Giftedness and the Alternative Legal Career Search

Some of you—I suspect a lot of you—are blocked creatives. I would wager that some of you are even highly gifted creatives. “Well, that can’t be me,” you’re saying to yourself. “If it were, I would have shown some evidence of it by now. Sure, I like music/writing/painting/acting/whatever else, but I’m not actually very creative. If I were, I would know. I would have done something tangible by now.”

acrylic paint tubes

Paint your way to a new career with interests from your inner child, who knew how to have fun. Image courtesy

Not true. So unbelieveably, incredibly not true. What’s far more likely is that you went through school as a gifted kid, but never were recognized or encouraged in the arts. Or, you actually got messages all through your childhood that creativity was scary, unpredictable, and not going to get you anywhere.

What you really are is an unrecognized gifted adult. There are a lot of you out there, especially if you’re a Boomer or older Gen Xer. Those folks went to school before gifted and talented identification programs at school really took off. While everyone knew they were academically smart, gifted kids often didn’t receive any kind of specialized, targeted help in developing their abilities. (Hint: AP classes are not the same as a gifted/talented program.)

It’s a myth, as every book I’ve read on giftedness points out, that gifted kids will figure it all out and don’t need much help. We would never say or think this about talented athletes, would we? We think those gifted people need lots of coaching, lessons, mentoring, practice time, and working with peers of equal and greater talent to really develop their gift. We wouldn’t expect any athlete to make the Olympics without lots and lots of special training.

Yet somehow even today, the expectation often is that if you’re gifted, you’ve got it made without needing much extra help. Coupla’ lessons and you’re good, right? Um, nope.

Another thing that happens with academically gifted kids is that their other gifts–usually there ARE other gifts that run with the academic gifts–are often ignored, because they aren’t perceived with the same respect as academics. An academically gifted painter, for example, might receive all kinds of praise and encouragement for talents in language arts—read, English—but little or nothing is done to grow that painter artistically.

So the painter inside the child withers from neglect. Yet quite possibly the painting gift is the greater of that child’s gifts. Not all artistically gifted kids are determined enough to persist in the face of school, peer and parental discouragement. In fact, many, maybe most aren’t. Especially when they’re getting so much praise for good grades.

So what does this have to do with lawyers and career change? You probably already know. If you had interests as a young child that really excited you, but now you don’t have any of them in your life, you might want to explore whether academics choked off your other, more intrinsically rewarding gifts. There are many, many kids who were smart but had their artistic passion conformed out of them by age 13 or 18 or 21, and ended up at law school because they got A’s and had lost touch with what really turned them on. Except maybe the external gratification of praise from stellar grades. Would that, by chance, be you?

Next time, I’ll talk about some specific types of giftedness that often get overlooked, plus focus on unique issues that gifted adults face.

Oh, and in case you want to start reading up on giftedness, here are a few good places to start:

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches attorneys on finding and pursuing their gifts, whether it gets them an “A” in lunch or not. Think you might have some gifts to explore? You can book a free half-hour sample coaching session and do just that. Contact Jennifer at jalvey AT

7 thoughts on “Giftedness and the Alternative Legal Career Search

  1. Jenn–You are SO right on this topic. In grade school, I was assigned to tutor the slower kids after I handed in my homework. Unfortunately, I was not a gifted tutor. I learned to slow down my homework. My son was extraordinarily gifted, and his school’s solution was to 1. Tell him that music wasn’t what he should be interested in, and 2. Give him more homework. We have no idea what to do with the gifted in our culture. And we could really use the help.

    • What’s sad is how little some things have changed. There’s more programming now for academic giftedness, but for arts, you’re still on your own. Not many places have magnet schools for the arts, outside of the really big cities.

      And it’s beyond ironic that business leaders talk about their incredible need for innovation, while companies, government and schools all too often do their level best to stifle the creativity that fuels innovation. Oops, my giftedness is showing! ;D

  2. I agree completely. I was coined gifted in the 4th grade. Over the subsequent few years I was given extra projects and work that were, I suppose, meant to inspire me. It didn’t. It was just more schoolwork. By 7th grade I was no longer gifted, and more disenchanted by schoolwork than ever. Being gifted does not equal being an overachiever.

    • The good news: You’re still gifted! It’s not something that goes away.

      As an adult, it gets harder to focus on your gifts if you don’t already use them in your job or life, but it can be done. It’s really worth pursuing, because tapping into those gifts suddenly makes your life feel rich and meaningful, regardless of whether you get paid for them.

  3. I was in a “gifted” enrichment program from 4th-8th grades, which sent us to a magnet school for the district. From 12 to 20 I wanted to be an actor, and figured a day job in design would be useful. So I worked as a designer and was in a BFA program until changing my gears, switching majors and getting into law school. My struggle since that time has been to figure out whether I am just a clever artist who does well on standardized logic tests, or an artsy lawyer.

    • Those are intriguing questions, but what I really wonder is what makes you happier–art or law?

      If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She had superb insights on how and why artists turn their backs on their artistic gifts for the safety of a day job.

  4. Hey,

    I like your post. I am a gifted 3L who wants to be a criminal defense lawyer. I probably put more time into “studying” things outside of law school than I do to class assignments.

    I found your blog because I am in the process of trying to make the most out of my gifted abilities. Although there are other things I plan on doing in life, I believe that I can use my giftedness as an advantage in law. As such, I would like to find out more about lawyers who are gifted so I can learn about the ways in which they have used their giftedness to propel them in law. I am mostly interested in actual “training methods.”

    The most difficult aspect about being gifted in the legal world is that it’s so hard to find someone who I can “use” to help me become a better person. Although I have many friends, few people have the capacity to really hang with me.

    Do you know of any resources you can guide me to where I can find a community of like-minded people who want to continue their process of self-development/improvement? Whether it is an online community or simply an email listserv that shares information regarding personal development type issues, I would be greatly appreciative.

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