Giftedness creates a different organization of the Self. Impossible dreams are realized, unrealistic goals achieved, insurmountable obstacles surmounted by Selves whose vision is a more powerful reality than the limitations that most of the world accepts as real. Peak experiences and devastating lows often come with the territory. Rushes of energy at unpredictable times drive gifted adults until they find that note, as Dustin Hoffman so aptly described it during the 1996 Golden Globe awards. Annemarie Roeper (1991) eloquently explains this drive:
Gifted adults are often driven by
their giftedness. Gifted individuals do
not know what creates the drive, the
energy, the absolute necessity to act.
They may have no choice but to
explore, compose, write, paint, develop
theories... or do whatever else it is that
has become uppermost in their minds.
They need to know; they need to learn;
they must climb the mountain because
it is there. This "drivenness," this
may keep them from sleeping or eating,
from engaging in sex or any other normal behavior,
for the duration of their specific involvement.
(Roeper, 1991, p. 90)
Is this a drive to achieve? Not necessarily. "They need to know; they need to learn; they must climb the mountain because it is there." The gifted Self is driven by both curiosity and the need for expression--in words, art, music, dance, visual models, mathematical formulas, whatever. Sometimes this drivenness results in accomplishments that everyone admires, but more often it concentrates on activities that have significance only for the individual: an exquisite flower arrangement, a brilliantly executed chess move, a fabulous idea, a to-die-for chocolate sauce... The elation that comes from finding "that note," that word, that move, that brush stroke, that solution, is indescribable. It is pure magic. At that moment, no external rewards matter. There is only the delicious appreciation of now. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) calls it "flow."
Cognitive complexity, emotional sensitivity, heightened imagination, and magnified sensations combine to create "a different quality of experiencing: vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding--a way of being quiveringly alive" (Piechowski, 1992, p. 181). An unusual mind coupled with unusual emotions leads to unusual life experiences throughout the life cycle. A gifted mind is a relentless idea generator that creates more things to do than there are hours in the day. Controlling an unmercifully creative mind is like trying to lasso a bull in an open field: it basically goes wherever it wants! It rarely stops to listen to what it already knows. However, when engaged, it has the capacity to observe or reflect with profound concentration. And the emotions of the gifted person are just as unruly. Anything worth feeling is worth feeling intensely. The lens through which the gifted Self sees the world is at once complex and vividly intense. Nothing is simple, bland, or colorless. Everything is electrically charged with rich, multicolored layers of meaning.
Definitions of Giftedness and their Impact on the Self
How giftedness is seen by the world and by one's Self has a dramatic impact on the Self. It is currently fashionable to define high ability in terms of "potential" to become "critically acclaimed performers or exemplary producers of ideas" in adult life (Tannenbaum, 1983, p. 86). In National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent (Office of Educational Research and Improvement [OERI], 1993), America was officially notified that the term "gifted" is out and "talented" is in: "The term `gifted' connotes a mature power rather than a developing ability and, therefore, is antithetic to recent research findings about children" (p. …