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The Forks in the Gifted Path
Marrying potential with purpose and action
I love the term gifted, because in a world full of denigrating labels, gifted is an exception.
Gifted children are pure potential, but without purpose, and the ability to turn that purpose into action, their paths far too often end up forking in the wrong direction.
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Thankfully, there are things we can do, as parents, to help our children thrive, if we’re willing to put in the effort.
For the gifted child, barring challenges, their early childhood is a wonderland. They learn at lightening speed, absorbing knowledge and ability like the little sponges we like to describe them as being at that age.
The return on their educational investment is the best it will ever be.
As their learning curve starts to get steeper, however, more effort is required, and forks begin to appear in their path.
Fork 1: Chasing Easy
At first, the change in trajectory to this fork is slight, and appears ever so understandable, as the child shifts away from things they aren’t “good” at, and they lean into their strengths, which still come easily.
Granted, it is human nature to self-select into areas that come easiest to you, but there is a very real danger in this type of intellectual narrowing based upon level of effort.
At some point, all subjects require doing hard things.
At some point, all intellectual endeavors require doing hard things.
At some point, all professional pursuits require doing hard things.
For gifted children that end up on this fork of the path, their instinct to specialize, to lean into their strengths, means they never learn to do hard things.
They are chasing easy, and when all paths forward end up requiring doing hard things, they are effectively blocked by their lack of the intellectual and emotional fortitude required to progress.
Nothing has changed about the hypothetical potential created by their intellect, but their giftedness becomes somewhat of a Potemkin village, with all the original promise, but without the skills necessary to bring that potential to life.
Is this a fait accompli? A curse? An inevitability? Of course not. I wouldn’t be wasting words here if it were, and I promise to talk about two pieces of the solution below.
Fork 2: Leaning Into Specialization
This fork starts the same as the last, with the gifted child leaning into what comes easier for them, but the saving grace is that the child does learn to do hard things, but only within their narrow field of specialization.
For many gifted adults, this works for them. They are never the leaders, the big successes, but they are the specialists that make big things possible. They live in an intellectual cage, but within that cage, they are kings and queens, and rightfully recognized for the role they play in larger endeavors.
Compared to the first fork, this certainly is an improvement, but it still leaves too much potential on the table.
The Preferred Path
What we really want for our gifted children is for them to take their potential in both hands and build everything they are capable of building. We want them to thrive.
Thriving means no gilded intellectual cages, and certainly no Potemkin villages.
Thriving means teams rallying around your child to make your child’s dreams come true.
Thriving means your child having the fortitude to walk up to the edge of human understanding, and push it outward by sheer strength of will.
Imagine what would be possible for humanity, if every gifted child were on such an amazing path to their potential.
All it takes is our own willingness, as parents, to do hard things.
Kites > Anchors (an aside)
I know it is more conventional to speak about substantive advantages and stabilizing forces as anchors, but anchors literally pull back and down, whereas kites pull forward and up, so I’m going to exercise a little artistic license, and refer to these critical pieces as kites. After all, I don’t think any of us want to think of our children as being weighed down while pursuing their potential, gifted or not.
Kite 1: Purpose
We know traditional academics aren’t enough for a multitude of reasons, but one of the many is that they are fundamentally maladapted to cultivating purpose.
Cultivating purpose in a child starts with allowing your child to explore their interests, even when those interests do not neatly align to standards or a curriculum.
This is where your willingness to do hard things comes in.
You need to be willing to follow along as your child explores their interests, encouraging them every step of the way, while simultaneously resisting the natural urge to “help” them by doing the hard pieces for them.
Interests cultivated mature into passions, which is also hard for us, as parents!
Passions cost time, money, and attention. Often, our child’s passions are at best outside our area of expertise, and sometimes way, way, way over our heads, meaning now we must also spend time trying to keep up with them, or risk losing our amazing vantage point of being front row center to their journey.
Yet, it is all so worth it!
Passions cultivated become purpose, and purpose is a kite that pulls your child toward amazing possibilities.
It also ultimately relieves you of the burden of trying to push your child to an amazing future (and that is a Sisyphean task, if ever there was one).
With purpose, you won’t need to push your child, because their purpose will pull them through the hard work required to get to their dreams, including into areas that might not play to their original strengths, but which are required to get where they are trying to go.
If you find it impossible to sit on the sidelines, add wind to their sails!
Show up. Learn about their interests. Learn about their passions. Learn about their purpose. Again, show up, but always from the sidelines, never encroaching on their path. Learn. Grow yourself. Show them you will do these hard things for them, and watch how that adds lift!
Sometimes, getting this whole amazing process going is challenging, particularly for students in traditional schools that have long since given up on having their own interests, and have resolved themselves to studying only whatever they are told to study.
If that sounds like your situation, shoot me a note, as there’s absolutely a path forward for your family, and I’m happy to share ideas to jumpstart your journey.
Kite 2: Action
We all know why companies don’t hire exclusively based upon IQ, and why colleges are increasingly sidelining purely academic and standardized-score-based admission metrics.
At the end of the day, being smart just isn’t enough.
In fact, the world is full of smart people with a lot of rationalizations about why they aren’t at the top of their chosen fields.
That is why I fundamentally believe one of two critical skills for all children, including gifted children, is the ability to translate their knowledge into action, and specifically the ability to:
Communicate their interests, needs, and vision persuasively;
Collaborate with any team to accomplish any goal;
Harness technology in service of their interests; and
Optimize their choices and decision-making.
Giving your child the ability and skills to act is certainly not the easy path.
They will get messy. They will break things. They will make things you have no room to store. They will want your time to witness their work, and money to invest in the inputs for their endeavors. They will need opportunity to practice the requisite skills that make up this critical competency, and that opportunity will inevitably demand time that you don’t have free to give.
This is not the easy path, but it is an invaluable investment. The return on the investment is a kite that will pull your child ever-forward, and help your child achieve the future they so richly deserve.
Not Just for “The Gifted”
The best part is, these kites work for all kids, which is why they are so integral to everything we are building at Launchpad23.
As such, whatever your child’s gifts look like, they will benefit from you putting the kites of purpose and action into their hands.
So, get to it. I know you are busy. I know you don’t have time, but join me in making the time, and let’s help our children thrive.
Sure, me writing and you reading technically count as a form of communication, but it is more fun to interact. Let me know what you are thinking, and until next time, keep moving forward. - Kristine