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The Unicorn's Guide to Survival: Contemplations of a Newly Identified Gifted Adult

Written By: Jorge Albaladejo Pomares

Hello, my name is Jorge and three months ago I discovered that I am gifted.

It sounds like I’m introducing myself at a self-help group, I know. Humor has always been an escape route for me, even though it has sometimes gotten me into more trouble than I wished for!

The reality is that I have been in shock since I received my “diagnosis.” I use quotation marks because giftedness is not a "disorder" or a "disease." It is not something that is “cured” or “treated” to improve the life of the “patient”. Instead, it is quite the opposite! It is a special way of seeing, perceiving, feeling and thinking about the world around us. It means a different mental functioning, more complex, deep, attentive to details, rich, interconnected, and often divergent.

Wherever we go, we gifted people stand out, and not always because of high performance (often the opposite is true), but because we take positions that no one else understands, we see patterns that no one else sees, and sometimes we get answers out of thin air, which we can't explain where they come from. We question the authorities and the status quo, we defend unpopular ideas that nevertheless seem fair to us, and we launch into heated discussions about irrelevant issues to the majority. For example, what is the best method for estimating the probability that we will be contacted by an alien civilization, or how bizarre the widely accepted idea that a meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs is…they took millions of years to disappear… what a slow meteorite, right?

When I talk about giftedness, I'm talking about us, in the plural. I do not want to fall into vague generalizations, since each person is different, and although some traits are common, in each child and adult, they manifest themselves in different ways, depending on many variables: the social and family environment, personal experience, and the individual character of the gifted person. There is no single way, but there are some trends.

Some relatively common and frequent characteristics:

  • Arborescent thought. One idea triggers another, and another, and another, until our minds are a pool table, where ideas simply interconnect faster than we can express.

  • Easy to understand complex abstract ideas.

  • Very keen senses for details.

  • Perfectionism.

  • High emotional sensitivity.

  • Learning capacity in record times.

I think many stories have been told about the cliché of the gifted high achiever: school, work and personal. Without a doubt, when high capacities are well nurtured and channeled, we can achieve great things.

We can also be victims of expectations, feel paralyzing anxiety before exams, and fear to launch any project in case we don't measure up. We can also struggle to live up to what we think is expected of us, because we always heard that we were so smart when we were little. At the height of what we expect of ourselves, since deep down we know that we have the capacity to achieve those objectives that often slip through our fingers. Expectations and perfectionism can become a burden.

Many of us as gifted children do not know why we are different, “weird”, and we find it so difficult to adapt to an academic, social and work environment that is simply not designed for us. We get bored in class. We are bullied for being different at school. Our self-esteem is devalued when our environment insists that we are wrong, because teachers, classmates and sometimes even family do not see or understand our perspective. We suffer bullying at work because we are perceived as a threat by other coworkers – when we actually only want the best for the group and for the company.

True, perhaps we have little patience with mediocrity, and we are afraid of being mediocre ourselves. Expectations and perfectionism can also fuel the fire of high performance, albeit in a dysfunctional way.

And so many people with giftedness do not discover "what’s happening" until well into adulthood. In my case, coincidentally, just before I turned forty. And when we find out, when I found out, it's a cathartic feeling. All my history now takes on a meaning that previously went unnoticed. Every detail, joy, suffering, achievement, failure, discussion, friendship and conversation... now the pieces fit together, and the puzzle takes shape.

There is a certain mourning, it is true. For missed opportunities. about what might have been had I known earlier. For the opportunity to have lived in a system that accepted us instead of systematically making us feel out of place. I do not speak for everyone, but I do speak for many.

After forty years of feeling isolated and rejected, I developed a kind of mask to help me integrate with others. Psychologists call it "persona". This persona was looking for acceptance, first from my parents, then from my schoolmates, later in high school and finally at university and at work (at this point, I had stopped being me to merge with the “persona”, the mask). It didn't work, of course, and I continued to feel isolated and rejected, but I didn't know what else I could do. I gave up on myself, lived in alienation, overcame two depressions, and have suffered from chronic anxiety since I was young. I longed to be part of the group, even if it hurt me to try. A silent damage, but deep and intense.

I don't want to sound (too) negative: this is my story, it doesn't have to be yours nor every gifted adult’s. After a lifetime of frustration and mental suffering, I needed to shout it to the wind: This is me, I'm not broken or sick, I'm just different and I need my space. I don't have a plan for the future or solutions to my problems and difficulties, but I do have hope and a new perspective on myself. It's a new start. And this time I know who I am, and I know my needs, abilities and limitations, as well as my strengths and my weaknesses.

As all this new world unraveled and my mind spun, frantically trying to reframe an entire life of experiences, I decided that the moment itself was too valuable to let it fade away in time, and that I would write a book to record, as a snapshot, my thoughts, my mind and emotional state, as I discovered that I’m not weird, I’m just gifted. It is an essay for adults, gifted or not, with which I hope to give visibility to so many other undetected gifted adults, to whom I would like to send a message: you are not weird, you are just wired differently, and you are not alone. After a life marked by maladjustment and alienation, I have no advice, only acceptance: you are perfect the way you are. And you are not alone.

My book is called “The Unicorn’s Guide to Survival.” Yes, we are unicorns, in a way. Rare, scarce, fragile and vulnerable beings, accustomed to blending into the forest and going unnoticed. With great abilities, but misunderstood and afraid to show ourselves as we truly are.

Obviously, not all the gifted are unicorns. Some are purebred horses, perfectly functional and adapted to their environment. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my case, and I suspect that there are thousands of camouflaged unicorns out there, who don't know why they are different, stuck in long psychological therapies that treat their symptoms but without getting to the deep root of their discomfort: their brain processes information in a particular way. And that is not going to change.

If the gifted people should statistically be 2% of the population, that means that in my country, Spain, there should be at least a million of us. However, the largest associations and communities barely account for a few thousand members. The vast majority of the gifted is underrepresented. Many of them may be unicorns. They may be out there, hidden in their camouflage, trying their hardest to blend in with the environment. Wondering why they don't fit and then trying even harder.

Perhaps they are reading these lines. If that's the case, if you've always felt out of place and that the world is too strange, as well as simple and limited, you may be gifted. Maybe you are a unicorn. And this is my message:

You are not a "weirdo" but exceptional. You are capable of great things if you believe in yourself. And, above all, you are not the only one nor are you alone. We are few, but we are many.


About the Author:

Jorge Albaladejo Pomares is a Telecommunications and Software engineer, self-taught programmer, polyglot, traveler, craft beer brewer, web designer, expert in home finances, systems thinker, polymath wannabe, every-day's philosopher and writer. His book is available for free download on Kindle Unlimited.

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