Who Were You Before You Learned That You Are Supposed To Be Normal?

photo courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash

“I have been trying to run myself on the do-your-best-to-fit-in-with-normal-people operating system. It’s not my original operating system. It’s the one I adopted when I was abused in various ways for being myself. I perfected it in school and at work, forcing myself to do all the boring and pointless things and to make myself take up less space.

What do I remember of the original proto-version? I was dreamy. I wandered in the woods. I read fantasy. I read entries in the encyclopedia. I loved puzzles and make-believe. I wrote stories and poetry. I did math for fun. I felt connected to the wild…”  ~BP

Who were you before you learned that you were too much and not enough? Who were you before you stopped singing, dancing, and asking questions with unself-conscious glee? Who were you before you learned that voracious reading instead of homework was unacceptable? Who were you before you stopped crying?

Might it be time to rejuvenate that person? Bring that person back to life? Time to say the hell with normal?

You betcha.

There is no better time. Normal isn’t looking so good these days.

So where do you begin? It might be a frightening prospect if you had a chainsaw family or if you were told that you were crazy or inadequate. Or if you experienced bullying or abandonment or racism. Or if you were told that your intelligence was hurting others or that you should feel guilty because you’re so smart or if you believed them when they called you a know-it-all and a show-off.

So, let’s start small-ish. Make a list of reminders and steps that you can take today. Here are examples adapted from one rainforest mind’s list.

~ Binge read with abandon.

~ Engage with creativity. Make things. Make music. Dance. Be bad at it.

~ It is not elitist or selfish to make sure that what I do is worthy of my precious time and energy.

~ Allow time for deep dives. It’s OK to be obsessive with my research and learning. It’s how I tick.

~ Spend time in beauty. Let nature hold the complexity; let indoors hold a beautiful simplicity.

~ Minimize boring work. Either ask for help, find better tools, or question whether it needs to be done.

~ Be kinder to myself. Stop putting everyone else first. Set healthy boundaries. Take time to rest. Take some of the pressure off. Stop burning the candle at multiple ends. Feel my gratitude in the present moment.

~ Notice when I feel the compulsion to get online. Am I needing self-soothing? Am I bored? Am I lonely? Is there another choice I could make that would be more expansive, connecting, and real?

~ Find and nourish important friendships. Tend those friendships with people who are truly supportive, are not threatened by me, and who laugh at my jokes.

~ Connect to the wild.

~ Let resentment or rage or terror be a sign that I’m being triggered. It may be an old response, borne of being a helpless rainforest-minded kid in a chainsaw world. Remind myself that I’m no longer powerless. People in authority are not my parents. Soothe and love my child-self. I have great respect for myself for the courage it takes to be in therapy.

~ Follow my weird. I must actualize the beauty and power inside me.

~ Get back to being idealistic, optimistic, funny, and intuitive. It’s time to acknowledge and open more to my strengths. I can find my particular rainforest-y way to make the world a better place.

~ Listen to the original cast albums of Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton over and over. Sing with You Will Be Found.

~ Be dreamy. Take up plenty of space. Return to my glee. Say a fond farewell to normal.


To my bloggEEs: Did you make your own list? Can you share some of your list with us? Thank you, as always, for being here. I’m sending love and appreciation from my heart to yours. And thank you to the reader who provided the inspiration and the content of much of this post.

I think there’s still room in the Gifted Women Symposium in Denver, June 2, 2018. I’d love to see some of you there. And July 20-22, 2018, there’s the SENG conference in San Diego. Not only will I be presenting but Tom Clynes of The Boy Who Played With Fusion is a keynoter. Please come find me if you attend!


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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

73 responses to “Who Were You Before You Learned That You Are Supposed To Be Normal?”

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  1. Stefanie Hitchborn Avatar
    Stefanie Hitchborn

    I hope this blog is still active. This article was very timely for me. My 8 year old son is just going through the process of being ‘designated as gifted’. I love that he is still as you described ‘before you learned you were too much and not enough’. His current day to day is blissful ignorance of anything A-typical. If you could give advice to your parents/teachers when you were 8, what would you say? I’m specifically asking in regards to keeping his passions and love of learning alive but also preparing him for future education and jobs where he’ll need to meet deadlines without my help. How much can/should I simply give freedom to follow whichever interest he has that day or week and how much should I encourage making goals and checking off his assignments? *We’re homeschooling right now so I’m asking as parent and teacher. Thank you for any advice 😀

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      We’re still active here, Stefanie. You might want to pose this question in one of the Facebook parent groups. They would be better able to answer. Because he’s so young, I would err of the side of letting him pursue his passions. If he loves what he’s learning, chances are that he’ll follow through with assignments anyway. You could help him practice responsibility through chores at home. Through appropriate boundaries around behaviors, too. If you go to FB, you could try Parenting Gifted Children or Hoagies Gifted Discussion Group. There are 2e groups, too. These would be places to start.

  2. Reina Avatar

    This was timely. I’m at an odd spot in my life. I’ve been trying to break free from my (dysfunctional and controlling) family and establish myself independently because I have spent WAY too long trying to please them, to the point I almost entirely lost myself.

    But I remember now, Paula. I know who I am and what I like. And I stopped bending myself into a pretzel for them. I had a lot of repressed anger that needed to be expressed, as a result of stuffing my true self down and putting on a mask. Well no more masks. I’m going for more authenticity and less openness with those I don’t “fit in” with. Connection is still possible, just not as strong. And that’s okay. I used to think it wasn’t okay and that I had to try harder, empathize more, perform more emotional labor, etc. just to connect. It’s exhausting and not worth it. I only did it to feel okay with myself, to feel validated and good enough, but the only way I can feel okay with myself is to accept the way that I am, not to try harder to please and connect/befriend indiscriminately.

    Now, I’m in the midst of my ‘transition’ phase. Honestly, I knew I wasn’t like them for a long time. There is no one around me I can really relate to. Whenever I’d try to break free in the past, I’d ALWAYS go back to them in times of need (of emotional support) and walk away feeling worse (they twisted my words, they misunderstood, or they projected their own insecurities and limitations). But that’s no longer the case. I’ve stuck to my decision this time. I stopped opening up to them and started to create my own life and make decisions based on my own values and interests. It feels odd because I’m alone on that journey. I don’t want to live the kind of life those around me live. And it’s a difficult thing to do when you have to cut through the woods while everyone else is walking down the well trodden path together, enjoying the view. But I don’t want to lie to myself any longer. I find that path boring and colorless.

    Changes are occurring at a fast pace. The toxic/most dysfunctional family members don’t even care to be around me anymore aside from minimum interaction… funny how that works.

    But I am scared. Now that I know who I was before I learned that I was supposed to be “normal”, I fear what lies ahead. Although it’s all changing by the minute and I’ve entered a weird new “dimension” almost, it’s like I don’t trust in myself. It feels surreal to finally take the reins. Sometimes I get impatient and want things to happen even quicker, other times I want to press the pause button so I can catch a breath.

    I’m glad to have this space where I can express myself freely.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      This sounds like a lot of change, Reina. It’s OK to breathe and pause. In fact, it could be a good idea to pace yourself. Maybe even find one or two support people. Friends? Therapist? Mentor? Reiki practitioner? Naturopath? Thank you for sharing.

  3. Becca Perry Avatar
    Becca Perry

    Paula, can you say more about the Gifted Women’s Symposium. Is it just going to be lectures, or will there be other activities also? I’m considering making the 4-hour drive. I’m looking for connection and support, more than information. Thanks. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s definitely connection and support-based. I “present” in the morning but it’ll largely be discussion, sharing in pairs, and some journal writing (plus music and humor). Linda is in charge of the afternoon and has planned some work with our inner critics and more pairs activities. We’re hoping that participants will find new friends! Size of the group is limited to 50. I’d love to see you there. See what your intuition says.

      1. Becca Perry Avatar
        Becca Perry

        Excellent – I think I’m going to do it. 🙂

    2. Marianna Avatar

      What ?

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        I’m presenting at a one day conference in Denver CO, June 2. The details are in the link in the post.

  4. Becca Perry Avatar
    Becca Perry

    What a wonderful discussion! Thank you.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for the inspiration, Becca! 🙂

  5. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    I am working on writing a piece of dialog between a writer and their editor. The editor is trying to get the writer to loosen up and stop worrying so much about hurting or offending people, saying:

    “You are not a scientist, analyst, journalist or educator.
    It is not your job to produce concrete, unambiguous data.
    It is not your job to guide, coddle, or reaffirm previously held beliefs.
    It is not your job to make people feel better.
    Your only job is to make people feel something… ANYTHING.”

    At first I thought this was good advice but upon further thought I got stuck there because it brought up some competing ideas. Not just regarding whether the artist has a responsibility to their audience – both their intended audience and the unintended audience – but in the bigger picture of how all of us humans interact with each other, and to what degree if any we are responsible for each others’ feelings.

    The crucial question is: do we actually “make” each other feel anything? Or do we merely create stimuli with which everyone else is entirely responsible for how they react to it?

    I think this gets to one of the roots of how some of us learned we are “supposed to be normal”, because clearly some of us are a lot more capable of inducing emotional reactions in other people, and that knowledge (perhaps combined with sensitivity and empathy), has made many of us gun-shy about being ourselves and “bringing out the big guns”.

    Please discuss.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      People often say things like: ‘You make me so angry.’ Or ‘That makes me so sad.’ But really, that’s not accurate. I agree, Mark. No one really has that power, even though it can feel that way. On another occasion, the same situation might not ‘make’ you feel that way. So, it’s really more like, ‘when —- happens, I feel angry/sad/frustrated…” You don’t make someone have an emotional reaction, even though you may do something that they react to. It’s tricky but a helpful concept to understand.

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        In case it isn’t 100% obvious, both the writer and editor are really just me having an internal dialog, even though it wasn’t originally intended that way. The dialog comes from a story that is part of a project I am working on, and how it gives me so much dread.

        Thanks Paula, those are wise words. I’ll try to pass them on to that scared little kid hiding behind the curtain who keeps saying “NO!! Stay here, don’t do anything to expose us to hurt!” 🙂

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          One thought, Mark. Validate the little boy’s feelings, You understand why he’s scared. Life was scary for him. Find ways to help him feel safer. Then, the adult you might find it easier to be vulnerable. (this is all easier said than done…)

          1. Mark V Avatar
            Mark V

            Indeed I know from experience it is easier said than done.

            When I first entered therapy, the only other men I encountered were recovering alcoholics, drug addicts and survivors of suicide attempts. Back then I was the only one who had voluntarily entered therapy BEFORE I’d hit rock bottom (rock bottom for me would come soon enough thanks to some damaging misdiagnoses).

            Over the course of my life I’ve done many things most people would think impossible or would be paralyzed with fear to even attempt. And yet despite spending my entire adult life being dedicated to being more honest, open and vulnerable, I have yet to convince myself that people do not pose a threat. For years I was convinced this was because I am a terrible, cowardly patient who steadfastly resists learning new skills and ways of thinking.

            But if I must be fair to myself and truly validate my feelings, then I must question whether that really is the case?

            Not to disregard your advice nor to plead a case for failure or for giving up, (I do not readily admit defeat), but maybe it is inevitable that some of us end up becoming recluses. Maybe it’s not because we don’t get it, but because we really DO get it. Perhaps we are open, honest and vulnerable to such an extreme that in order to validate and respect our own feelings, even in the face of all wisdom and guidance pleading with us to continue striving towards a more well-adjusted existence, the best choice remains withdrawal.

            I do not pretend to know this to be a fact, but after decades of failure, (if we can call it that), I must at least be open to considering it.

            Thanks as always Paula.

            1. Mark V Avatar
              Mark V

              Btw speaking of normal vs not-normal, have you heard about this study Paula?

              Prehistoric autism helped produce much of the world’s earliest great art, study says:
              “Detail focus is what determines whether you can draw realistically; you need it in order to be a talented realistic artist. This trait is found very commonly in people with autism and rarely occurs in people without it,”

              Sooo…I might be somewhere on the spectrum? If so, does that change anything?

              1. Paula Prober Avatar
                Paula Prober

                No, I haven’t seen the study, Mark. If you are on the autism spectrum, say Aspergers, it does make a difference. It could explain some of your challenges with people. You might want to read about it and see if you think you fit. There are overlapping traits with giftedness but also some very specific different characteristics.

                1. Mark V Avatar
                  Mark V

                  To be honest my psychiatrist once suggested the possibility I may be on the spectrum, (the same doctor who diagnosed me with bipolar and ADHD, then after a couple years rescinded the diagnoses), so I did some research and while a few things kind of fit, most do not. Which of course has been the same old story with doctors and therapists for years.

                  I don’t know Paula. Maybe it’s time for me to hang up the old sleuth cap, stop hunting for the puzzle piece that explains why I am so different, accept that there will likely never be a satisfactory explanation, and then just get on with trying to live life as a creatively maladjusted freak. 🙂

                  Thanks for your patient guidance.

    2. Reina Avatar

      “The crucial question is: do we actually “make” each other feel anything? Or do we merely create stimuli with which everyone else is entirely responsible for how they react to it?”

      Mark, I think it’s both, not either-or. The difference is in the matter of degree. Poke a lion enough times, it’s safe to say you “made” him aggressive. We’re not super-controlled mechanisms. We’re organisms who are meant to respond to our environment and stimuli from others. So yes, I believe there is a threshold where you’ve merely had enough and were “made” angry, sad, disappointed, etc.

      Some people’s threshold is higher than others (e.g. monks).

      “I think this gets to one of the roots of how some of us learned we are “supposed to be normal”, because clearly some of us are a lot more capable of inducing emotional reactions in other people, and that knowledge (perhaps combined with sensitivity and empathy), has made many of us gun-shy about being ourselves and “bringing out the big guns”.”

      Very true in my experience. I’m hyper aware of what my words can induce in other people, so I hold back a lot. There’s a lot of power in truth, and generally people try to avoid the truth about themselves so they don’t have to feel cognitive dissonance. Empathy (and the need to conserve energy/not cause a ruckus) balances this out and keeps me from overusing it.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        I so appreciate how when our commenters share their experiences and opinions, that they speak thoughtfully and respectfully and don’t tell others what they should be doing. Thanks, Reina, and all of you for your careful sharing.

      2. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        “There’s a lot of power in truth, and generally people try to avoid the truth about themselves so they don’t have to feel cognitive dissonance.”

        I agree. I’ve been thinking about this and other similar things a lot this past week, and it isn’t just empathy or even a distaste for conflict that causes many of us to hold back. I also think we may be especially aware of the consequences of having the group’s support withdrawn.

        Even if we are shy or introverted, being gifted or talented can be a source of a lot of social power, so those of us with an unequal “share” of that power are often expected to give it away by openly displaying submission (which looks to others as merely “being normal”). So it’s often a choice between two evils: be submissive for the sake of harmony and inclusion within the group at the expense of our self respect, or engage in a fight to be ourselves but risk becoming emotionally overwhelmed.

        Then add economic survival into this complex stew of group dynamics…UGH.
        I am equally disinterested in submission and dominance, hence withdrawal being a somewhat acceptable middleground, for the moment at least.

        Thanks for your comment.

        1. Reina Avatar

          It’s awesome, I only checked back just now and saw your response Mark, it just so happens to be exactly what I’ve realized at this point in my life. It’s something I’ve struggled with for so long and I’ve only recently begun to notice that pattern of submissiveness vs. dominance. I do think there’s a third and fourth option, possibly more.

          Yes, avoidance counts, as you said. I try not to do that too much or I become sort of “that person who’s not really a part of the group, she’s just there” (made me feel like such a terrible outcast in the past). Another one, which I do like and have been experimenting with, is “meta dominance”. So basically pulling all the strings in the background ,remaining true to yourself, but choosing which aspects to reveal more intensely and which ones to be more lighthearted or low-key about. Being strategic. Being more quietly yourself.

          It’s a bit exhausting for me because I have to keep reminding myself to be selective and pretty conscious of everything I do or say and to who I’m saying it, but it is so much better than submissiveness (I loathe this more than dominance, and I’m surprised you said it comes off as normal to others because it feels SO wrong inside of me, like I’m a child, but I think you’re right!) and better than being thought of as the asshole due to other people’s misunderstandings about us (the ‘dominant’ route).

          I’ve had days where I hit the balance pretty well, and it can be scary because you can feel your true power… I’m not used to that from years of being criticized and told to tone it down. Yet, I think this also comes across as normal on the outside, but just with more confidence and less people making unnecessary and uninformed comments.

          Economic survival is really the worst, because it all comes down to that. No workplace, no group of people in the wild (besides ones in places dedicated to rainforest minds), no structure or dynamic is really built for our “kind”. And especially not when money is the bottom line.

          1. Mark V Avatar
            Mark V

            In my early 20’s a girlfriend used to lightly tease me for always being so “naive”. I was an eccentric artsy type in a conservative, homogeneous part of the country, and she was pointing out how I was innocently unafraid to be myself because I was unaware of how many people are actually secretly enraged by others who disregard social norms.

            I eventually learned that if your naiveté and innocence only adds to your charm in the eyes of some, people may plot behind your back to undermine you or if they have any power over you they’ll use it to take their pound of flesh.

            I’m sure many of those people enjoy themselves some sehr schön schadenfreude when someone like me falls from grace.

            But is knowing this any better than being blissfully naive? Does it make recovering my own self-esteem any easier? I honestly don’t know, but that uncertainty about peoples’ true intentions is one of the reasons I’ve found withdrawal easier.

  6. RhapsodyBoheme Avatar

    Absolutely wonderful and music to my own heart.

  7. Mel Gutiér Avatar
    Mel Gutiér


  8. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
    M. J. Cuthbertson

    In the summer of 2016 when I discovered I am 2E one of the very first things I did was to try remembering what my behaviors were as a young child. The problem is no one, including me, has a memory with any certainty about my thoughts or behaviors from childhood. Too many decades have passed.

    The only thing we can recall is that my first day of Kindergarten was a sad apt metaphor for the rest of my time in school. It was the bus drivers first day he wasn’t really sure what he was doing. We had a flat tire half way through the route. Arriving at school after unloading kids at all the other school buildings I was alone, except for the driver, and late getting to school.

    Any suggestions on how I might get back to where I was before I had to be normal?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You don’t need to remember childhood to get back to your self! Some people don’t remember or their memories are painful or traumatic. It could be that you start by tuning in to what you love doing now. What makes your heart sing? What fills you with gratitude? How do you play? When are you having fun? Maybe start a meditation practice or a journal. It’s likely to take some time to find your true self again. This would just be the beginning.

      1. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
        M. J. Cuthbertson

        Perfect. Thanks! Your suggestions are the very sorts of things I started doing when no clear memories were showing up. Considering topics you mentioned helped me fill a written journal for the first time and I now have a rich and varied daily practice before I begin work. I had a nagging frustration when I couldn’t remember anything. Now I see I don’t need them in the way I thought I might. No need for that frustration anymore.

  9. 3C Style Avatar
    3C Style

    Great read Paula. I have to thank Darren for introducing me to your blog. Apparently our son seems to have some similarities. I should get my hand on your book. I bet my hamster brain would enjoy it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, your rainforest mind (!) would enjoy it!! 🙂

  10. Every Crayon in the Box Avatar
    Every Crayon in the Box

    I wish I could come to the Symposium. I could really use it. Flights from Chicago then to get to Westminster…maybe a Super Shuttle. Are there any rooms blocked in a hotel around there to get a special rate?

    Margie Sutherland

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Margie. It’s a small conference. Probably about 50 people. So we haven’t created a hotel rate. Sorry! And it’s only one day, so coming from Chicago might be too far?? The San Diego conference is 3 days and they have a special hotel rate!

  11. ortensia Avatar

    Beautiful post.greately started.a message to pass on.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, ortensia. 🙂

      1. ortensia Avatar

        You are very welcome.i really enjoyed the post.happy I bumped into your blog😊

  12. artyplantsman Avatar

    Reblogged this on The Arty Plantsman and commented:
    I am currently working through Paula’s wonderful book and absolutely loved this post.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you! 🙂

  13. CallunaTook Avatar

    When I was everything I wanted to be, it was so out of sync with the rest of the world and the way most people need relationships to be executed that it was havoc on the important people in my life. If there were no repercussions to anything, I would not be a human being. I would be a human doing. But that is not supportive to my friends and family. Losing my best friend was the last straw (and I still have no idea exactly what I did, other than being generally unavailable); I re-prioritized. Since then, I have been a human being. I could not fix all of my old relationships, only some of them. I have new best friends. Mostly, ones who need less attention. My friends and family are more secure in knowing that I care now. I love them crazy much, but somehow, still not enough. I guess I have an upper limit.

    It’s been maybe eight years. I still revisit these choices all the time. I haven’t swung back the other way yet. I know I will eventually. I’m just not sure when that will be. So basically – if I made an honest list and started checking things off, there would be huge consequences and I am not ready for them. So I just keep small lists, that say things like “have a glass of wine with dinner;” “start feeding birds;” “practice listening to French.” Once in a while I throw a bigger, but still short term item onto the list, like a bucket list vacation. Everything else has to wait. And wait and wait and wait. I’m good at spotting temporal patterns. The time will come. Although sometimes I doubt that it will. Waiting is a hard to skill to master.

    Being me without any consideration of how that affects everyone else turned out to be selfish.

    I try to balance.

    So for now it’s a matter of… gaging how long it will take until the scale needs to be recalibrated and rebalanced.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Balance, yes. Absolutely. I hope I didn’t give the impression that I’m saying ‘be yourself no matter how it effects others.’ Eek. Not what I intended to say!

    2. cmd1122 Avatar

      I love your term ‘human doing’! I know what you mean about having an upper limit when it comes to friends–that can be tricky.

      I was always a human doing from the time I started school (and now I see that my relationships and sleep habits suffered); every day there had to be an after-school activity until at least 5pm when my mom finished work, so I joined a lot of the school clubs. I did love learning, so I would just keep doing when I got home (mostly making tree houses, creating art and my so-called ‘invention’ prototypes on my bedroom floor and reading until I was forced to turn the light off–hello, flashlight!). It was rare to be allowed to go to a friend’s house and my dad hated having company at the house, so I spent a lot of time alone, but I was fine with that. We moved to another country, but that didn’t stop my doing, which I perfected in high school; I was an efficient, high-achieving ‘human doing’ who looked successful, but I felt lonely as I didn’t have close friends at school.

      I was always busy and continued ‘doing’ on exchange in Mexico (where my brain was so content with the added challenge of learning Spanish). I didn’t truly realize that constant doing is not normal until that year; there is a different pace of life in southern Mexico and at first, I couldn’t fall asleep during the siesta time because I wanted to keep doing (but I learned…). One day an older friend said: “You know, your friends want to spend more time with you and get to know you better, but you hardly have any time for them.” Initially I didn’t know how to react, and I secretly felt a bit insulted, but I later understood what she meant and that good friendships require investing time, so I ended one of my major commitments.

      Come university, I was back to being a human doing–but I felt that I had experienced ‘the other side’, so I tried to be more social (but found it hard to forget about my to-do list and just relax with friends; perfectionism tendencies for classes were also a problem). I also began my ongoing battle with procrastination, which I learned in Mexico (“Hasta mañana…”). I was so lucky to do another exchange and work abroad, and I always thought that being a ‘human doing’ was a North American cultural norm that I had learned. I didn’t think that maybe I am the weird one in the equation, even when people called me ‘crazy’ in different languages–usually in a friendly way (although that is not how it was said when I was growing up); this blog has helped enormously (thanks, Paula!). Cultural norms are surely part of the equation, so being friends with people from different cultures and societies, especially indigenous ones that tend to function in much more communal ways, reminds me to check in with myself about what I want my life to be like and who I want to be as part of a community.

      Right now, I am not a human doing, but I really miss the absorbing creative pursuits that I used to have (though I still play music, I miss art and writing), and generally ‘being in the zone’. Congrats on making it through 8 years–that is such a long time! I feel the urge to start a big creative project, but I am holding back, partially because of work, but mostly because I am not granting myself that freedom and space as I am not sure what will happen or what I will be capable of…I know I will get there and it will be gratifying, but I am still deciding what it is I want to start and then I will take the plunge.

      Bon courage pour vos études de français, CallunaTook. C’est une langue vraiment belle.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        So many complexities to navigate and balance. When does the gifted person’s doing become too much? For them? For others? What does balance look like in the life of a rainforest mind? How is it in different cultures than your own? Thank you for sharing some thoughts, cmd1122. I’d be curious to hear where people are from so we can understand their comments within a cultural context!

        1. CallunaTook Avatar

          Yes, to cmd1122! And thank you. I miss the doing as well. (Le Francais est tres difficile pour moi, mais j’apprends) Part of the frustration in being instead of doing is that ideas and desires for projects and studies are rampant despite having prioritized my relationships, so my to-do-list gets infinitely longer. I am getting better at cultivating friendships that are more in-line with my own relationship style and even with my desire to be more active than social and that will help in the long run, but that option does not exist for relatives and old friends (they get grandfather claused, ha).

          My younger sibling is flowering into a human doing right now, and it is beautiful to watch. I am standing by with great intrigue (and occasional babysitting), wondering if they will be able to pull it off better, or more brazenly, than I did. The fact that they are a single parent with a child is further intrigue as to how things will work out. Maybe I will learn something from them. This more “being” lifestyle has its allures and pitfalls for me as well. In some ways the lifestyle is highly annoying, in others, weirdly addicting.

          To Paula, for my part, I am in the US. Apparently I like too much “doing” for even American culture, at least in my region. Nobody told me I was crazy as cmd1122 experienced… but there were eye rolls, confusion, judgment, and people pressuring me to do less and socialize more because they believed that what I was doing was not healthy. Oh. And there was also one person who disowned me because they suddenly decided my art and side jobs were amoral. But anyway. Despite all this pressure for loved ones to slow down for health reasons, I am much less healthy now that I am moreso mimicking the common lifestyle. Age also plays a factor in health decline, of course, but I feel it is lesser in impact when compared to lifestyle. When I am a human doing, I am more physically and mentally active, consume less of my diet for social reasons, and have less day-to-day stress, than I do as a human being.

          And weirdly… I love laid back cultures, and slower life styles. But it has to be slower with a purpose; slow for quality; not slow just because “relaxing is good for you,” and regardless of pace I’d rather it didn’t have much structure that is imposed from the outside (structure I create is fine; cuz double standards, I guess!). The juxtaposition I suppose is that if the cultural lifestyle is slower, the personal life style can theoretically have more flexibility. Less time at work or bustling from this to that or making social obligations = more time for projects. With the act of fitting seamlessly into a bustling culture, fulfillment must somehow be found within said culture and all of its busy trappings, because it leaves little room for else.

          Regarding finding the right balance, I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately. There is one possible notion that balance would be: give my priority relationships everything they need, then with the time I have left, fill in with my own prioritized activities. But what if those priority relationships are ever-hungry? Then the idea is 50/50 time split when not at work. But that doesn’t leave much afterwards for deep dives or big projects. And when I need time to re-orienting from work, do chores, or recover from time with others, the time left is next to nothing, although it was a good idea in theory. Another idea of balancing one’s needs with society’s needs is to block out one day each week, or a weekend a month, or something. But some things are just simply difficult to learn or accomplish this way, and I don’t do great in spaced out fits and starts. I recently heard a discussion about balance on the Embracing Intensity podcast, which discussed the notion that balance for an excitable person is probably different than balance for a typical person or the 50/50 that would normally spring to mind; that perhaps balance for an intense person may be as simple as going into an endeavor at 90% speed instead of 100%. I have no idea what this would look like to that person’s relationships or life in general but it apparently works for the people on the podcast.

          Philosophically, and more back to the initial topic, aside from how much of “me” can I be without hurting others, there’s also the question of how much of “me” can I be and still be me? If I have to “balance out” my me-ness, is that still an authentic me? I’d say probably yes, because the balancing act comes out of a sincere desire on my part to do good by others (so that part is definitely me), but in practice, it often doesn’t *feel* like me, despite the fact that I reserve some things for myself and rarely go all-out in this cultural and relationship normalization. Maybe this project is where I do the aforementioned 90%. Maybe this is what 90% looks like.

          And back to cmd1122: I think I may have succeeded at my 8 years because I approach this as a project in and of itself, just as I would have tackled any major project as a human doing, complete with short term and long term goals, shifting focuses, problem spotting and troubleshooting. After all this time, I am still doing that. (Relationships being good for right now, the current project phase: learning to use nutrition, genetics, and physiology in order to hedge negative repercussions of the cultural norm lifestyle). Truthfully, it is one of my longest-running projects ever, short of maybe dancing or yoga. At this point it is getting both harder AND easier to stick with it!

          1. cmd1122 Avatar

            Wow, there is so much that you shared, but I’ll just leave some thoughts. Sorry for the delayed reply (we had a long weekend in Canada and I was aiming to be computer-free).

            I think I understand what you mean about feeling healthier when being a human doing (while, of course, there are negative side effects). Do you find it is easier to maintain self-discipline and avoid procrastination when you have more on the go? (I think this is true for many people). Mimicking the common lifestyle can feel painful; it makes me feel that I am just withering away and gets my mind racing with ideas of all the rewarding activities that I could be doing. I appreciate your thoughts on how you can ensure you are still being you when operating at perhaps 90%, and still feel authentically you; I don’t have any useful suggestions as I often struggle with this, but I’ll listen to the podcast you mentioned.

            The idea of 90% applies to me in a different way: I enjoy the challenge (and accompanying energy rush) of sitting down to accomplish something minor (usually tedious) in far less time than I know I should dedicate to it; I usually manage to do a 90% job on it, when I know I could have completed it a 100% with just a bit more time. I sometimes beat myself up over this as I tell myself that I am better than that, but then I remind myself that there are only 24 hours in a day, and that I had better maximize them for the fulfilling undertakings. (I haven’t yet figured out how to do housework with such efficiency. I used to think that people who hired people to clean were either rich or lazy, but two people in the last year have pointed out that hiring a cleaner would increase my time for projects, and yes, I imagine it would. I can’t yet afford that, but even if I could, it would take a while to be able to justify it–funny how rational ability doesn’t necessary win).

            You certainly seem to have given more thought than I have to balancing your priority relationships and projects when not at work. I am at the observation stage with this and, quite honestly, a bit all over the place. One thing that I am satisfied with is how I am granting myself the time required to nurture my first long term relationship. I am observing how this changes what I manage to complete over various periods of time and my partner and I are both trying to establish a healthy balance, partially by learning side-by-side (sometimes different topic/skills, sometimes the same). I will reclaim the time for personal projects as I figure out the right balance.

            I like that you mention that you have tackled this human being/doing lifestyle as any major project, as a human doing. I personally don’t think that it would be successful otherwise. Your current project phase sounds holistic (good thinking) and meaningful.

            Thanks for sharing all these thoughts–it is really satisfying to read your words and connect over what seems very tricky to discuss with my friends for more than a superficial minute or so. You have reminded me that I really need to invest time in friendships that align with my relationship style (which sounds similar to yours). Good luck with your latest project phase!

        2. cmd1122 Avatar

          Yes, so many questions racing around…many factors just make things harder (and more interesting) to analyze and understand. I would say my culture is pretty liberal Canadian as I moved here at age 11. There are also surely (perhaps bigger) effects stemming from the socioeconomic class that a person was raised in and/or currently forms part of; for me this is middle class, and I am fairly certain that my educational experiences and opportunities for learning would have been quite limited had I been raised in family of lower socioeconomic standing.

          1. Paula Prober Avatar
            Paula Prober

            If there were prizes for the blog with the most thought-provoking comments, I’m sure my blog would win! Thank you all for your depth and for sharing with sensitivity. Again, I may not respond to the specific content. But know that I read and appreciate every word.

  14. Lindsey Avatar

    This is an excellent post – one I plan to share with my 12 year old daughter who is currently struggling with the emotions around finishing high school early (next week) and starting college in the fall. She is struggling with taking up too much space, being told that she’s a know it all, trying to be bright and dull all at the same time. Wondering if the Gifted Women’s Symposium would be good for her. What do you think?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m thinking that she might be a little young. Even though the content will probably be relevant, she might feel awkward when everyone is so much older. It might be better to find some programs for gifted kids in your area.

  15. Abhilasha Jha Choudhary Avatar
    Abhilasha Jha Choudhary

    Made me cry!

    1. Pecheoiseau Avatar

      Me too! Very timely post as my inner kid was reminding me just this morning that I used to take better care of her. This post triggered some healthy mourning for the person I used to be. She’s still there and hasn’t given up completely, thank goodness. The goal is to be her full time again (as if I was ever allowed to be her full time…) .

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        The “healthy mourning” is important along with taking care of that sweet little kiddo. Thanks for sharing, along with crying!

  16. whitebackatcha Avatar

    I remember feeling like I was supposed to be somethung other than myself in kindergarten. I know I’m not the only one, it’s just such a very long time to feel different.

    There are many articles on compulsive Internet usage, so this may not make sense. But if there is a gifted spin on that topic, I would love to read that post. This is a huge issue for me, because it’s an easier way to feel connected to others and/or tune out overwhelming stimuli. At the same time, it then blocks out time spent on more productive pursuits, as you know. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Maybe some others can comment on the internet usage dilemma. I do understand that introverts and sensitive folks can definitely benefit from the contacts online. I know that I do! But it can also become a compulsion or an addiction or just a time suck. I haven’t read anything specifically on rainforest minds, though, in that area.

  17. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Beautifully stated, Paula. So many people learn to suppress and hide their excitement and energy at an early age. They conform to what school, peers and society expect, but have lost a part of themselves. Thanks for the reminder that we all need to reconnect with that true self!

  18. cathytea Avatar

    One of the things on my list is to “forget how old I am!” I’m currently obsessed with a K-Pop boy band… and most of the fans are young enough to be my grandnieces! But I am learning so, so much! About gender, gender expression, fandoms, unconditional love, the value of authenticity… and I’m writing a serial story about a boy-band on my blog, so it’s all research! And I love feeling like age isn’t a limiting thing–If I get excited, if my interest is piqued, that’s what matters! 🙂

    Thanks so much for this post and for inspiring all of us! 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I agree. We can ignore age and just be who we are. Thanks cathytea!

  19. the glimmering girl Avatar
    the glimmering girl

    This post is incredibly meaningful. Thank you. Such good reminders and suggestions for remembering who we were “before.”

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, glimmering girl. 🙂

  20. Themon the Bard Avatar
    Themon the Bard

    A bit of a sad rant. Indulge me, all.

    I was out with a friend a few years ago, trying out a new scotch bar in town. I had just finished adapting a movement of my first symphony for sextet, for performance at the opening of a new wing of the local discovery museum. It turned out very nicely, with a beautiful soaring melody in the flute accompanied by harp, and I started to comment on my dream/hope/vision of maybe doing my part to turn the whole classical music scene around. It was a scotch or two down — I probably didn’t phrase it quite so elegantly.

    “How arrogant,” he muttered, almost to himself.

    It still stings.

    Not the abstract idea that I might be “arrogant.” There is an inherent arrogance in looking at a perfectly good sheet of blank paper and marring it with words, or a blank canvas with blotches of color, or filling a silence with music. Who am I to mar what is, with what might be? That in itself is clearly an act of supreme arrogance: surely my words, my colors, my music should not mar the perfect emptiness that God (or the almighty paper manufacturer) created, and if it should be marred, it should be marred by my betters. Right?

    My response to that idea is to slap my hands on my head and make extremely rude comments about hamsters and elderberries. That kind of small-minded nonsense is just part of the noise of existence. Nettles and gnats.

    What stung was the utter rejection of a vision, by someone I counted as a friend.

    It isn’t an empty dream. Classical music took a bad turn a century ago, and the reasons are complex. It involves the economics of music-making: capitalism, geopolitics, the rise of democracies and the fall of the gentry, recording technology, and a great many other factors. It also involves philosophy and science: I am personally convinced that the Heisenberg-Dirac formulation of quantum mechanics could never have occurred before the so-called “death of God,” and the music of the early 20th century is cut from much the same cloth. The Germans refer to all this as the Zeitgeist — the Spirit of the Age. It shifted dramatically at the end of the 1800’s, and the old Classical/Romantic music died in the rubble. What replaced it was — generally speaking — awful.

    There is a judgment of profound arrogance, no?

    Yes, as a musician, I can find value in some of it, but I have to listen very, very hard — usually, much too hard, and the result is at best a few drops of dry cleverness. Most people cannot hear anything at all in it. That was, in fact, the entire reason I had been asked to adapt my music for sextet: they had commissioned a work from a respected local academic composer, and what he provided was both unlistenable and unplayable. The musicians themselves revolted, and went out looking for an alternative, which is how I heard about it. He had already been paid the $5000 commission: they scraped up $200 for me, from out-of-pocket donations, I think. The music was well-received by the audience, and the musicians liked it well enough to play it at two more concerts, and later record it at the museum. If there was any arrogance there, it wasn’t mine.

    The core economics of music are changing again, as is the Zeitgeist of the world. And when the Zeitgeist changes, it is the work of individual artists, writers, philosophers, and other “softies” that shapes it. There is no meritocracy to it: it is done by whoever shows up to do the work, and by whatever catches fire. Someone always takes credit, of course, but the real movers often are, and remain, anonymous.

    So if there is arrogance there, it is the same arrogance of putting pen to paper and marring the blank page. That arrogance I will happily own.

    THAT conversation never occurred, except in my head. It had nothing to do with the comment, “How arrogant.”

    The comment was a “social leveler.” It was a signal to say, “You are making me feel uncomfortable, so knock it off.” Or more simply, “You should shut up, now.”

    It was the last time I went out with him for a drink.

    I think what I’m saying is that, even after you’ve reconnected with that person you were before you learned “you should shut up, now,” you have to keep protecting and nurturing that flame. You have to go back to the source of the fire, and, like the Phoenix, take light and begin to burn again.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Rant on, Themon the Bard! Thank you. Yes, protect and nurture. Burn again.

    2. KtCallista Avatar

      ” There is an inherent arrogance in looking at a perfectly good sheet of blank paper and marring it with words, or a blank canvas with blotches of color, or filling a silence with music. Who am I to mar what is, with what might be? That in itself is clearly an act of supreme arrogance: surely my words, my colors, my music should not mar the perfect emptiness that God (or the almighty paper manufacturer) created, and if it should be marred, it should be marred by my betters. Right?”

      I feel this so intensely. I thought it was something that was ‘beaten’ into me through the public school system. Keep every thing clean and nice and in good shape for the next student. Don’t mark your books. Don’t mark your desk. At the end of 9 months there should be no sign that you were ever here. And so on. I carries even into relaxing games. I don’t know if anyone here has ever played minecraft, but for the longest time I couldn’t damage the landscape, every structure I built was hidden away so as to not mar the initial creation. While this can be amazingly stimulating in a house design that blends with the landscape, ala Frank Lloyd Wright, it’s not how the game is intended. Still the blank page is more than just an empty canvas and your words strongly resonate with me.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Thank you, KtCallista. I love how bloggees interact with each others’ comments as you resonate with each other. So much depth and sensitivity. Many times I can’t even respond to the content because I’d be reading and thinking and responding for days on end!!

    3. Gabriela Montoya-eyerman Avatar
      Gabriela Montoya-eyerman

      The constant censoring of self can become enraging. I’m ignited by your words, keep your fire burning.

  21. unschoolingnl Avatar

    your words are so healing. as you always say, find your tribe. ‘Find and nourish important friendships. Tend those friendships with people who are truly supportive, are not threatened by me, and who laugh at my jokes.’
    I guess this the most important thing to do, to be able to be you, feel understood, loved for who you truly are, and find bighearted friends and deepconnecting souls.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes. Be you.

  22.  Avatar

    Ok my friend, this one hits to the core. Ouch. And so….I’m flying to the BIG APPLE today with a note to self: remember who you are. Lots of love, M

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Safe travels, dear!!

  23. Marianne Kuzujanakis Avatar
    Marianne Kuzujanakis

    Such important points, Paula! All deeply resonates with me. The point about setting healthy boundaries can’t be said enough. THX!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I know. Boundary setting can be so hard but is so important. Good to see you here, Marianne.

  24. EwaB Avatar

    I have to learn to play again, just play, have fun, no need to be productive, or finish something useful, play, silly time. And it is hard. havent done that since I was three or so.

    1. Elizabeth Faux Avatar
      Elizabeth Faux

      “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play,” (Captain Kirk, Star Trek).

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, play! And remember that play for a rainforest mind might look different than play for someone else. Let it be what works for you.

  25. Themon the Bard Avatar
    Themon the Bard

    Always enjoy your posts, Paula. This one is hitting home today. ::hugs::