves.

3. I’ll be lonely.

4. I’ll be ridiculed.

5. I’ll take up too much space.

6. I’ll overshadow others.

7. I’ll become egocentric, arrogant and self-absorbed.

8. My mother was brilliant and she was also abusive. I can’t be like her.

9. It feels dangerous.

10. I’ll outshine my parents and my teachers and I can’t do that.

11. I don’t want to be like my father who used his intellect to be manipulative.

12. I don’t have the time. I have kids to raise.

13. I won’t be able to sustain it and then I’ll disappoint everyone.

14. It’s way too much pressure.

15. I’ll embarrass myself.

16. If I reveal myself and then I fail, it would be devastating.

17. I’m not the smart one.

18. Change is scary and I’m comfortable in my discomfort.

19. I’m used to my habits and routines. Why rock the boat?

20. Did I mention that I’m not really all that smart?

OK, then.

Here’s the thing.

The world needs you to stop hiding.

I mean it.

Now, I don’t want you to do anything that feels too unsafe. But I do want you to realize that all beings will benefit if you express yourself and show us what you’ve got; if you tap that wellspring of intellect, creativity and sensitivity. Your children and grandchildren (and your neighbors’ children and grandchildren) will reap the benefits.

Really.

I can help.

It’s my job.

I’ll help you with your fears around pressure and expectations and your anxiety around failure. (More in future posts.)

You can come here when you feel lonely.

Now that you know what a rainforest mind looks like, get serious about finding other inquisitive souls. They will support you when you feel misunderstood and hurt.

Psychotherapy provides guidance that can shift and heal patterns and beliefs so that you don’t turn into your mother or your father.

Reading about sensitivity and how to manage it, will give you tools that you’ll need so you aren’t as easily overwhelmed.

What else?

photo by Adam Knight, Flickr, cc

photo by Adam Knight, Flickr, cc

Get yourself out into Nature where you can connect with a spirituality that will support you and guide you. Find your own form of meditation, whether it’s sitting or yoga or writing or painting or poetry or gardening or dancing or running or whatever. Use it to plumb your depths and calm your nervous system.

Then show yourself. To yourself. And to the rest of us.

We’re ready for you.

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To my blogEEs: Many thanks to the commenter who inspired this post. And to all of you– for reading, for sharing, and for staying sensitive. Tell us your fears and share your plans for coming out of hiding.


37 Comments

If I’m So Smart, Why Aren’t I Successful?

photo by Kevin T. Houle, creative commons, Flickr

photo by Kevin T. Houle, creative commons, Flickr

Smart people are rich and famous. They win Nobel Prizes and Genius Grants. They’re high achievers and arrogant. They don’t waste time on the little people. Right?

Wrong.

Well, OK. I guess that some smart people are all of the above. Or parts of the above. Maybe your Uncle Charlie. But how many are, say, none of the above? And if you are one of the none of the above, do you believe that you just aren’t all that smart? Do you think that you’ve fooled everyone only because you happen to be witty every once in a while, and people are so darned gullible? Do you believe that you’re really an impostor? In fact, most days you’re a total failure for now and all eternity?

But: What is success, anyway? What makes a successful life? Is it some grand achievement? What is achievement? Some people refer to “greatness.” What exactly is that anyway?

Oh boy. I think I’m getting in way over my head with all of these questions. This is a blog. A little itty bitty blog. Not a dissertation.

Speaking of dissertation, I never did get that PhD. Did I mention that I took Argentine tango lessons instead? Does that mean that I’m a total failure for now and all eternity?

(Note: Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m not really using myself as an example. After all, I’m barely g-g-gifted. But it’s just so convenient. So hang in there with me.)

(Another note: Yes, I do realize the irony in the fact that I’m writing about giftedness and impostor issues and I’m telling you that I’m not really really gifted when it comes right down to it. My qualifications come from years of teaching gifted kids in schools and now counseling gifted adults. I’m really good at it. But I can’t explain why. And stop looking at me like that.)

Back to the tango.

photo by Elvin, creative commons, Flickr

photo by Elvin, creative commons, Flickr

What if success and achievement have to do with something other than college degrees and how many rockets you’ve fired into space? I mean those things are nice but what if your compassion is an achievement? What if finding your authentic voice or stopping the cycle of abuse in your family qualifies as success? What if parenting sweet, loving, empathetic humans counts as greatness?

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t win a Nobel Prize or shoot rockets into space. That’s OK, too. What I’m saying is that I want you to use that rainforest mind of yours in a way that has meaning for you and for others, maybe even for the planet.

And I want you to rethink what success really is. Maybe you already have it. And consider that if you feel like an impostor it’s not because you are one. It’s because you aren’t one.

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To my blogEEs: How do you define success? What are your experiences with impostor syndrome? Share your thoughts, feelings, questions and insights. Please. Your comments are meaningful to everyone who reads this blog.


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Paralyzed by a Plethora of Possibilities

You would think that a smart person could make decisions easily, quickly, and definitively. 

But the people that I know?

Don’t.

How can that be?

Let me explain. Which of the following are true for you:

Your wild mind generates many ideas, options, possibilities and perspectives.

You can argue all sides of most issues.

When you took multiple choice tests in school, you could explain why all of the answers could be true.

There’s never an end to the “what ifs.”

You see beige, ecru, sand and eggshell when others see white.

Your decisions impact others, now and in the future. Choices need to be ethical.

All possibilities have their appeal so you can’t let any of them go.

You need to optimize every decision.

You feel pressure to look intelligent so you need to be right.

You want to keep all of your options open.

You have to make the best choice or you’re a complete failure.

You can generate an unending list of questions. You can’t decide until you answer them.

You care about justice, equality, sustainability and future generations.

Finding the right word matters.

If you make one choice, that means you experience a loss of what you didn’t choose. You want to avoid that loss.

You second guess yourself. Often.

It’s wrong to not take advantage of all of your opportunities.

Procrastination is your middle name.

You want to accommodate others and not hurt anyone’s feelings.

You’re highly sensitive so your choice of  restaurant, movie, soap, fabric, beverage and every other assorted thing, matters.

(And, if you’re a parent, making decisions about your kid, well, multiply all of the above by a gazillion.)

You wondered why you have difficulty making decisions?

Now you know.

One more thing.

Nothing is ever simple in the rainforest mind. Take it from Donald Antrim who wrote:

“The simple question “What color do you want to paint that upstairs room?” might, if we follow things to their logical conclusions, be stated, “How do I live, knowing that I will one day die and leave you?”

              (from The New Yorker, Dec. 27, 1999 & Jan. 3, 2000. The Pancake Breakfast)

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To my blogEEs: Does this describe you? Tell us more. What helps make decision-making easier?

Thanks to Pamela Price and her Crew for their ideas and thanks to my commenters for their topic requests. And thanks to you, dear blogEEs, for reading.

 

 

 

 


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I’m Not Gifted, I’m Just Lucky–Part Two

I know. You’re not gifted.

Humor me.

If you were gifted, here are some things you would need to know.

1. Intelligence is not a fixed, hard, immutable thing.  Intelligence is not an either you-are or you’re-not situation. Sure, you have a rainforest mind. You’re smart, sensitimindsetve, empathetic, analytical, creative, intense, perfectionistic and complicated. But that doesn’t mean that your traits and abilities can’t shift, change and grow. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be confused, dumb, embarrassing and a complete failure some of the time. The key, according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindsetis that you’re open to growth. That you love learning. And, when you think about it, it’s all learning. One way or another. And, I know your mother told you this but maybe you’ll listen to me: You learn more from your mistakes and failures than from your successes. Think about it.

2. Your mistakes, failures, and embarrassments. Entertaining stories for holiday gatherings, memoirs, and TED talks.

3. Intelligence is not the same as achievement. Some people who are extremely bright, have not graduated from college, have not discovered relativity, have not won a Nobel prize and are not billionaires. I might also suggest that the reverse is true. High achievers and rich people are not necessarily extremely bright. I won’t mention any names.

4. Effort and sustained practice are required for outstanding achievement. You may have believed that if you were truly gifted, you shouldn’t have to exert effort to produce greatness. You’d be wrong.

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5.Remember that long odd conglomeration of things from my last post? The list of reasons you might feel like an impostor? Valerie Young makes sense of them in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. Check it out.

6. And, finally, here’s the thing. The Thing. As you struggle to understand and accept that you have a rainforest mind, that you may, in fact, be g-g-gifted, imagine that there’s something you’re here on the planet to do. No pressure. Don’t get all nervous on me. Well, maybe a little pressure. It doesn’t need to be something “insanely great.” It’s not about that.

You know what I’m talkin’ about. You’ve felt it. Begin to open to the possibility that now is the time to find it, feel it, do it and be it.

 

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To my darling bloggEEs:

I hope I didn’t just freak you out with that last part. I promise to help you figure it out. That’s why I’m here. That’s what I’m here on the planet to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Muddled by Your Musings

DSC_0251

That would be me and the tango.

Do people have difficulty following you?

Are they muddled by your musings about the flaws in our current cultural mythologies? Do they retreat at your ruminations about the future of the planet? Do they get lost in your lectures about quadratic equations?

Well, my geekly one, I have the answer for you. If you want someone to follow you, learn to lead the Argentine tango.

You heard me.

This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. This dance is made for you. It will stretch your brain in many directions all at once. It will demand that you tap your creative exuberance. It will celebrate your sensitivity and your intuitive powers.

And you will be popular. Yes, indeed. If you learn how to lead the Argentine tango, women and men will wait eagerly to dance with you. You will no longer be the nerd, the outcast, the last-one-picked-for-the-team. No. They will adore you. And you will finally be with people who can follow you.

I’m not making this up.

By the way, I’m speaking to both men and women. Even though only men lead the tango in Argentina, women lead in the US, and in other countries as well. And, in my experience, gender is irrelevant. You become two souls gliding through space connected to music, floor, your hearts, and the Mystery.

But there is one glitch. Just one. You won’t learn it right away. It will take time. Persistence. Failure. You may not have much experience with that. If you’re used to being the fastest learner in the room, think again. But that’s OK. That’s good. Taking the risk to try something where you won’t excel at first will open new doors. And if you’re a parent, it’ll be good modeling for your kids.

And, once you learn it–nirvana.

Not only that. You’ll look around the room, and there will be other geeks there. You might even find one who loves your musings about the flaws in our current cultural mythologies.

And just so you know, at Fermilab, near Chicago, where they study high-energy physics, they hold Argentine tango classes. Pamela Noyes said, in their August 2008 newsletter Fermilab Today, “Physics and tango both require passion to become very good…Physicists follow motion with their equations. Tango dancers follow each others motion with their senses…. If done well, both are extremely gratifying, perhaps one more to the mind and the other to the senses.”

So learn to lead the Argentine tango. And get followed.