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 +

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On coping with rejection.

The biggest difference between those who succeed in life, and those who fail, is in how they cope with rejection. Some are spurred on by it – others are destroyed by it.

Today, I stumbled on an Internet reference to an Indian Singaporean boy who had shown significant precocity as a child. At the age of 12 or so, he was doing A level exams. He seemed set for a great future. Then he applied for Cambridge, with three A levels in hand...and got rejected. Now, this boy, who had been consumed every day of his young life by Maths and Physics, was totally disheartened by this. He gave up his studies of Maths and Physics. No details were given as to his mental state, but I imagine, from the way he behaved, that he was depressed. He no longer pursued his interests. They no longer seemed to interest him. His relative described him, at the age of 15, as having “lost both his interest and his ability” in both Maths and Physics. He no longer showed precocity. He had become “ordinary”.

It was saddening to read of this case, because I can only say, from my own experience of Cambridge University, that this boy’s rejection from it, may actually have been a good thing. As a young boy, in Cambridge, he would have faced a daunting level of stress and pressure. This may have been damaging and is likely to have been much more than he was prepared to cope with. Looking at his very stark reaction to a simple rejection, I cannot imagine it being even remotely possible that he could cope with life in such a pressured, demanding University. He has given up his life dream simply because one University said: “No.” That is profoundly silly, in its own way. Cambridge reject many good candidates every year...even some great ones slip through, no doubt. They do so, because they are oversubscribed – they are overflowing with good candidates to choose from. Another issue which this young boy seems to have overlooked, is his own age. I am sure that Cambridge is not keen to take on a young boy. They probably rejected him not for his grades (which admittedly were good, but not as good as most candidates), but because of his AGE. They probably didn’t want to cope with the challenges of taking on a thirteen year old, as he would probably have been by the time of admission.

This boy, of such great promise, has given up everything because he could not get into the University of his choice. In so doing, he is showing that he is unable to cope with rejection. Thus, though it is a shame that his talent may now never flower, I can’t help but feel that anybody who gives up, on one rejection, is not going to be able to cope with the difficulties of life. If it hadn’t been Cambridge rejecting him, that stopped him, it would have been something else. For all his evident intelligence and diligence, this boy lacks resilience – the ability to cope with adversity. Thus, whatever the size of his talent the likely dimensions of his success, are going to be limited by this failing. He will never be able to overcome challenges, until he learns to cope with rejection and be resilient in the face of life.

I hope he learns the skill of resilience and the toughness to cope with rejection. If he does not, there is no way this boy is going to achieve the heights his basic intellect and diligence promised. His descent into what seems like depression holds a lesson for all parents of gifted children: do not let your child be put off by a rejection – or indeed, many rejections . People are often rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent. Such decisions should not be allowed to crush a child, but should just be used as a lesson in how life does not always go smoothly or according to our ideal wishes. All children need to learn to overcome such challenges. Children who don’t, are unlikely to ever succeed, no matter how intelligent they are.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:48 PM 


Blogger deanna darwina said...

Hi, I am 18 this year but I am still in secondary school. I did my n'levels at 16 and did my O'levels at 17. However, this year when my results were out, I failed terribly. I am now retaking my O's one more time to do it right this time round, but I tend to always procrastinate and do my homeworks at the last minute and I rarely get to study at home because I am easily distracted. I am very weak in my Mathematics n Sciences unlike your son, Ainan. I just came across your blog today after reading about Ainan. I like knowing more about your intellectual children. Your blog is very interesting and motivating too. My point here is, how can I change to be like your children? I am not as motivated and driven like Ainan. I do not want to give up and go to ITE because I know it is very important to get an O'level cert. Do you have any advices for me? I need help :(

6:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Firstly, Deanna, be patient with yourself. Keep calm and focussed on your studies. Understand that you can do this if you attend to it, properly and if you allow yourself to grow into it. Different people manage tasks in different ways.

Ask yourself: what is distracting you at home? Remove those distractions. switch off the TV, or the Internet, or turn off the music or go somewhere quiet...whatever it is, get a way from those distractions. Make study your priority. Understand that if you don't make it your priority you will be stuck at this stage in your life and won't be able to move on.

Procrastination is a killer too. You must force yourself to begin the tasks you know are necessary NOW and stop putting them off. I know this can be hard, but you have to master yourself first, if you are going to master your subjects.

Apply yourself, with an effort of will, and you can do this. It will be hard at first to do this, but the more you try to do it, the easier it will become.

Good luck.

7:56 PM  

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