The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, January 29, 2010

On living up to expectations.

Many a time, I have read that so and so a gifted person, hasn’t met with expectations. There is the assumption that having been gifted as a child, they should then continue to “perform” as an adult. Now, of course, many gifted children DO continue to “perform” as adults. They become noted scientists, artists, CEOs, doctors and lawyers – and, indeed, any number of things. However, some lead less obvious lives. It is these that I wish to address.

The primary problem with this observation – that some gifted people don’t seem to “shine” as adults, is that it is a flawed one. It is based on the premise that a gifted person should do what others expect them to. This, however, overlooks one important factor: what does the gifted person WANT to do?

Some want quiet lives, built around a family, with no need to “shake the corridors of power” or strut their stuff in the wider world. Their world is family. Their “success” is in being a good parent. That is what they seek and that is what they find. Now, who is to say that this kind of life is any less meaningful than the obvious lives that everyone expects of the gifted? Indeed, in some ways, a life of family can be more meaningful than any career one cares to speak of. They are to be commended, perhaps even admired, for the love that they have in their lives.

Then again, there is another type of gifted person, who does not “shine” as one might expect. This is the gifted person who chooses not to live a life of sacrifice in pursuit of some great goal, but, instead, chooses to live an indulgent life of pleasure and personal fulfillment. These are people who do what is fun, what is enjoyable and not what society might wish them to. They live for their personal pleasure and not for the enlightenment of the wider world. For them, their greatest pleasures are not in creative pursuit, but more directly sensual ones – their lives are those of “wine, women and song”, quite often, though there may be other ways of living an enjoyable life, too, that they pursue. The point here, is not what particular life they lead, but that it is directed towards what is pleasurable and not what society may regard as most useful, or important.

Now, again, I must note that it is not for society to dictate the values of its gifted people: some will choose family, others will choose pleasure. Relatively few will choose to live a creative life, even among the gifted. You may ask why this is so. Well, the answer is quite obvious, if one pauses to consider what a creative life is like. Firstly, most creative endeavours and individual efforts are not well rewarded, as one of my brothers once opined of my first book: “You would make more money working in McDonald’s”. Perhaps he was right – after all, I have yet to publish it and it took five and a half years of work. Secondly, a creative life involves the sacrifice of all the other types of life that one could choose to lead. It involves giving up so many other choices – choices which, materially speaking, may lead to much easier, more immediately enjoyable lives. To put it bluntly, in the modern world, many creative people are poor – even if they eventually acquire a reputation and respect, the material rewards can be very slow in coming and, when they do come, they most probably do not match the rewards that could have been obtained more easily and predictably doing something else. Thirdly, a creative life usually involves quite a lot of solitude – and that isn’t for everybody. It is far easier to choose a life of partying and socializing…but much harder to choose the life of someone sitting quietly in a room, on their own, with their thoughts. Such a life is only for the select few – indeed, only those who really enjoy solitude would naturally make such a choice. For those who like to be with others, but also like to create, it is hard, indeed, to give up their social whirl, for the solitude of a garret.

Thus, we should not be surprised that some gifted children, do not choose to perform in the way society expects, as adults. There are far easier paths than that of fulfilling society’s expectations, in this respect. There are also, far more immediately rewarding lives to choose, than the ones conventionally expected of the gifted.

In a way, it is strange that society expects all of its gifted people to contribute creatively to the world – for, ask yourself this: how many ordinary people would voluntarily choose a life of solitude and financial restraint, over a life of socializing and personal wealth? Not many, I would think.

Perhaps more gifted people would choose to be adult creators, if it were a more attractive proposition: less solitude, more rewards. The only problem with this, of course, is that the solitude part is non-negotiable if one is to really have the time to create. As for the rest…society should certainly think about supporting its creative people better. The world would have far more poets and artists, if they could afford to make a living at their art. As it is, many potentially creative people, make a pragmatic decision to do something more lucrative – and have a “good life” instead. Is that choice so difficult to understand?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at:
Ainan's IMDB listing is at
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:09 PM 


Blogger Christine said...

I always thought William Sidis was a wasted life. He had such extreme genius, and he never did anything special with it. He didn't even do anything special on a mediocre level. Yet, he did have his choices and he made them.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thumbs Up for you!

These are what in my mind! Great! Great Minds think alike! (not conformity though)

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It all down to how one values his/her life.

What is the meaning of life?

Even the greatest philosophers have different answers

7:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There is more to Sidis than most people are aware. He wrote, for instance, about a dozen books in his lifetime. They were not well distributed and have never been. Some appear to have been lost.

So, I don't think he was the great failure that most people make him out to be. I think he just wasn't either very good or very interested at marketing his a result people think he didn't do any. That is not true.

Perhaps he had plans for things later in life - but he died young of a stroke, like his father before him. The great promise never had time to fully express itself.

Also, I think the media were very unkind to him. The Los Angeles Times actually ran a big story once: "Child prodigy fails to maintain stride"...about the fact that his rate of achievement had slackened! My God, how dare they do that to anyone? How dare they pressure anyone in that way? Let the poor man be, at his own pace, in his own time.

He had a sad life, it seems, from the outside - but who knows, perhaps he liked it.

Thanks for bringing him up.

By the way, his writings appear to anticipate the discovery of black holes. He mentioned a strikingly similar idea, long before they were "discovered".

8:07 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for the "thumbs up!"

8:08 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Philosophy.

I agree. The choice of life and how it is to be lived, is all down to personal philosophy...and not many have the one of personal sacrifice necessary to be a true creator. It is, for most people, a little too much to ask.

Then again, some people, myself included, like to create things, even at great personal cost. But, like I said, those people aren't that many.

8:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape