Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gifted Child = Gifted Adult

(from the blog "The Gifted Way"

Who was I?

This is a recurring question for gifted adults because the intensity of our childhood experiencing has a direct bearing on our adult gifted success. It also offers valuable clues to understanding those things that don’t work so well for us.

In particular, the question: “What fascinated me when I was three years old?” seems of special significance. This is because the passionate preoccupations of three-year olds so often seem to form the foundation of success in a wide range of gifted adults.

The number of gifted and creative artists who recall their passion from their very early years is legion.

"I danced myself out of the womb.Is it strange to dance so soon?"Marc Bolan. "Cosmic Dancer".

At three or less, musicians pick up violins or start hammering on drums; dancers shake their booties; painters discover negative space without realizing there was ever anything else.

As an example, if you enter: “I started drawing when I was three.” as a single statement on Google you will get nearly 150,000 responses from illustrators, artists and so on. Substituting “playing piano” brings up 3,000. “Writing” only gives rise to 9, but includes one of my favorites: “I started writing when I was three years old, but it wasn’t until I was seven that I was first published.”

If you simply enter: “I started when I was three.” you’re greeted with nearly a million dancers, skiers, stamp-collectors, violinists, riders, soccer players etc. And these are only the people who feel compelled to commit their biographies to the Internet.
Pre-occupation to Occupation

Given that three is an age that has great significance for our future, how can we use the lessons to be learned from it?

Unconsciously building a gifted future.

Lucky the child whose obvious interests attracted parental support. S/he would all-unconsciously have started on the path to mastery and clarity.

But what about those of us whose creativity didn’t manifest through a musical instrument or box of crayons? We have to look harder to see where we come from.

The effort involved in this considered examination is highly worthwhile. Through it our uniqueness becomes apparent by revealing our own history and balance of preoccupations.

I hope you’ll take the time to uncover your own. As a process it can reinforce some affectionate self-recognition as well as open the doors to greater self-understanding.

As a guide to what I mean, here are some of my early qualities:

I was very clumsy at drawing.
I read a great deal.
I took every opportunity to go exploring on my own.
I built complex houses and towns from building blocks.
I focused a great deal of attention on my mother’s welfare, not least because we moved every six months or so, sometimes halfway round the globe.

How does that translate into today?

I still read a great deal. And, as reading is practice for writing, I write a great deal.
I’m very independent, an explorer in thought and in location.
I have always worked with complex systems demanding deconstruction, re-architecture and re-construction. This applies to my work in computing, in writing, and of course in the ongoing task of understanding and re-framing human nature.
My “taking care of mom” shows itself in dozens of ways, from a tendency to be over-solicitous in personal relationships to volunteering my time on committees. Many a professional or non-profit organization has reason to be grateful to my mother!
I’m still very clumsy at drawing.

Your mind is an iceberg

If your present life is more or less in accord with your three-year old preoccupations then you’re probably reasonably happy.

Out of sight but in the mind. What's concealed can slow you to a crawl.

However, if you’re finding it hard to follow through on your early enthusiasms, it could be due to your unconscious mind. Like the lower part of an iceberg, this is the hidden power that dominates your actions.

Brain research has made it clear that it is the unconscious, not the conscious, that rules our decision-making and thus our lives. (Check out Jonah Lehrer’s book: “How We Decide” for confirmation of this.)

Experts of all kinds have contributed their estimates as to when the development of our unconscious mind is ‘finished’. Such estimates typically fall in an age range between two and seven.

So where does that leave us?

Where does that leave us? Perhaps shockingly, it leaves us being managed by the assumptions and beliefs of – let’s average it – a five-year old. With our mind like an iceberg, our consciousness is the ten percent above water while the real weight and power lies massively beneath the surface.

This explains so much of what we find challenging. Our conscious mind says: “Let’s go to New York and look at some art,” but our unconscious wants to go surfing. With nine tenths of us pulling one way we are bound to end up in some compromise situation.

In this case, rather than New York it might be a trip to Malibu. There you can spend the days at

Surfrider Beach while taking side trips to the Getty Museum.

That kind of compromise might seem harmless enough but supposing your conscious mind is saying: “I need to save for a rainy day,” while your unconscious is saying: “There’s no point saving. Someone will just steal it from you.”?

The inevitable – yes, inevitable – consequence is that you will effect a compromise between these two positions. And it’s unlikely that it will meet all your conscious self’s need to save. So you will fret . . . and fret . . . and fret.

I want to correct any impression that I assume that the childhood unconscious tends to be irresponsible. It often isn’t. There are plenty of people who consciously think: “I ought to have more fun,” while their five-year old unconscious is nudging them to keep working “just in case.”

What to do about it

When our early preoccupations work for us, life is grand. But what happens when they don’t?

Gifted and creative individuals are highly sensitive. We feel conflict intensely and will take great steps to try to resolve it. The sense of going where we don’t want to – under the control of something hidden - is thus very painful and discouraging for us.

It’s never going to be easy, but the key to tolerating such apparent conflict and inability to achieve our objectives is first of all to make our five-year old selves real. Picture yourself back in that tiny body, mentally recreate a room in which you spent a lot of time, and allow these questions to pass across your mind:

Who were you then? How did you experience yourself?
Where were you? What events and family dynamics were determining your life?
Where did you go to be yourself and what would you do there?
What were the actions of your parents/caretakers showing you about their belief systems?
Did they all send the same message? Were you able to reconcile any conflicting messages and if so, how?

You can call for reinforcements when you know what you need to overcome.

The more clearly you are able to re-experience yourself at that time, the more understandable your current conflicts will become. And, much more importantly, the more you’ll be able to work with them rather against them.

This is because by revealing your most counter-productive beliefs to yourself you discover where your conscious will needs reinforcement.

You can use this information to help you find the appropriate assistance to tug you in your preferred direction. This assistance might come in the form of a person, a book, or some other form of external energy. You’ll recognize it when you need it.

And now . . .

I’d love to hear how your fascinations as a three-year old reveal themselves today. Just add your comments below and tell us your story.



irisarensonfuller said...

A very interesting and thought-provoking post today Bob.

My three year old self...I learned how to read. I read to all of the neighborhood kids and began to compose little rhymes and songs. I loved to weave stories (often called lying) and constructed some elaborate ones.

I invented games with neighbors and we acted out fairy tales. Once I bit little Robbie in the chest. I had a towel over my head and was a growling bear.

I still love to read and write and weave stories, though hopefully am more truthful.

I told me mother I wanted to have "chocolate babies" when I grew up and yes, my family is interracial.

I was around elderly people a lot, with four grandparents in close proximity and still have an affinity for the aging.

What else? I have to think more about it but I like the post!



Anonymous said...

I posted once and lost it. A very interesting and thought-provoking piece.

Three year old self....I learned to read and read to all of the neighborhood kids. I was said to have been bossy, with which my kids might agree now.

I constructed stories, poems and fairy tales. I directed the neighborhood kids in acting them out. Once I played bear and bit little Robbie on the chest. He complained to his mother and I told him I was on a radio show and I had to do it. I wove elaborate tales often known as lies.

I was surrounded by four grandparents and learned to enjoy the elderly, which I still do. I loved hearing their tales and reminiscing.

I collected leaves in a cardboard box and rolled around in them and made up a song about them.

I will give it some more thought and will contemplate what relevance that 3 yr old self has to who I am today.