A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gifted is About the Starting Point

"Mindset is about trajectory, not starting point. Gifted is about the starting point."

I said this the other day on #gtchat when someone referenced Carol Dweck's theory of Mindset. Because I totally believe this is true. Gifted is about wiring, plain and simple. It's where you start out. Your mindset is what you do with it. Dweck's research supports that if you believe that you can change your intelligence level, you will do so. But believing that your intelligence is static will only cause you to lose ground. It's the hard-work theory, and it has a lot of merit. Because if you don't work hard, it really doesn't matter how smart you are. There is someone who may have a lesser IQ but is willing to work - and they will get the job every time. They will win the award. They will earn the research grant. Because excellence takes work.

I don't disagree with that at all.

But now we have Seth Godin, guru of life principles, saying that we're all gifted - all it takes is a little work. And that, my friends, is just not true.

He says,

"Actually, it goes the other way
Wouldn't it be great to be gifted? In fact...
It turns out that choices lead to habits.
Habits become talents.
Talents are labeled gifts.
You're not born this way, you get this way."

No Seth, gifted is born. It's not about being the smartest person in the class, it's about experiencing the world qualitatively differently than most people. Many of our most gifted individuals probably don't even look like they are gifted - they don't look like the high achievers of which you speak.

If you walked into a classroom with the teenlet in it, most likely you would not pick him out as the "gifted" one. You certainly wouldn't look at his work product and say he's gifted - most likely he wouldn't have any work product for you to see. He's not what most people think of when they think of the super-scholar IQ nerd. Yeah, his IQ is high, but "gifted" is his ability to manipulate mass amounts of information to create new ways of seeing things. "Gifted" is the ripples of intensity that turn to waves of emotion at the smallest unsettlement of his world. "Gifted" is the way he paces when he thinks, around and around and around until he stops, and you can see in his eyes that he's solved whatever problem he was working on. "Gifted" is being so aware of the problems in the world that they seem to big to fix, causing an existential crisis of middle age proportions when you're 5. "Gifted" is hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching things that others just pass by. "Gifted" is being able to carry on a college-level conversation on underwater photosynthesis when you're 7 years old, but have emotional meltdowns like a 3 year old. "Gifted" is having adult thoughts, but not having the emotional maturity to deal with them.

Yes, maybe many readers of Godin's blog will rethink their lives and see how they can change their trajectory. I hope it works that way for those who need it.

But don't assume that because your trajectory has changed, that means your starting point was the same. Giftedness is about neurological wiring. It's not about elitism. It's not about being super talented at stuff (although many gifted people are quite talented because of their in-born sensitivities). It's not about grades or eminence or becoming a Nobel Prize winner - these are trajectory.

Mindset is about trajectory, not starting point. Giftedness is about the starting point.

Other responses to Godin's post:
Building Wing Span
Watch Out for Gifted People
Red, White & Grew
Gifted and Talented Ireland
Kate Arms-Roberts
Gifted Resources/Sprite's Site
Laughing at Chaos
Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher
Psychology Today/Creative Synthesis


  1. "It's not about being the smartest person in the class, it's about experiencing the world qualitatively differently than most people. "

    LOVE this. Perfect description.

    "Giftedness is about neurological wiring. It's not about elitism."

    I am having a hard time explaining my almost 5 year old, even to family members, and why we are seeking out different education options for her. I was even told that I "made her this way" by working on things they do in kindergarten and first grade already, and what was I thinking taking her to exhibits (like mummies) and exposing her to things that she just shouldn't know about. In fact, I just wrote about this on my blog (proverbs2pursuit.blogpot.com). I think you summed it up perfectly. Mindset IS trajectory, and those who work hard WILL go far, but giftedness is finding a seeing the world differently, and it is something that cannot be changed by working hard (or not working hard). Giftedness just is.

    1. We were accused of pushing our son in kindy, too. Right. We ignored the teacher. Our job was to support our son, who was dashing ahead and pulling us along for the ride.

  2. Love this:

    "Giftedness is about neurological wiring. It's not about elitism."

    Now how do we convince more people of this fact?

    1. I'm thinking T-shirts. Not entirely kidding, either. :/

    2. I want one of those T-shirts!!! ;)

      PS: I don't mean to be anonymous but I don't have any of the required options.

  3. The only success I ever had with this was getting the muggle to babysit my child for 8 hours. I figured a short visit wouldn't do so I left him with her for the whole day. When I came home she was exhausted. "How do you do it?" she asked. He wouldn't take "because" for an answer - he wanted detailed explanations, and he called her on stuff she made up to shut him up. The constant chat, the 30-year-old head in the five-year-old body, the 2yo meltdown because she didn't get it when he explained black holes to her, wore her out, confused her, changed her understanding of what he was irrevocably.

    But she never offered to baby sit again either - darn it!

  4. Love that comment, psam! I would quite like to let some of the muggles in my life experience my little witch for 8 hours straight without the diversion of other kids!

  5. Beautifully, eloquently, artfully written. Thanks so much. You've summed it up perfectly.

  6. "Mindset is about trajectory, not starting point. Gifted is about the starting point."
    When you said that the other day on the chat, I immediately sat up and took notice. You nailed what I had been chewing on. I had a different analogy, but this one is so visual and perfect for distinguishing the difference between Mindset and gifted wiring.

    1. It came to me because I'd been thinking about trajectory in another context (from a sermon I'd heard, actually), and suddenly all my thoughts about the relationship between mindset and giftedness gelled around that concept. I really like that visual, too, because it takes into account the importance of mindset for success, and how dramatically different each person's trajectory can be, from starting point (their own 0,0) throughout life. Plot them all and you'll see VAST differences. But each person's trajectory is their own. This visual works for me.

    2. This is absolutely perfect.
      For years I have tried to put this into words. When my son was 2 years old he discovered reading. At 3, he could multiply and divide. My friends all thought I had discovered the "magic bullet" and wanted my secret. Truth is, I didn't do anything.
      When he was tested, the psychologist simply said "hold on tight, it's going to be one hell of a ride". Truer words were never spoken. Five years later, his words still ring in my head and to that I'll now add yours.
      Gifted is the starting point, mindset is the trajectory and the trajectory? It's a hell of a ride!

  7. I have two boys id'd as gifted and your explanation is on the mark. The gifted starting point is jaw dropping. The trajectory is awe inspiring. Thanks for putting it into just the right words.