Last time, I talked about the Xi–extra intelligece–traits of giftedness. Those are not the only traits that can point to giftedness, of course.

stack of gifts
What's in your pile of gifts?

Sometimes the tip-off to giftedness is through the gifted person’s response to the world. This very often gets overlooked or labeled incorrectly. There is an intensity about some gifted people—sometimes called overexcitability—that sets them apart.

At its heart, giftedness is not about achievement. It’s about being in a different reality. As Dr. Stephanie Tolan puts it in her 2003 article Discovering the Gifted Ex-child:

The experience of the gifted adult is the experience of an unusual consciousness, an extraordinary mind whose perceptions and judgments may be different enough to require an extraordinary courage. . . . That their own perceptions and judgments are unusual may have been obvious since childhood, but they may have spent their lives assuming that this difference was a deficit, a fault, even a defect of character or a sign of mental illness.

That is why it’s so important to explore giftedness, if you think there’s even an outside chance you are, in fact, gifted. How different will your life be if what you assumed was a weakness is actually a towering strength?

Often, adults don’t want to own up to being gifted. Sometimes it’s because they think being gifted is pretentious or elitist, which doesn’t play well in a culture that believes in equal opportunity. Or—attorneys pay attention—adults think that they can’t be gifted because they haven’t received a Nobel prize, played Carnegie Hall, or achieved the equivalent of those pinnacles in their profession. Or, adult gifteds rationalize that there’s nothing about being gifted now that matters—they’re adults, after all, and finished with schooling and such.

Of course that’s silly, because you don’t stop being gifted at age 18 or 21. The traits of giftedness follow you through your life, and they can confuse you in your life and work if you don’t know what they are.

So here are some of them. This is a partial list, drawn from 23 Characteristics and Emotions of Gifted Adults, a study originally conducted by Annamarie Roeper in 1995, with comments by Dr. James Delisle in his book Parenting Gifted Kids (pp. 115-17).

  • Gifted adults differ intellectually from others. More conceptual than piecemeal in their thinking, gifted adults grasp difficult concepts and phenomena that others struggle to decipher. Too, resentment can set in when you try to get others to see it your way (perhaps at work?), and you are told your ideas are too abstract, too expensive, too radical, too . . . everything.
  • Gifted adults retain childlike emotions. A delight in new discoveries or insights can make you giddy, and pains that others would brush off, you internalize to a deep degree. Dismissed as either naïve or immature, you are simply expressing the honest emotions that are part of your being.
  • Gifted adults search for meaning in both the inner world and the outer world. Making money and having a nice house is good—but not good enough. The gifted adult strives to construct a life full of purpose and is sometimes frustrated when others do not share the same philanthropic vision of the possible. Through bettering the lives of others, this person becomes more whole.
  • Gifted adults often have feelings of being misunderstood, of being outsiders, and of being unable to communicate. Annemarie considers this situation to be the most difficult problem facing gifted individuals. In response, many gifted adults create in isolation—penning poetry they do not share or exploring esoteric hobbies that others just wouldn’t understand. The result can be either enriching, lonely, or both.
  • Gifted adults may find it more difficult than others to take risks because they realize more what is at stake. The risk might be physical, intellectual, or emotional and, before taking the plunge, gifted adults consider—sometimes overly so—the consequences of their behavior. As Annemarie writes, “it will take the gifted longer to decide to dive into the pool, but they will be less likely to hit their heads on the bottom.”
  • Gifted adults can develop emotional problems related to their abilities, but they also have greater resources for dealing with their problems. While gifted adults are often hardest on themselves when it comes to meeting self-set expectations, questioning whether they really are as smart as everyone says they are, they also have a greater capacity than others to look at their situations rationally.

Without doubt, there are gifted attorneys whose gifts fit into law perfectly. But if you’re reading this blog, my hunch is that you are not one of those people.

So how did you get to the place you’re in? What happens with many gifted people—and others, but especially gifties—is that their verbal and reasoning skills, which are at the high end of the scale, can easily get them into and through law school, even if those aren’t their core gifts. And they end up in law school because their true gifts haven’t been nurtured, or have been actually squashed, and therefore tbey don’t have any strong, genuine interests to pull them in the right direction for them.

Gifted adults can make it through law school and do pretty well, because, again, they’re often at the top of the heap verbally and analytically. But then they hit the reality of law practice, and their soul really starts to protest. None of their true gifts are being used. In fact, those gifts are often denigrated in the brutal world of law practice. Those strong, childlike emotions? Mercilessly mocked. Conceiving a really novel theory of law that could win the case? Nearly always gets killed by the senior associate or junior partner, who insist that the court will never buy it. They might even be right.

But the point is, most areas where a gifted adult can shine brilliantly, law usually has little use for. And staying in such an atmosphere will maim your soul and your gifts, if you stay long enough.

As Tolan says,
[F]or the adult whose life circumstances do not readily provide an arena for the positive use of these abilities, the result may be a feeling of frustration, lack of fulfillment, a nagging sense of being tied down, imprisoned, thwarted (Roeper, 1991; Smith, 1992).

The middle management employee who has the ability to see and devise solutions to various company problems may be seriously frustrated in his job because a boss who lacks that ability does not allow the expression, much less the implementationof those solutions.

So what do you do if you see yourself staring back from you in this post? For starters, figure out where your giftedness lies. If you are near a university, find out if the psychology department does much work with gifted kids—they can at least point you to places where you can get an IQ test and other assessments of where your strengths are.

If you’re not near a university, you can try the local school system’s gifted/talented program director. They know where to send parents to get their children evaluated, and whoever does those evaluations can either do one for you, or can point you where you can get one. Or, you could just call psychologists in your area until you find one who has some knowledge of IQ and gifted issues generally.

Getting evaluated isn’t strictly necessary, of course. You could simply start exploring your talents and interests from early to mid-childhood in a more conscious, active fashion. Read exhaustively about giftedness so you know what you’re looking for.

The important thing is to develop your list of strengths and start working on them. They have likely been neglected for too long, and need some feeding and general care. Give it to them. Once your gifts regain their strength, they will pull you like a tractor beam to your destiny, if you let them.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering attorney who loves coaching attorneys to follow their true gifts and talents. She offers free, no-obligation coaching sessions if you want to start figuring out your unique gifts. Contact Jennifer at jalvey AT jenniferalvey.com to set up an appointment.