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.
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