I Have to Know it Before I Learn It — A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum

photo courtesy of Talen de St Croix, Unsplash

My 16-year-old client, I’ll call him Ben, was struggling in school. No one thought he was gifted. His grades were average. He didn’t turn in many assignments. He didn’t get high test scores. He was so anxious, he’d miss many days of school. His parents were confused. They knew he was capable of completing the homework. Why didn’t he just do it?

Because I’d seen many kids like this, I could tell that Ben was, indeed, gifted. He asked penetrating questions. Had multiple interests. Spent hours online researching musical genres , computer coding, bike repair, mathematics, psychological theories, and on and on.  He was highly sensitive and empathetic with all plants, animals, and humans.

Ben had difficulty relating to youngsters his age. The friends he did have, he wanted to rescue. They were often the troubled kids. He could feel their hopelessness and their anger and felt a responsibility to intervene. He didn’t understand why they didn’t respond well to his help or why they weren’t interested in his intellectual pursuits.

Ben wanted to learn what he wanted to learn and when he mastered, say, a new guitar playing technique, he’d raise the bar and keep questing for the next big thing. He’d spend many hours worrying about the future of the planet and how he might make an impact.

These are the traits of a gifted human; a person with a rainforest mind.

One day he said to me, I have to know everything before I learn it.


I have to know everything before I learn it.

It took me some time to understand what he meant and why this was his experience.

Like many gifted children, Ben learned how to read at an early age. No one taught him to read. He just started reading. Learning was easy. He’d read and he’d remember. He could watch someone riding a bike and be successful on the first try. He taught himself guitar. When he started school, he already knew the material. He knew it before he learned it.

This was the conundrum.

He came to believe that all learning should come easily. If it didn’t, there was something terribly wrong. Ben never learned how to study. Or that it was normal for some learning to be a struggle. Ironically, even though he felt like a failure and like he wasn’t smart because of his experiences in school, he also believed that he shouldn’t have to study something to understand it. This created confusion, anxiety, paralysis, and avoidance when there was a chance that he might not grasp a concept fast enough or succeed at a task. If it wasn’t easy, he didn’t do it.

With gifted kids who, unlike Ben, have been told repeatedly that they’re so smart, this is still a problem. They also know it before they learn it. And they can feel great pressure to achieve, to please the adults who are praising them, and to prove their worth through their accomplishments. So, for them, if they’re facing a difficult task, their identity is threatened. And they, too, can experience confusion, anxiety, paralysis, and avoidance.

Either way, having to know it before you learn it, is a tricky proposition.

And you wondered why it was so hard to parent these kids?

Or to be one yourself?

Welcome to your rainforest mind.

And to one of its many tangled, multi-layered, sticky, complicated conundrums.


To my bloggEEs: Was this you? Tell us how you dealt with the pressure to always know it before you learned it. To have the right answer. To prove how smart you were. Do you avoid activities where you might not succeed? Did you learn how to study? We’d love to hear from you. Your experiences make this blog so much richer. And thank you, dearest ones, for being here.

And for more information about gifted kids, here’s a recent podcast interview with me and Kathleen Casper of the Florida Association for the Gifted. We’re talking about the social, emotional, and academic issues gifted children face. Join us!



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.

106 responses to “I Have to Know it Before I Learn It — A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum”

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  4. Mary Kay Randolph Avatar
    Mary Kay Randolph

    These descriptions are my son exactly. My son is 24 and having trouble completing a degree, wondering if he’ll ever be employable. He’s a Type 1 diabetic and has been since he was 14 months of age. He is gifted. We felt bad about his diabetes and all it’s issues, so we praised him often about his intelligence—we thought it would help make up for the negatives of having and dealing with diabetes.
    What can he/we do now to help him become successful?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Of course, there are no easy answers to this Mary Kay but there are many resources you can explore. Keep reading my blog. In my first book, I have a chapter on perfectionism. (You can get him a copy of the book.) There are Facebook groups for parents of gifted kids such as Parenting Gifted Children and Hoagies Gifted Discussion Group. There are practitioners here who work with the gifted: https://www.sengifted.org/providers. Hope that helps.

  5. Learning Comes Easily To Gifted Kids And Adults — How Might That Be A Problem? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] you knew the material in school before it was taught, you may have believed that you always have to know something before you actually learn it. This can create confusion and avoidance particularly in college and […]

  6. Zoe Avatar

    This is extremely resonant for me. As a kid, I too believed that I must know something innately, or else it must be far too complex and in fact unknowable for me. I am now studying social science at university at 39 years of age. I am continually shocked at how easy it is to achieve great results with only a little effort. I am currently working at minimal capacity and the reason I don’t go full throttle, is procrastination, due to the unpleasant sensation I experience when I don’t immediately comprehend the content. Despite my self awareness of this mechanism, it still takes immense energy to overcome my own resistance. This is by far the most challenging aspect of studying at university for me. I already allocate a fraction of the prescribed time for each course unit, and then I spend an even smaller fraction of this time in active study. Hence, when I hand in my work it is always a rough draft, and with a heavy heart. I feel certain that I have failed each time. I am then always pleasantly surprised and yet perplexed when my results come back. Surely the standard isn’t this low? Maybe if I was at a more prestigious university the standard would be much higher? Maybe they’ve made a mistake and next time I check the mark will have changed? As you can imagine these types of musings are not well received by most as they make me sound like a complete twat! Alas, the struggle is real.

    Thank you for the great blog Paula! It really is something else.
    All the very best

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      And to us, Zoe, your experiences are very real and familiar. Thank you for sharing them with us!

  7. A Short Guide to the Complicated Life of Gifted Adolescents or Young Adults | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] I Have to Know it Before I Learn It: A Gifted Kids’ Conundrum […]

  8. Paula Prober Avatar
    Paula Prober

    Thanks for adding your comment, Jeanne. Your son is so lucky to have a mom who strives to understand him.

  9. jeannekayess Avatar

    I just found your post and it spoke to me both as a parent and as insight into myself.
    I could have written many of the comments above, but I had one tidbit to add.

    My son (16, both gifted and diagnosed with ADHD & ASD) once articulated beautifully why he wouldn’t start an assignment until he knew exactly what his successful end result would look like. Some of it is about having struggled to understand teacher’s expectations (subjective assignments are infuriating to him – teachers who try to reassure him with things like “there is no wrong answer” don’t understand). Some of it is about efficiency – why waste your time doing something you aren’t sure is going to satisfy what is being asked of you?

    He takes no notes. He was forced to learn a few study skills to survive Spanish – the only topic he had encountered he couldn’t just cruise through by understanding things rather than memorizing. +1 to the poster above who talked about teachers docking points for not taking notes – and let’s not even talk about the tyranny of the “graphic organizer” (my son just sees 2x the work).

    He has had a great experience doing lighting design and light board programming for his high school’s drama club. I asked him why it was okay to experiment in that context (something he refuses to do in classwork). He said that he he knew he could make changes and that he would be given useful feedback (from the director) to make it better. Can you imagine a classroom in which this was the attitude and approach? I guess they probably exist – but they certainly aren’t the norm in US public high schools anxious to teach to tests.

  10. Amber Avatar

    After finding out my son has hlp (high learning potential) and accessing all the info for this I am coming to terms with the fact I am like this also. School was always very easy and once I had seen it I got it straight away. I seem to feel super intensely about most things, have really wide interests, Struggled with peers and still do as seem to never be on the same page etc.

    I am now at uni doing neuroscience. My family moved abroad so I didn’t sit gcse’s or do a levels so did not ever learn chemistry, biology, physics etc. Studying this at uni level without the basics is like learning a new language. I miss one word, one concept and I lose the whole thing. I felt close to a breakdown as had never experienced this before. The imposter syndrome went off the scale.

    I am now going over all basics and trying to listen to friends and family that it is normal to not know things and have to learn them. Slowly getting some study skills together but it is a whole new journey and has involved alot of inner change too.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m glad you read this post, Amber, so that you can understand what was happening to you, being gifted yourself. Good for you for sticking with it! Even for gifted folks there comes a time when you won’t know something before you learn it!!

  11. Pascale Scheurer Avatar
    Pascale Scheurer

    This was me too. Never knew why certain things were so easy for me to learn and hard for others, hated receiving praise for being able to draw well (I hadn’t earned it, it was just there), my giftedness made me different from peers and not in a good way, I developed a feeling I was only wanted for my “talents” and grades, etc. I only had two modes: “grokked it effortlessly” or “gave up quickly”. My parents were believers in only pursuing what you’re naturally good at, which is terrible advice IMO. The full catastrophe!

    One thing that really helped turn things around was hearing in Art School, “You have to learn to love the struggle.” Huge penny-drop moment! Boy was that hard for me to learn though. I had so much to unlearn.

    Thanks Paula. another great article!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for this example, Pascale. Your “two modes” is a great way to describe this. Yes, “love the struggle” is excellent advice.

  12. Perfectionism – Tutoring with Maria

    […] That said, I read an interesting article recently, which discussed the perfectionism of gifted students. If school takes no effort whatsoever, then what would perfectionism for them look like? The writer, Paula Prober, showcases the internal struggle of a student to know “everything,” since it takes no effort to know just something. Read the article here. […]

  13. Lianne Avatar

    It’s wonderful yet highly frustrating to see yourself in a child’s journey when in your 50’s. Just last weekend, after hours of trying to implement new computer technology on my own without success, I was ready to throw the computer against the wall. “I should know it before I learn it” jumps out at me too. It’s not that I expected to do it perfectly from the beginning, but that any hiccup I should be able to breeze through. In hindsight the undercurrent of believing that it should come easily to me propelled my emotional distress. It never occurred to me to start at the 101 level instead of the advanced level. I wove the white flag of surrender with a colleague, letting them know I felt completely out of my depth, which was a huge step for me. I realize in this moment that part of the struggle for asking for help is that ideally I need someone wired like me to coach me. I’ve hired people before for computer assistance, but never been satisfied with what they provided, still feeling like the mark had been missed, and I’d been misunderstood. The mental confusion with this one task challenges me to not throw in the towel, and I realize from your blog that I didn’t learn how to study well. I can’t help but feel there is something wrong with me. Yet I’ve read enough of your work to know that I am wired differently and struggling to fit in with non-gifted general population. I’m glad children like Ben, and the parents who’ve commented here, are helping gifted children learn to navigate the world. I too can’t help but imagine how different my life would have been if I had had the same.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s never too late to understand what’s going on, Lianne. And it’s complicated. This is a great example of what can happen with RFM adults. Thanks for sharing.

  14. mb Avatar

    i can relate to this myself, but so much more of it has become clear to me watching my son. he is 11, and with all the big milestones, he has gone from not doing them to doing them fluently, seemingly overnight. he does this not necessarily “early”, in fact, i use it to explain why some of his milestones occurred “later” than average, such as walking, reading, potty training. in these young child examples, he neatly fits this description of needing to know it before he learned it. he observed, thought, pondered, and one day at 15 months, stood up and walked 11 steps. he did not do any stumbling on his way there. he crawled, then one day when he *knew it, he walked. potty training took until he was 4, and by then i just didn’t push, because i knew a little about his learning style by then, and his stubbornness. one day he decided he was done with diapers, and never had a single accident, day or night. again, he didn’t “stumble” or wet the bed or wet his pants, and he waited until he was sure he would not, before he committed. then with reading, he decided he couldn’t do it because he had never done it before… it took a lot of convincing and a little bit of confidence building to get past “i can’t” to “maybe i can” and then boom, overnight, he was proficiently reading everything. he wasn’t taught, he just knew (he was 5.5, so not early to start reading, but early to be reading lord of the rings). i’m adding my comment mainly to say that gifted kids don’t always present their learned skills/milestones early and i think this topic explains one big reason why that can be the case, and i see a manifestation of perfectionism in it as you mentioned. my son still does not ride a bike… my suspicion is he doesn’t “know” it yet internally. it would be hard for him to push through the falling stage and gain proficiency, so he is unwilling to attempt. it’s a big reason why i am glad he was drawn to study martial arts, because he has to work at it, and while there is an element of ease in it for him (the theory and memorized sequences of moves are easy for him and i suspect these keep him hooked) there is also an aspect of having to “study” and keep trying, and building skills that don’t come overnight, but that can be seen improving over a long investment of time and effort.

    transitioning to middle school this year has been an uphill climb for him, from whom almost nothing was required effort-wise in school until now. note-taking is impossible for him, and he doesn’t learn in that way anyway, but in some classes he loses points for not taking notes (never mind note taking isn’t actually a taught skill, it is just supposed to “come” to these kids intuitively… we have an ongoing conversation about it to this effect, that he can learn it, will need to work at it, and even though it’s not how he learns it is a skill the teachers want to see him master.) he aces all tests, because he memorizes facts without any effort. homework is a struggle because he would rather not do it, but so much easier if he already feels he knows the material (but he can convince himself he does not, it’s a dance). music has been another area that i think will become like martial arts for him, he is motivated enough by his desire to know it, that he may eventually start practicing outside of band class. that is what it will take for him to decide to put in work/practice/effort.

    i also like and want to explore further the link between “i need to know if before i learn it” and the learning style of wanting to tackle concepts holistically and learn all we can about them. i have a feeling we could look at these schooling difficulties as minor annoyances on the way to the real learning he is destined to do. my son knows he does most of his learning at home, not school; he just dives into a topic at home and learns all he can, as do i (this is the part i relate to most, i believe i stumbled before walking and sounded out words before reading fluently… but i also had an older brother to emulate). my greatest priority in his schooling is that it not diminish his thirst to learn.

    also… on the topic of how giftedness is seen, but not allowed to be mentioned, or if mentioned, is clearly misunderstood. i have been volunteering in my son’s tag class, and even the tag teacher (who does not seem to have a special interest in tag but has a free period and ability to supervise the biweekly class) has said things to the effect of how the kids in tag should all have all As because they’re all smart! the implication is of course, having to work at anything isn’t what you should be doing as a gifted kid. sigh. so many people don’t know what to do with them. and so many of the kids who should be receiving tag services aren’t recognized because they don’t have all As. it’s a real conundrum. in our school (on the oregon coast) there isn’t a single ell kid in tag, and i know of specific ell kids who have been in my son’s classes who should be there, based on what i’ve seen of their “quirks” in regular classrooms. obviously many 2e kids have been missed, for the same reasons. and then when they do get identified, how are they being served? by being told they should have good grades. we’ve got more work to do.

    i realize i’m commenting many moons after you wrote this post, but as a blog person myself, i know you’ll still see it and wanted to type out some of these thoughts. thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for these details, mb. It’s never too late to comment! You’re describing some important issues that gifted kids have that elaborates on and extends what I wrote. The schools could use your expertise! I’m glad that you’re in the TAG class so that you can educate that teacher and support the kids and maybe even get some of the other kids identified.

  15. Terry Avatar

    When I was a child, I was taught math. Take 83+27 for example. My class spent days trying to learn how to do a problem like that. The whole time, my 7 year old self was really really frustrated. And when I was asked why, I said, because this is stupid. I then went to the board, grabbed the chalk and explained that if you take 3 from the 83, and gave it tot the 27, you would end up with 80+30, which is clearly 110. My teacher didn’t know what to do with me because it wasn’t the accepted “Correct” way of doing it. But when I did that a bunch of kids started doing it my way. That happened over and over again.

    I actually systematically read every single book in the school library including the encyclopedia and the dictionary. I was happiest in my books. I think a lot of my peers were as well, judging by the fact that my generation invented entirely new ways to index all of the world’s information to ease the information gathering process.

    I still to this day, when presented with something I don’t know, will immediately and quickly read everything I can about it before I want to deal with it. Now that the pressure is off to make a certain grade, I find that I enjoy it when I come across something I don’t know.

    Fast forward 40 years and I am in IT. I have also found that while there are many ways to get to a given answer, the business world pays for the fastest, which is right up my alley. All too often the schools get tied down with testing and process, that we forget that the whole point is to develop the mind.

    My niece is the same way. And I am forever telling her to relax and reassuring her that no matter what, that we love her. The main thing I would say is that if his work ethic is not a problem, then relax, and let him know it is ok to relax and live in his own skin.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for your example, Terry. And for your advice!

  16. magdalenian Avatar

    Wait, can you say more about the mechanism by which his *giftedness* caused him to be drawn to troubled peers?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Empathy. Rainforest minds are often quite empathetic and want to help others. That’s what drew him to those kids.

  17. When Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Giftedness Go To College | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] to believe that all learning ought to come quickly and easily. She thought that she ought to “know it before I learn it.” She didn’t learn how to struggle with a concept or how to study for an exam. Ellen […]

  18. Stemium Avatar

    Wow! This one resonated! We’ve seen this in our own kids. How to cope with it? Unsure. It’s difficult to reinforce that it’s ok to fail and not be perfect. But we’ve tried to frame that no one can know everything and really being positive/supportive around those moments when they have to deal with new concepts.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It can help if you talk about your own failures and if you model that mistakes are OK. Also it helps if they understand how they came to believe that they had to know everything. (ie. early ease in learning and in schooling) Thanks for sharing.

  19. A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum — Part Two — Anxiety and Perfectionism | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] may have read about Ben. He’s the gifted teen who said “I have to know it before I learn it.” He learned […]

  20. Teemu Avatar

    For me, there is a difference between the process of learning and the hard work that is sometimes requires to get good grades at school. I have no problems learning. The problem is that my learning style does not translate to good grades always (now in law school). It is very hard to get motivated for exams when you can’t stop thinking how old fashioned and useless taking an exam in this fashion is. As it mainly tests memory and your ability to tolerate hours upon hours of mind numbingly dull reading of extremely non student friendly, hastily and thoughtlessly written text books. Then writing a paper is tough when you feel you’ve already absorbed all interesting information about the subject. Finishing a course is then reduced only to a formality and a chore. Thankfully I have almost finished slogging through this bore, taken me for ever. After all, I am a hopeless slacker and a truly despicable human being. I hope working life will ignite some passions. I’m sure feeling responsible for someone else than myself is enough to get me going. That is if I ever can get hired, I don’t think prospective employers will understand if I explain my non existent resume a result of being gifted and spending all my free time at my house educating myself of million things. Or the fact that I hate wearing suits and have absolutely no interest in ambitiously accumulating money. I wish I was fun at parties.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Your description of schooling will resonate with many here, Teemu. And, sadly, that can lead to criticism and misunderstanding from others and yourself. That said, when you find a career path that nourishes you, I’m betting that you’ll be able to convince an employer that you are well-suited for the position, even if you aren’t fun at parties. 🙂

  21. Gabriela Montoya-eyerman Avatar
    Gabriela Montoya-eyerman

    Yes, this was me and I finally learned how to study, in graduate school. I even turned things in early much to the annoyance of my classmates. I would love to go back to school just because I love being a student. Instead I take classes when I have time and energy left after working on my other projects. I hope I have learned from my lesson and am teaching my kids that learning can take some work …

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      For some RFMs, the schooling doesn’t get challenging until graduate school. It can be tricky to learn to study at that time because of the patterns and beliefs that are repeatedly reinforced by then. Good for you for figuring it out, Gabriela, and for letting yourself annoy your classmates!!

  22. Sunny Avatar

    In 6th grade, about half of my class got to attend a “how to study” course with our school psychologist. I would have loved to attend, because I was curious and didn’t even know what studying was (I literally had to ask my parents). But it was only for those who apparently most needed it, and I was a straight A student.

    Fast forward a year, when puberty hit, dealing with a first kiss that turned into an unexpected and involuntary sexual experience, and the subsequent sense of shame and disorientation (and getting to see a completely non-attuned psychoanalyst – at 13! – made things much worse). Anyway, I couldn’t pay attention at school anymore, and went from straight A student to really struggling, eventually becoming an adult using only a fraction of their potential.

    I wish I had learned how to study, how to stay focused even during harder times, so that my life wouldn’t have crashed every time the natural flow was gone.

    School and work can have such a stabilizing effect and help deal with life events, but only if we have learned some grit and tenacity, which even gifted kids need (without overdoing it).

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m so sorry you were traumatized at 13, Sunny. I hope that you eventually found a good therapist and got to process and heal from the event. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and for being here.

  23. Rebekah Avatar

    Oh, this is familiar, both to myself and now my kids. My son taught himself to read when he was 3-4. We homeschooled for Kindergarten and first grade because I knew he would be bored in regular school, and I wanted to instill a love for exploring when he was young. We had a great time, but when we got to second grade, I knew I needed the backup and structure that school provided. The kid was reading at a 5th-grade level. I figured he would have no problems, at least not with language. I got an email the first day of school from the teacher telling me he told her *he didn’t know how to write*. At all. What? I knew he could physically write, we had worked on it! I knew he understood grammar! He could read so well! He made such wonderful stories! Where was this coming from? Turns out… he didn’t know how to spell. He didn’t learn to read by memorizing how things were spelled, or even by sounding things out. He would just look at a word and know what it was based on seeing the whole word. And, being the perfectionist he is, he didn’t want to write something down without knowing how to spell it correctly the first time. I felt so foolish for leaving such a big gap in his knowledge! But he made quick progress over the last year. He is not a perfect speller, but he comes up with the most interesting, beautiful and logical spellings for things along the way. I try to encourage him with that as we correct and learn together. I think it is good for him that he had to work hard and struggle to learn how to do something. Being in gifted myself, I remember not learning how to struggle to learn something until late in high school and college, and it definitely set me back.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for this, Rebekah. It’s so important that we talk to our kids to find out what’s going on and not make assumptions. I bet many of us wouldn’t have known about your son’s spelling issue. These kids are complicated and aren’t following the typical normal path. Others will benefit from your sharing this.

  24. Petunia46 Avatar

    This article describes my experiences with education and life in general. I started school early and when I was in 2nd grade the school suggested I might skip a grade but my parents were worried, because I was physically uncoordinated and not well-developed socially. Instead, I was placed in a classroom with 3rd graders who needed extra help. By the end of that year I was ready for 4th grade! All my schoolwork was very easy and I never struggled. I never learned how to study, though, and by the time I was in college my grades started to show this. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand why I find life in general very challenging and I feel like I am aware of my strengths and how they might seem like flaws to people who don’t synthesize information as quickly as I do. I learn facts and identify patterns very quickly but I need *all* the information to turn this into something useful. I am a perfectionist and do not feel comfortable unless I am doing things correctly. I am 47 and I have worked in customer service for most of my adult life, with a few forays in technical processing and staff management. I have been working at a new job for a year and my direct manager and the general manager have both flagged me as a high-potential employee, but they seem frustrated that I am exhibiting slow growth. I am trying to overcome my need to do things perfectly or not at all. I need to learn to give myself permission to fail, but it is hard.
    Your description of the Rain Forest Mind is intriguing and I will be ordering your book because I think it will help me with my son. He is very smart with an unusual, philosophical way of looking at the world but he has always struggled in school because he wants to know *why* far more than his teachers have time for. This past year, 6th grade, some of his teachers wrote him off as a hopeless dope, but a few, who took the time to talk to him, realized that he knows the information and understands far more than his schoolwork and tests show.
    He and I have clashed because his experience and approach to school are so different from mine but we are working on it.
    Thank you for this forum.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      My book ought to help you and your son understand your similarities and your differences. The more you understand your rainforest mind traits, including perfectionism (there are healthy and unhealthy versions described in my book), the more you’ll be able to help your son. I’m so glad that he has some teachers who “get” him. Thanks for sharing, Petunia46!

  25. Isabelle Avatar

    Hi there (and my apologies in advance for potential writing mistakes or funny ways to express myself, but English is not my mother language; French is. By the way, we lack blogs like this one here in France/Belgium, we lack good books on the subject in French too, and there is a huge lack of interest and understanding for gifted people here. This shows even in words themselves, the term being “surdoué”, which would litterally translate into “overgifted” rather than just “gifted”. You immediately feel you’re being blamed for receiving something you didn’t earn…).

    But let’s get back to the topic. I’ve read all posts for a long while, and it’s the first time I’m leaving any comment, probably beacause it rings a bell more than other topics did. I felt just like this young man back at school. I furthermore had a status and a prestige to maintain, as the best student of my small Belgian school. So it was a hard blow when I first had to actually work to get top grades when I took an intensive maths class, in which all students’ grades dropped by half, including mine (and that was still 10/20…). It felt so wrong that I got cramps in my jaws, trying just to follow the lessons. I thought I’d just quit and take the minimal number of maths hours (3 instead of 8). My parents were just as worried as I was, although the teacher assured us that I was doing just fine, and that the setback was a normal step in her program to prepare us for college – in hindsight she was right of course. Still it was the beginning of some sort of desillusion, as I then found myself in college among other people who were not especially smart, but had learnt how to work. So I ended up in the last positions of the top 10 students. And then I found myself a job, in a huge company, where I was just one of the 500 new recruits of the year (!), chosen among the best applicants…

    I came to realize only quite recently that not being taught how to study or to work, not being challenged in early years, was a big problem to me. What worries me even more is that I get the same feeling not only when it comes to studying, but in many areas of life. I always got everything I wanted before I even had to ask. Oftentimes, I now even fail to just WANT things, just as if I had forgotten how to do that for a long time, since I didn’t need to. Everything came naturally, and if not, I left it (sounds like Al Stewart). This makes it very difficult to accept any form of effort whatsoever, to struggle for anything. Starting anything,and then keeping on doing it despite the obstacles and the time it takes before any result is perceptible, is highly difficult; it could be working out, losing weight, playing the piano, getting out of the house and trying to find people or activities of interest, just anything.

    And so, to me, it all seems to come down to the same concept: having no experience in working towards your goals whatever they are; and sometimes having no experience at having goals at all, since everything was always within immediate reach. For many people, learning to make efforts is achieved through school, as it doesn’t come naturally to them; to others, learning to make efforts is achieved when they have to fight for what they want. But if you never had to do any of those, how are you supposed to make efforts in order to learn to make efforts when you are an adult (or supposed to be one…) and in no imperious need to do anything? (Hope this is understandable.)

    This is probably going a bit outside the scope of the post or pushing it to extremes, but I wonder if anyone encounters the same kind of questioning…

    Thank you Paula for your time on this blog. Keep on keeping on, even for people over the seas. 😉

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I always appreciate hearing from readers around the world so we can all see the similar struggles. I wrote this particular post, Isabelle, because this is such a hard topic for people to talk about. Outside of the RFM world, there would be very little sympathy for someone describing your situation. But it’s very real and troubling and needs to be explained and understood so that you can start to give yourself permission to experiment with working hard to achieve something. You can uncover the deeper beliefs that have gotten in your way and begin to rethink these patterns. Thank you for sharing.

  26. Lollipop Avatar

    This is totally me! I’m glad I read this post so that I know there are many ‘Bens’ out there. Now I’m struggling with my study, how to learn for exam? I can’t, I never can’t learn for exam. I learn for the sake of learning itself. And I don’t actually care much about grades, but other people do, and that is the problem and pressure. [I always thought that all people have the same way of thinking as mine. I wonder why they just can accept everything they had learned? How could they understand with that little information–because there’re so many unexplained theories/fact in the textbook. Don’t they want to know more]

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Many rainforest-minded have a passion for learning. Sometimes it’s called a “rage to master.” So, yes, you’re not alone. Read on, Lollipop!

  27. marcieb08 Avatar

    Our older son is PG and 2E. He had a difficult time in school until he was mature enough to understand that many of his classmates were also very bright. In high school he started taking AP and honors classes and finally met teachers and peer who “got him. He’s finally soaring while completing his degree in Engineering.
    At one point when he was younger (and still immature) he had an attitude that he was smarter than everyone else, which made him become impatient and frustrated with social relationships. I explained to him that while he was expert in certain areas it would be impossible to be expert in all areas of knowledge. So there are other people who are expert in other areas who he could learn from and share ideas with. This helped him learn to appreciate other opinions and other people’s knowledge and greatly improved his social skills.
    As always, Paula, I love reading your wisdom and the comments of other RFM’s. Thank you! ♡

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with your son, marcieb08. And for being here with us!

  28. Cindy Cheaney Avatar
    Cindy Cheaney

    Yep, I was referred to this information from the school psychologist who tested my son. He explained the PG range and felt without a doubt that our son was in that percentage. He even encouraged me to look into a private boarding school for the PG. I couldn’t even imagine doing something like that. At the time, I hadn’t looked into the institute seriously because he was so young and I felt I needed to be close to him on his journey, so that I could learn too. I had since forgotten about it, so I am profusely thankful that you gave me that link. I will follow up on this immediately, as I feel this is a perfect time in his life to connect. Previously, when I had discussed it briefly with him, he was afraid to be close to others like him. Now, I feel he needs this connection. I feel that he is at a point in his growth, that he can guide me to what he needs, because he is better at expressing his emotional feelings. I’ve been a member of a FB group for HG and it does help to hear what other parents experience, but I’m not gifted myself, and many of the parents in that group are, so it’s hard for me to feel what I need to learn. Are there any other groups you might suggest? Also, I just purchased your book and I’m looking forward to reading it!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hope you enjoy my book! Try Hoagies Gifted Discussion Group or Parenting Gifted Children. And, hm…you might think you aren’t gifted because you aren’t PG but consider that you may be somewhere on the spectrum.

      1. Cindy Cheaney Avatar
        Cindy Cheaney

        Thank you so much for all of your suggestions and your dedication to helping others navigate the gifted journey! I look forward to reading your book and keeping up with your blog and learning more about the rainforestmind, which is such an accurate name! I’m going to look for those groups on FB.

  29. Cindy Cheaney Avatar
    Cindy Cheaney

    This is so spot on with our son. By the age of 5, I was trying to explain to him how to slow down his thinking processes, just so he could be able to “fit in” with his classmates and teachers. His brain processed information at warp speed! As an example, he wouldn’t even finish listening to someone’s sentence or conversation, because he already knew what they were going to say and his brain had already “moved on” in the conversation. When I was pointing this out to him at the age of 5, he actually told me that he could recognize patterns in a person’s conversation and know what they were going to say, or how they were going to respond, and his brain was already past that point! And, as you mentioned in your article, he felt ( and still does) that he should know how to do something he is interested in, and not have to learn how to do something. He is now 11 years old. His interests are vast, varied, and he immerses himself in all interests. However, if there is something that he doesn’t pick up right away and is good at immediately, he drops that interest like a hot potato! It’s so hard trying to help him understand that many things require practice, studying, and patience to perfect. And your description of the school work was an accurate representation of our son as well. Actual studying of courses is non-existent. Also, he can read multiple novels simultaneously and maintain complete comprehension of all novels he is reading. It’s not unusual for him to be reading 5 books at the same time, and finish them in warp speed as well. It’s so hard for me as a parent to know if I’m doing the right thing by slowing him down. I don’t feel it is the right direction to go, but yet, if I don’t remind him, he doesn’t recognize it himself to be able to socialize with peers. I just don’t know the right way to handle it and guide him.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It sounds like your son may be in the profoundly gifted range, Cindy. Have you heard about this institute? https://educationaladvancement.org They have resources for parents and kids and a summer camp for PG kids that has a great reputation. Perhaps there are times when he needs to slow down to be understood. These are hard kids to raise. Your love and understanding are so important. You might also check out the Facebook groups for parents to get some support.

  30. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    You articulate the experience of highly gifted kids so well. This is such a big problem – and they typically fall through the cracks, become underachievers, become depressed, etc. Schools do such a disservice when they fail to understand how these children learn and what is needed to challenge and inspire them. Many struggle as young adults when they suffer losses and setbacks because of entrenched patterns and low self-esteem, along with inadequate skills. Thanks for this great description of what they go through.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s so important that parents and educators get this information so they can help these kids understand themselves and their differences from the norm. Your blog is a great resource, Gail. https://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com

  31. Sonja Avatar

    Wow. That young man put words to what I experienced growing up (“I have to know it before I learn it.”). It’s what put me on academic probation and left me in jeopardy of losing my scholarship when I was an undergraduate because I’d never learned to study. School (K-12) was always easy for me. I spent many years being depressed because I thought there was something wrong with me: how could anyone think I was smart if I had to actually spend time studying material?

    I’m now in my forties and have multiple advanced degrees, but I still struggle with forgiving myself when learning doesn’t come easily. My daughter exhibits similar behaviors, and as I help her learn about how her brain functions, I’m finding the compassion to help myself. It wasn’t until I started learning about how to parent a gifted child that I realized I might actually be gifted, too, but it explains so much about my childhood and educational experiences.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hear that from many parents, Sonja. They don’t see their own giftedness until they experience it in their children. Thank you for writing.

  32. Kodo20 Avatar

    Thank you, Paula, and all those that have responded, for letting the rest of us know we are not alone.

    I read this through the lens of living my life and of raising my gifted son. I see us both in Ben’s example. I see my son struggling the same struggles I did and I weep for it. I always thought there was just something wrong with me and I worried that I had passed it on to him.

    I am beginning to see now that our brains are just wired differently. And that there is hope that he can learn to understand how his brain works… and how to work with it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, I’m starting to see research that discusses giftedness as brain wiring. Thanks for sharing, Kodo20.

    2. Suzanne, DK Avatar
      Suzanne, DK

      Me too!
      Thank you for sharing (all of you! ).
      I’m 58, my youngest son 16 and I gradually understand the way our brains are wired and am still working to get along with it…

  33. Took Avatar

    I actually never had this problem… I learn exceptionally fast (knowing things before I learn them, often, what an interesting way to put it), but “studying” for me was never studying, it was just stuff I naturally did that happened to play well with school. And when I eventually found difficult topics and tasks, it was exhilarating, and it still is. (I also learned that the absolute best thing that can happen to me when I’m learning something is for someone to tell me I can’t do it. Oh, that just boils me. Then my whole life is suddenly dedicated to something like, say, passing an advanced engineering certification with zero engineering education background. Because how DARE they say I can’t learn about energy without knowing fluid dynamics! They don’t know me! But. I digress.)

    Yeah. Back to studying. I heard in the first grade that book reports were things that older kids do – really, the characters in my novels were doing book reports – and asked my teacher if I could please write a book report and present it to the class (without ever having seen or read a book report; she granted the favor). I looked forward to getting my textbooks every year because I liked to read them. I checked out extra books over the summer to read. I read ahead in class. I loved it when my mom bought me workbooks, which I realized in retrospect was actually just the homework that kids several grades above me were doing, or sometimes homework in subjects we weren’t going to cover. I thought homework was fun so long as it wasn’t too repetitive. Then I’d try to shortcut my way through it – but for the most part, I liked homework. In my college entomology class we were assigned to make insect collections, and I thought, finally! Something useful to do with all the bugs I catch. Same thing with pressed plant collections in botany class.

    So. I don’t know that school was “made” for people like me, but to me it was fun and games… mostly, school was everything I was doing or would have done by myself anyway. I thought of school as an extra cache of resources to feed my hobbies and entertain me. I was the annoying kid that turned everything in early and got top scores without having to pay attention. And when classes finally got harder, it was super exciting that I actually found something difficult: that I had to try, and spend more time at it, and use some grit, and stretch my mind a little bit until it did what I wanted it to do and learned what I wanted to teach it. I liked putting on my game face. A good, challenging, meaty subject? Better than Thanksgiving dinner.

    I have a lot of sympathy for the gifted kids that struggled in school. I was friends with some of them; I’m related to some of them. I think I was the only one who knew that my brother was smarter than me until he bumbled his way into mensa on accident; he barely graduated high school. I had equally intelligent friends and boyfriends who dropped out, their abilities also unrecognized and under-used but so obvious to me. They just didn’t like it. They were bored and angry. They couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I can tell that I had it easy in this respect, and I don’t know why. I don’t know why, when I finally encountered difficult classes, it was an excitement rather than an impediment.

    It is possible that I am 2e, and that might have helped me here. There are some simple things that were crazy hard to me from a young age (like tying my shoes – I didn’t get the hang of it until I was nine, well after all of my peers), so maybe I just learned early that I had to suck it up and keep trying until I got it. Or maybe I just had good parents. I really don’t know what the secret was. Or maybe I’m gifted but not quite as gifted as my struggling friends were, and that is the difference. Or it could just be a personality thing.

    But I wonder… if I could figure out why *I* seemingly had it made in the shade when it came to this, while my comrades were sinking… maybe it would help someone else.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for explaining your experience, Took. Giftedness is not one-size-fits-all so it’s great to read about your version. I don’t know that we can figure out why, though. There could be multiple factors. Certainly, I’ve known gifted kids like you. I haven’t yet found one consistent thing that explains it. I do know what doesn’t help and I’ve written about that. So I think it’s likely a combination of factors, including personality and parental attitudes/behaviors and experiences in school. If you figure it out, let us know!! Your description here will help those who also had your experience and those who didn’t.

  34. Carly Avatar

    This is something I’m really struggling with, both for me and for one of my RFM children (the other one is a RFM but also, somehow, a worker – I’m madly trying to figure out how he manages to *get out of his own way* so I my other child and I can learn to do it too!!). I wonder if it’s tied up with a characteristic of perfectionism that I think is really hard for RFMs to manage – when you can imagine the ideal creation in greater detail, maybe, than non-RFMs (or when you can imagine so many more different VERSIONS of perfection) then it’s much harder, emotionally, when you inevitably fall short… and so you leave all preparation to the last minute, because then you can blame your ‘mere mortal’ finished product on the fact that you didn’t have much time 😉 The scary thing about actually working to achieve something is that there’s always the possibility that, even if you work hard, the product could be mediocre.

    Another thing – when I read the quote, ‘I have to know everything before I learn it’, I immediately misunderstood and thought Ben meant that he had to see the whole landscape of a concept before he could focus on what would seem to him to be a small component part. I wonder if that’s the case for anyone else? As a teacher, I tie myself up in knots over-researching before each learning sequence, anticipating the answers to tangential questions that I assume the children will ask – but they very rarely do! 🙂 Always a fascinating process for me, but gee, does it ever eat up time!

    As always, thank you for this post, Paula – such gifts you give us all!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      This is a great description of the complexity of perfectionism and procrastination for many RFMs. And your description of seeing the whole landscape is also part of being a big thinker. Thanks for sharing, Carly.

  35. Catherine Avatar

    Up to a certain point, most things came easily. When I didn’t automatically know what to do, I watched or mimicked a few times and then the information or process was stored for good. But if I didn’t think I’d be successful at something in a short period of time (or at all), I wouldn’t even try. I still haven’t broken the pattern completely.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It sounds like you’re working on breaking the pattern, Catherine. Be patient with yourself. It takes time.

  36. Every Crayon in the Box Avatar
    Every Crayon in the Box

    OMG! Teaching myself how to read and play piano by ear as a toddler, this so resonates with me and still does today! I remember how irritated my piano teacher was when I wanted her to show me a piece to play when she insisted I sight read. I could mimic the way she played it memorizing her hands, movement, and of course the song itself. This also allowed me to “feel” into the music.
    Just recently I tried to describe this “knowing” need to my boss, but more from a consulting perspective: give me the “landscape:” the politics of the organization, the players, their personalities. Give me what you know first, THEN I will formulate a strategy. It’s also what I learned in a grad school class: KNOW, UNDERSTAND, DO. Highly effective for gifted kids and adults. Give me the material first so I can understand it first and THEN I will do the work. Thank you, Paula!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Fascinating. Thank you.

  37. Themon the Bard Avatar
    Themon the Bard

    It is a simple fact that formal education is tailored to the mean. If you aren’t reasonably close to the mean, you won’t do well with formal education. You may do well in school — I did — but it was because I could succeed on the tests without following the path laid out by the teachers. Every time I was told to just follow the workbook, I became so enraged that my maddened gaze nearly set fire to the book.

    The teachers in my high school were more attuned to people outside the norm: I was very fortunate in that. I had one teacher I came back to visit during college, and she was remembering our class, and said that about every five years or so, they’d get a class like ours: meaning a class with a lot of what they called “high achievers,” what we are here calling “rainforest minds.” So they had experience with just turning us loose on independent study projects, and let us achieve, rather than grinding us down and forcing us out of school. When I got to college, I nearly failed the mandatory freshman English 101, but transferred in the spring to an Honors English program and took a top grade and a recommendation.

    So I do understand your Ben’s dilemma, but I think that confusing the problem with learning to “study” is a mistake. A better way of approaching it might be the following.

    One plus one is two. Most people learn this by rote. Many children might play with rocks or crayons as children and grasp the concept before they are formally “taught.” An RFM will almost certainly grasp this on their own and never need to be “taught.” But the RFM might get stuck on the “why” question. The context question. The “knowing everything before they can learn it.”

    Why is one plus one equal to two?

    One way to approach this is to point out that Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell devoted themselves to this very question for much of their professional careers, and they get to the answer (so I’m told) somewhere around the middle of the Principia Mathematica, which is one of those doorstop textbooks that no one ever actually reads. Unfortunately, they completed this monumental life-work right around the time Kurt Goedel published his infamous Incompleteness Theorem, which basically indicated that not only did Whitehead and Russell get the answer wrong, but that there is, in fact, no right answer.

    In other words, there actually are wells too deep to draw any water from.

    Or in still other words, there are some subjects in which a true RFM grasp of the big picture is … simply not feasible.

    If you formally study any physics beyond the first two years, you get a belly full of this behumblement. You’ll spend a couple of years learning how to treat the electron as a point charge. Then your professor will point out that a point charge has infinite self-energy, but if it isn’t a point, you’d expect certain things that you don’t see in experiments. They bring this up for a reason: to point out that all of physics is build around “models,” which could also (loosely) be called “metaphors.” You use the model until it reaches a point where it stops being useful — then you form a different model, which is no truer (or falser) than the old one, but works better for the problem you’re wrestling with.

    This is all an insufferable, bloody affront to the RFM. Dear lord, how I know that! But in the end, you come down to a practical consideration: do you want to draw water from the well, or do you want to die of thirst figuring out why the well is infinitely deep, yet has water within reach?

    And that is one possible foothold into “studying.” You have to study, not because something is “hard,” but because it is a kind of useful fictional nonsense that, at root, you cannot “know everything” about — because it is nonsense. Or rather, you can very quickly get to the bottom of knowing everything about it, and it’s tawdry and obviously wrong. And that is a true assessment.

    But it is still useful. And to make it useful, you have to study it, usefulness and flaws alike. It’s good to know the flaws, in fact, because then you know when the model will fail.

    1. Themon the Bard Avatar
      Themon the Bard

      This is also intended as a metaphor for life, by the way.

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Always wonderful to hear your complex responses to my posts, Themon. I love this! What can I say? I hope there are a few RFMs in your life…to continue the conversation.

  38. Michelle Parent Avatar
    Michelle Parent

    This was me especially in college. I just couldn’t study the way others did. I used my extremely strong visual memory to pass tests. I would memorize the page layout (paragraphs, photos, captions) and the first word of the first paragraph of any chapters the tests were on. I could hold that in my mind for a day, maybe two and pass my tests just fine. Can’t say any of that information stuck with me! I started as an English major, but really hated being told what the professors said the literature meant. I usually saw something different. So I sucked at that. So I switched to Art and ended up getting a BA in art since it was easy for me. I thought of going back to school for psychology at one point, but realized I didn’t want to swallow the agendas and dogmas that academia can shove down your throat. I probably would have failed for not regurgitating stuff they way they wanted me too 🙂 So I self study what interests me and make my own conclusions. I often find cooking recipes to be guidelines and rarely follow them accurately. I am the same with my quilting. I see a pattern and then modify it either through color or some other design change. I have to do my own thing!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hear that a lot, Michelle. Having to do your own thing. Thanks!

    2. Mai Avatar

      I’m like this, too, had fancy thoughts about becoming a professor and all, but then lost interest since I’d seen it… and all the games. I also do what you do with food recipes and patterns (knitting/sewing). Much better in your own systems.

  39. Ninsidhe Avatar

    I’d like to say, however, that this wasn’t something that happened in school; I was like Sarah in that school never challenged me- what brought my grades down was *boredom*, I simply couldn’t force myself to do the same thing over and over again, so I was one of those A+ or barely passing students, depending on how I felt about the classes. I’m still figuring out what my actual learning style is, how best to go about it- it seems to be related to how I’m *feeling* about things as to how easily I can approach them.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’ve seen gifted kids get high grades in classes with teachers they like/respect and low grades in classes where they don’t feel cared for by the teacher. In either case, the work itself isn’t difficult.

  40. Ninsidhe Avatar

    This is, absolutely, me- and I still have this, SO many things that I would love to master but the *learning* process glitches me- I should just *know* it, is the idea- I should be able to come into contact with something and just know how to do it. I feel exactly like this- that if something is proving difficult, that if I’m not learning seemingly by osmosis, then something is wrong- and I don’t like ‘wrong’, being as interconnected with old trauma as it is, so I avoid it.

    Avoiding feeling terrible, stupid, incompetent, a fraud. It’s all there. I hope he knows he’s not alone in this at all.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’ve definitely told him that he’s not alone. You describe it well. Now, maybe you know why this is the case.

  41. Jessica Avatar

    I so relate to this. I had a very though time in high school because of this. It wasn’t until I forced myself to return to community college after an absence that I finally learned how to study! I took chemistry, biology, calculus… all things I HAD to study for or else there was no way I could pass the tests. This was a great challenge and taught me a ton about how to be dedicated to my learning.

    Still, I don’t study like others. I have been criticized, or rather WARNED, by my classmates that I won’t do well the way I am preparing. It tends to be awkward if I score better than them… :/ I have my own way and have come to trust it through time. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It sounds important, Jessica, that you trust yourself! Thanks for sharing.

    2. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

      I was never fond of studying with others, either. Unless there’s someone as super bright as you are, that does make all the difference in the world. Of course then you have to deal with ruffled feathers. Still, I would think your study mates would be happy to have someone as smart as you to help them. I always found it so frustrating to encounter students who really didn’t love learning as I do, they’re just like automatons reading facts and regurgitating them later, for the grade.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        I’ve heard many gifted kids talk about how much they wanted to learn in school and how hard it was to be in classes with kids who didn’t care.

    3. Ann gallagher Avatar
      Ann gallagher

      Would love if you could share your studying technique…. Any tips to help my struggling smart son would really be appreciated!!

  42. Sarah Avatar

    “What did you learn at school today?”

    “Nothing” was my typical response. I eventually figured out that I should say what the lessons were about that day.

    When I was bored in class, I wrote the alphabet as neatly as I could. People often comment on my handwriting now. I’ve gotten “That’s uncanny!” from an English teenager. And “is that handwritten?” And “your handwriting could be a font!”

    But I am so afraid of failure. I tend to work on skills privately to protect my self-image. If it’s not ready for prime time, no one sees.

    I completely relate to this post…except I made “fantastic” grades in school because nothing I was asked to do was a challenge. I always had a book because I finished early so often and if I were asked to help someone, I always did.

    After school was done and life’s tasks became less cut-and-dried and generally speaking, more challenging, I was a complete mess. It seemed like I could not do anything right because as a young wife and new teacher EVERYTHING seemed foreign to me.

    You could really hurt yourself jumping from my 17 year-old ego to my 21 year-old ego. Might even be fatal.

    1. Every Crayon in the Box Avatar
      Every Crayon in the Box

      Performance issues are a true arrow shot at the heart, aren’t they?

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      “But I am so afraid of failure. I tend to work on skills privately to protect my self-image. If it’s not ready for prime time, no one sees.” Yep. That’s it, Sarah. Usually comes from the pressure to be “so smart.”

    3. Carly Avatar

      I hear you on the foreign-ness of teaching, Sarah – I don’t know about you, but when I trained as a teacher, entry scores were at an all-time low and the general consensus was that teaching was about as easy as a job could be. I was simultaneously relieved and horrified to find out how difficult teaching is – relieved that I wouldn’t be bored, but horrified that this ‘easy’ job was so challenging to me. Even now, with quite a few years of teaching under my belt, I still find myself wondering what’s wrong with me that I find it so difficult… and I still leave all my documentation to the last minute, to avoid pouring my heart and soul into something that ‘anybody could do.’ I’m really hoping that one day the sheer relentlessness of deadlines in teaching will pummel me into not-procrastinating (and maybe even self-acceptance?!?), but that day hasn’t come yet! Best of luck to you, and heartfelt best wishes and solidarity from a fellow RFM teacher 🙂

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        I was a teacher, too, back in the days when it wasn’t as challenging as it is now. And it was still a difficult job. Especially if you’re driven to meet the multiple academic and emotional needs of your students. And if you’re a highly sensitive and empathetic RFM, then, yikes! It’s even more of a challenge. So, thank you Carly and Sarah and other readers who are teachers, for being there. Teachers can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

      2. Sarah Bailey Avatar
        Sarah Bailey

        When I started, the job market was at a low so thousands had flocked to teaching…if you can’t do, what can ya do? Teach, amIright?

        I’m certified in seven areas. Partly because of multi-potentiality, mostly desperation in that job market. I test well. At the time I had had no practice at the quasi-public speaking art that is interviewing.

        I think I had 80 interviews.

        It was soul-crushing.

        After each one, my husband would ask me how it went.

        I had no idea. It was always so stressful I had almost no memory of what came out of my mouth or what they asked me.

        He really wanted (we really needed) for me to do well but I was so uncomfortable on almost every single one.

        I eventually met with success. It’s been six years now and just yesterday I was invited to be on the other side of the table and help my boss interview candidates for some open positions.


        If I am not perfect will they ever forgive me?

        Will I?

        Not if. When. *When* I’m not perfect.


        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Yes, sweet Sarah. Now. You are perfect as you are. Perfect in your not-perfectness. In all of your beautiful rainforest-y complexity.

  43. Sarah Avatar

    This is so familiar as a person who begins a new experience or discipline only after assuring myself that I’m competent in it, never mind that most people begin the experience for the process of learning how to do it. Impostor syndrome gets so interesting in these contexts! My family believes so highly in me that their expectations are astronomical and overwhelming. I end up teaching myself how to do things the hard way just so I can succeed when I finally formally accept the challenge of pursuing something.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sounds like the down side of having family believing in you… Family expectations are tricky things. It’s so important for kids and parents to talk about these things. Thanks for sharing, Sarah.

  44. donyadunlap Avatar

    I hadn’t thought of phrasing it like that, but yes…this is me. I’m 38 years old and I still have to give myself permission to write things that may need cutting or editing later even though I’ve published 3 books. This also comes out in my design work when I have to be patient with myself when I don’t get an amazing design the first time I try a new logo concept or attempt a new skill. It’s easier to quit or not start than it is to be bad for a while and learn to improve.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yep. When you’re used to getting an A without much work, that becomes a hard pattern to change.

  45. Carol Avatar

    Cool post. As a musician (and a writer, and in just about anything else), I always feel the need to learn as much as possible for myself. Even in college, I was switched to a more advanced piano instructor, in my first couple of months as a freshman, because I learned more complicated music on my own. I love to research things for myself, an then in formal instruction, I like to make things my own – do them my own way – as much as possible. Still do. And yes – instruction in the form of throwing lots of words at me doesn’t work. I need visuals and modeling : )

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That’s often a factor with the gifted; having their own way of doing things. In many cases, we need to get out of the way and let them fly! Good that you know your learning styles.

      1. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

        I’ll chime in here, too, Paula, if you don’t mind! [smile]

        Yes, my Mom tried TWICE to arrange piano lessons for me when I was 7 or 8, but it never panned out. I’m sure she was a bit mystified, but I hated the strait jacket teaching technique of both teachers. I was much too timid to confront the ladies, even if I had more nerve, I wasn’t able to articulate why I felt so frustrated. But now, looking back, armed with so much more knowledge about my gifted self, I would say I needed a completely unorthodox or more unique teacher, or at least one who exuded enthusiasm and love for the instrument. I went on to guitar instead, which I taught myself and LOVED. I am now learning classical piano! And it’s not for the wimpy. 🙂

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          I think the personhood of the teacher is so important. Good for you for choosing the challenge of classical piano, Beth.

  46. MaddieM Avatar

    I’m stunned. This is me. Stunned.

  47. Nessuno Avatar

    For me, learning does come very easily at many things but one problem is I also have a need to learn things in a holistic way, to not only understand a specific skill but how that skill fits in with similar skills.

    eg] I also taught myself to play guitar, but I did so because my ultimate goal was to be able to compose, record and produce my own music. So I needed to learn all about the sonic characteristics of the guitar and how it fits in with other instruments (necessitating the need to learn a great deal about those instruments as well), all about guitar gear, recording gear such as microphones, preamps and compressors, mixing techniques etc etc etc…

    The point is that merely being a “guitar player” wasn’t ever going to be enough. And when you have that “all in” approach to learning things, you often don’t have enough resources left over for dull stuff like doing homework or taxes…

    1. Every Crayon in the Box Avatar
      Every Crayon in the Box

      We are pattern makers, aren’t we? Have to always tie in a new skill with a greater purpose!

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Nessuno. My client, Ben, was “all in” with music, too.

    3. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

      On the other hand, you have a brilliantly gifted guitar player by the name of Stanley Jordan, who went to the depths of the capabilities of the instrument, and then developed a completely original way of playing the guitar, called the ‘tap’ method or two-handed method. He plays the guitar like you would a piano, with independent hands. He began playing this way while a young teenager!

      I’m sharing my thought because I think giftedness in a particular direction can be completely different from one [gifted] person to the next. It’s completely unique and driven by the combination of our personality and our unique gifts. There are a million paths. I consider Leonard Bernstein to have been profoundly gifted musician / conductor, but how different he is from Meredith Monk, another profoundly gifted and unorthodox musician! It’s so interesting.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Absolutely, giftedness is super complex and individuals can be very different. That said, I’ve found that the clients I’ve worked with over the years can have some similar social-emotional issues and experiences.

  48. CyclingMum Avatar

    Hi Paula. Thanks for a great post. This sounds VERY familiar! What tips would you give the parent or teacher of such a child?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      See the above comment, CyclingMum. Plus: Let your child fail! Provide challenging work at school. Find something your child wants to do that will take time to learn: martial arts? dance? advanced mathematics? languages? oil painting? a musical instrument? You as the parent, model risk taking, talk about your mistakes and what you learned from them. Have your child read this post and then talk about it.

      I have posts on perfectionism and procrastination. If you type that into the search engine you can find more posts on this topic!

  49. hksounds Avatar

    “Ben never learned how to study. Or that it was normal for some learning to be a struggle. ”

    You really hit the target with me, this time. I can so relate to that. It took me many years to understand that just because I didn’t get it fast, I could still get it by doing what other people did, studying. I had to learn how to study but I was an adult by then. I wondered why no one had bothered to tell me about this ‘studying’ trick. I believe that explaining, that there are areas in which you don’t learn instantaneously but they can still be mastered, and then giving the steps and the reasons for them, might make a huge difference for gifted kids.

    In my life, had that happened, I can’t imagine how different it might have been. But, of course, no one did. I imagine that is still happening for many kids and, Paula, that’s my question to you, why doesn’t that happen? Why don’t those who have to study, and so learned it from the start, share that?

    Thanks –

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Joy. I think people don’t quite understand this issue yet. There are still many myths about what it means to be gifted. And people avoid talking about it. “If you’re so smart, you should….” not have to study? be smart in everything? achieve greatness? Parents often don’t get the support when their kids are young around how giftedness can impact learning so they don’t realize that they need to find challenging activities for their kids, that they need to provide opportunities for mistakes and failure. There can also be shame involved for the gifted person if they aren’t successful at something so they may not ask for help. Those are just some quick thoughts. This post is getting a big response, so I’ll write more on this soon.

  50. dmstauber Avatar

    This is me!!!!!

    In tenth grade (in a wonderful Quaker school) I took the introduction to creative arts class and loved it.

    The next step in visual arts was oil painting. I did not sign up. Because I did not already know how to paint.

    Flash forward to age 59, I’m much better at allowing myself to learn (no shortcuts to playing lead on guitar) but still struggle with this idea!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for the great example! 🙂

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