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A Renaissance Problem


I’ve been circling around a problem for most of my life. At least, other people think it’s a problem. I’m interested in things. Lots of things. At the same time. And I tend to be pretty good at most of them. (Except for sports. I stink at all athletics.)

When I was a kid, it was called “being gifted” and we were given an entire HALF DAY once a week to be ourselves and answer all the questions and read three books at once while we made a King Tut sarcophagus replica. It was awesome.

Leonardo da Vinci got to do this all the time, and nobody cared. In fact, it was pretty normal for all people of his day to dabble in a variety of things. Leo was just extra good at it, and now we call him the Renaissance Man.

Somewhere in the transition between gifted classes and AP English, the chains started to come on. Don’t be too smart. Don’t be too fast. You’ll want to fit in at college/work/life so try to make others comfortable by being “average”. Those were the messages we got – at least in the 90s. “Gifted” is pretty much a dirty word now, if it is recognized at all. Having studied for years in this area, I can assure you that gifted education is necessary and being gifted has as many unique challenges as any other learning diagnosis.

But the problem is, you don’t grow out of being gifted anymore than you grow out of being autistic or ADHD or dyslexic. You just lose the label. As my sister likes to say, we only become more of who we are. So apparently there are a bunch of gifted adults wandering around feeling stifled because they have to hide their multiple talents or extreme proficiency in certain fields. This is as much of a mental handicap for gifted minds as demanding that the sensory processing disordered child wear itchy clothes and listen to death metal.

I came across The Gifted Adult by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen years ago. It was a good start (and probably the only resource at the time) for the adult who left school and lost their tribe. Now that a generation of children identified as gifted has grown up, we’re seeing more about “multi-potentialities” as Emilie Wapnick describes in her TED Talk HERE. Others call it being a “scanner” (Barbara Sher) or a “Renaissance soul” (Margaret Lobenstine). There are more names for it, but nobody seems to call it what it is – Gifted.

There’s nothing wrong or condescending or belittling for us to recognize that some in our midst operate at a different frequency than we do. We aren’t uncomfortable because Michael Phelps is faster in the pool than we are. It doesn’t hurt our feelings for Usain Bolt to blow by us on the track. We’re quite cheerful about Albert Einstein being smarter than us. But our culture resents people who don’t pick one thing and stick with it. It seems frivolous. Extravagant. Immature.

What we need to recognize is that our previous belief in One Job/One Life is no longer viable. The economy doesn’t support our having one occupation our whole lives, even if we wanted to. Science doesn’t support that model, since we’ve only scratched the surface of the brain’s capabilities. Psychology doesn’t support it because it recognizes that every individual is made up of countless bits of knowledge and experience and interests. The whole idea is based on an industrial model that views human beings as cogs in a giant machine. Most of us don’t want to be cogs.

Personally, I think there’s a lot more gifted individuals out there than we are aware of. Not everyone is gifted. But we all have gifts. And for those who feel frustrated that they are not fitting in, or that their dreams are slipping away, I’m going to point you to a couple of resources that may help. Just keep in mind that the labels may change, but the challenge is the same. If you are a gifted specialist, your path is easier and more universally accepted. But if you are a gifted generalist you’re going to need to understand yourself a little better and get some tools to help you navigate through our post-Renaissance society.

Stay tuned for my reviews of The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine and Refuse To Choose by Barbara Sher.



One thought on “A Renaissance Problem

  1. Karen, this is such an interesting subject. Yes I noticed that you are an incredibly unique individual. I for one am very honored to have met you. I believe that your interests and your inquisitiveness are key to surviving many of the boulders that life puts in your path. There is a great satisfaction in being able to do something well, it’s an explosive satisfaction to be able to do many things well. I hope that puts a smile on your face.

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