Attorneys & Giftedness, #2: 5 Traits To Look For

I’m going to back up for a moment and do the Julie Andrews thing (start at the very beginning). What is giftedness? What would I look for? Why does it matter at this point in my life? How is it going to help me find an alternative legal career or better work/life balance?

Magnifier used for pantone color check

Seeing your traits as part of giftedness, not something to be cured, can fill your world with light and color.

Annemarie Roeper, whose contributions to giftedness research are legend, defines giftedness like this:

Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences. (Roeper, 2000, p. 33.)

Most schools will put kids in a gifted program if their IQ is above 130 or so. There’s a lot of debate about how IQ tests demonstrate relatively little about human intelligence, so at best IQ tests are a crude tool—but one of the few that are widely used to assess intelligence. IQ is a good starting point for further exploration of giftedness.

More important for those searching for career help, either in the law or outside it, are the qualities that gifted people have and show. In his 2007 article, How To Charm Gifted Adults Into Admitting Giftedness, Dr. Willem Kuipers lists 5 kinds of Xi—his coined term for extra intelligence—commonly found in gifted people:

  1. Intellectually able: grasps complicated issues relatively easily, takes leaps in the thinking process, has a low tolerance for stupidities, and may become careless when asked to do simple tasks.
  2. Incurably inquisitive: always curious about what’s beyond the horizon, fascinated as long as something is new, easily pursuing manifold interests. Has a low tolerance for boredom and may be slow in bringing an already-solved problem to a conclusion.
  3. Need for autonomy: Can work on one’s own and prefers to schedule tasks oneself. Will respond aversely to absolute power and formalities, and react allergically to bosses or others who exercise tight control. Will utilize fight or flight when autonomy is threatened.
  4. Excessive zeal in pursuit of interests: Can be inexhaustible and keyed-up as long as a problem is interesting and still unsolved. But will drop it readily when the specific curiosity has been satisfied. Can put too much energy into the wrong projects. Does not like others to perform according to low standards.
  5. Emotionally insecure, intellectually self-confident: Knows in the head that he or she is right, but fears in the stomach that he or she will not win the case. This can easily lead to perfectionism, fear of failing, or escalating know-it-all-ness and arrogance to mask the uncertainty. Is vulnerable to a stupid or blunt display of power.

These traits can certainly exist in people who don’t have a high IQ, but for those with an IQ above 130 or so and three or more of these traits? Yeah, you’re probably gifted. And I hear variations of these traits again and again from people who are not happy in law. This may be a coincidence, but maybe it’s not.

So why does it matter? As Kuipers says,

[I]t is essential for gifted people to be aware of their identity, of ‘who they are.’ Additionally, their giftedness influences their identity; positive awareness of this influence is crucial for the development of their potential.

In other words, you can’t find your work, your calling, if you don’t understand who you are—and appreciate that the special intelligence of giftedness is both a blessing and a curse. It shapes you inalterably.

Giftedness can help explain, in a way that therapy can’t, why you have so much intensity around needing autonomy, for example. If you see that need as part of a package that comes with giftedness, you respond differently. You spend your energy learning how to live with that trait more harmoniously, and indeed use it to your advantage, rather than trying to “fix” it so you’re closer to the bell curve of behaviors.

If you’re gifted, trying to be anywhere close to the middle of the bell is seriously stupid—it’s like having surgery to shorten your foot that’s in the 98th percentile for size.

Giftedness is more curse than blessing if you don’t understand how it makes you different from others; you can’t understand why you don’t fit in. In other words, you feel isolated, and that wreaks havoc with your self-esteem, and therefore diminishes your resilience. Without resilience, you won’t be as effective in any job, and you won’t be as creative in finding the right situation for you and your unique talents.

If you’re starting to see yourself as possibly gifted—great! You’re going to have a lot of reflecting ahead of you. That’s a good thing. It’s where growth begins.

Next time, I’ll talk about some other ways that giftedness shows up, and more of the implications of being a gifted person who is working unhappily at a legal job.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches frustrated attorneys on finding and using their special gifts. She offers free, no-obligation sample coaching sessions–and promises they won’t be followed up with a high-pressure sales pitch. High-pressure sales is definitely not one of Jennifer’s gifts. Contact her at jalvey AT to set up your sample session.

3 thoughts on “Attorneys & Giftedness, #2: 5 Traits To Look For

  1. What an invaluable article. I have been trying for some time to figure out how to claim the gifts I have without seeming self-aggrandizing or obnoxious. I guess that, as usual, being matter of fact is the best way.

    I always thought items 2-4 were gifts. So did most of the people I worked for, who had the sense to leave me alone until the magnum opus appeared. But one self-righteous martinet with a passion for the insignificant made my life miserable for more than a year.

    Point 5 explains so much that I thought must be attributable to some kind of psychological distress. As I went through life solving problems left and right, nothing seemed to affect this one. Now it makes sense. Even better, I get to discard a whole syndrome without doing any work.

    Thanks, Jennifer!

    • Kate, thank YOU for the fantastic phrase “one self-righteous martinet with a passion for the insignificant”. I may have to borrow that sometime! With attribution, of course.

  2. Pingback: Giftedness and Attorneys, #3: Your Gifts Can Lead You « Leaving the Law

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