If You Were Gifted, Wouldn’t You Be An Arrogant Know-It-All With Two PHDs in Astrophysics?


Maybe not.

Click here to watch me pontificating (briefly) on the subject.

In case you do not want to watch me pontificate and you would rather read a more detailed version of my pontification, here ya go:

I have met a whole lot of gifted folks in my somewhat quirkified life. I realize this is unusual. But somehow I fell onto this career path when I was a youngster in my 20’s teaching in a public school. Colleagues noticed I was teaching in a somewhat unconventional way and suggested that gifted children would respond well to my flexible, creative, project-centered, self-paced, empathy-oriented classroom. Not really knowing what a gifted child was, I went for it anyway, and found a job teaching in a gifted pullout program in a middle school.

(photo Cancer Institute, Unsplash)

Those colleagues were right. It was my dream job. The kids were eager to learn, divergent thinkers, funny, sensitive, super smart, kind-hearted, and Star Wars and Shakespeare fanatics. None of them were arrogant know-it-alls. None of them. (although a few of them are likely to have PHDs now, maybe even in astrophysics)

Then, in my late 30’s, I left teaching to pursue my passion for all things psychotherapeutic. I had been a client in counseling for a while and found the process fascinating. Even though I was diving into the abyss of my somewhat miserable childhood, I loved the attention and companionship of a skillful, compassionate guide. I was determined to retrieve all of the pieces of my broken heart and live a more whole, authentic, meaningful, confident, make-a-difference life. It was a no-brainer, then, to go back to school for a counseling degree and start a private practice.

It became clear pretty quickly that I ought to specialize in working with gifted souls. They had particular traits, sensitivities, and experiences that required a finely tuned, informed, sensitive, and aware approach. I imagined that their tendencies to be introspective and their desires for depth, healing, insight, and transformation, would be a good match for my therapeutic style and interests.

I was right. Another dream job that fit my quirkified life well. Then, many years later, I started this blog. And because of the blog, I expanded my practice to include international consulting. And guess what? Still. No arrogant know-it-alls. After all these years. All around the world.

( Note: OK. I realize it is possible that gifted arrogant know-it-alls exist but don’t go to therapy or do not want to consult with me. It is possible. Or, perhaps, I have some magical powers that keep them at bay. So, there is that.)

But, if you are still not convinced, here is a little more proof. As you know, if you have been reading my blog for a while, the gifted humans I see still stumble over the G word. Many of them know how much they don’t know and do not realize how much they do know. They do not see their very high standards and expectations, their complex sensitivities, their creative thinking, and their rage to learn as indications of giftedness. And so, they prefer to describe themselves as rainforest-minded. It feels more appropriate, more equitable, and more descriptive. Not g-g-gifted. Just rainforest-minded.

Not arrogant. Not know-it-alled.

Pontification. Over and out.


To my bloggEEs: What do you think? Do you agree? Are there arrogant know-it-alls in your life? Are they gifted? Have you heard about the study that looked at how quite intelligent people underestimate their capacities and less intelligent people overestimate their intelligence? That might account for some of the arrogance you run into. OK. I’m sure there is some gifted arrogant know-it-alling out there, y’all. Just not in the overwhelming numbers that the myth would have you believe. What other myths of giftedness are you aware of? Let us know your thoughts. And thank you, as always, for being here.

And, if you are interested in learning about your empathy and sensitivity, there is a Summit coming in November 15-19, 2021 sponsored by The Shift Network. I am one of the speakers! It is one of those events that is free to attend and then you can pay to have it permanently. The links here are affiliate.

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.

27 responses to “If You Were Gifted, Wouldn’t You Be An Arrogant Know-It-All With Two PHDs in Astrophysics?”

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  1. Lakshmi Kola Avatar
    Lakshmi Kola

    Great post, very well-written and expressed.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Lakshmi!

  2. Cameron Avatar

    Yesterday I talked to my mother and asked her, one more time, if she could tell my my old IQ score. She finally did and it’s in the gifted range (so is hers), although she believes it’s dropped due to lack of use. The initial wave of confidence wore off and now I just feel like it can’t be right.

    The title of this piece summarizes my feelings fairly well.

    My opinions of success are, I think, orthogonal to “society’s” views; similar and intersecting, but not quite the same. By those standards, I’ve never achieved anything. I coasted through school but was never off-the-charts exceptional. I did above-average on standardized tests. I didn’t do very many extracurriculars and wasn’t that great at the ones I did do. I changed schools a lot and even got accepted into a local magnet school with a top-10 score on their entrance exam (mom wouldn’t let me go because of location). I went to college because I had to and dropped out multiple times after failing all my classes (so, it’s not like I got bored and found everything so easy); I have no idea what I want to do because I feel no pull towards anything and don’t see myself as having any talents. I’ve been bouncing around between low-skill jobs for years; they bore me to tears but anything “higher”, I think I’d mess up. At 28, I’m too old for anything I do to be “impressive” and that bothers me.

    I’ve never won anything in my life. I have no specialty or particular skills, much less multiple. I’m very ignorant and I know it. Somewhere along the line, late in life, I developed this anxiety about learning; like I’m afraid my mind will break under some horrible truth, or just that knowledge will drive me to hate things or kill my ability to appreciate anything (although I do have some glimpses of that not being true. I think all of this then turn around and find the chemistry of emotion downright sexy, or am inspired by the connections one can draw between history and the present).

    Even now that feeling of fraud sets in; surely those results were a fluke, the dozens of people who commented on it are just clueless with super-low standards. I don’t feel gifted, rainforest-minded, whatever. I’m just really good at acting “smart”!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      There could be many reasons for this struggle, Cameron. So many factors, including family relationships and school, can influence our perceptions of ourselves. You might benefit from seeing a counselor who understands giftedness to help you sort this all out. Here is a list of some: https://www.sengifted.org/providers Also, 28? Not too old to do anything impressive!! Not at all.

  3. Karli Avatar

    Great post and video, Paula! Gosh, I agree, I think a lot of rainforest minds try and tend to be a bit more humble and kind – it’s not like we naturally want to boast and think we are better, we deeply crave that intellectual and vibrant stimulation and some people are threatened by it or do not fully understand it. I think some people can find me intimidating if I come off too strong with my rainforest mind. I also love having a rich breadth vocabulary, and some people find it arrogant or intimidating- maybe it is? But I am fascinated with new words, old-fashioned words, and using them in daily speech – it’s a lovely little hobby (especially from watching so many old films from the 30s and 40s – like Casablanca with Bergman and Bogart!). It can be hard fitting in with everyone, but I think, for the most part, most of us don’t want to be seen as arrogant at all, we simply want to fit in and find people that understand our quirks!

    So I try to turn it off a bit when I meet new folks, but I would definitely not consider myself arrogant at all. My best friend is definitely gifted and she is one of the nicest, kindest, and intelligent people I have met (smarter than me). Although, I once had a male friend that was very gifted, but he was extremely arrogant and conceited with his world views and was quite self-absorbed and did not think much of others (we are no longer friends), but perhaps that is a rarity.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Being “fascinated with new words” is a great example of giftedness. It’s part of your nature, so not arrogant. It can feel that way if someone is intimidated or less intellectually inclined. But you ought to be able to enjoy playing with language! It would be interesting to know more about your male friend to determine the reasons for his self-absorption. But, yes, those folks are out there, too. But maybe more the exception than the rule!

      1. Karli Avatar

        I had no idea that being fascinated with new words was an example of giftedness — good to know! Yes, a good way to put it, I agree. It is simply how my brain works and other rainforest minds, and it’s what I enjoy (maybe not to the extent of Shakespeare and Chaucer did, haha). Yes, I tone it down with people that are not in my social circle or are less intellectually inclined – nothing wrong with that at all. Yes, I agree! I find that academia is a good place for that. I think my former friend had some insecurities or simply could not connect with everyone, and looked down on those that did not meet his needs, and was so closed-minded and had to be right about everything – he had a lot of growing up to do. And well said!

  4. Richard Avatar

    Hi Paula, just watched your Youtube pontification, first time I was introduced to the ecosystem analogy and loved it. Is this your own analogy? I found it helpful and hope to use it in some of my writing. I’ll look more on your blog, etc. so I get the reference right. A brilliant way of thinking about our differences that doesn’t deny the challenges of living in a rainforest, but presents complexity in a very positive way. Regarding giftedness and arrogance. I agree, most of the people I know who are super intelligent, one kind or another, are not arrogant. I think it is that knowing what you don’t know thing that comes with deep investigation. I’m sure there are exceptions, we all get inflated from time to time, but for the most part I think intelligence (IQ, EQ, etc.) is not the factor that relates to arrogance…. maybe wounding? It is an interesting subject!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Richard, it is my analogy! I came up with it some years ago when I was teaching gifted kids in a middle school trying to find a way to explain giftedness that teachers would accept and understand. Glad you found me.

  5. Sarah Avatar

    My father-in-law is (supposedly) gifted and is an arrogant know-it-all. I was horrified when I met him. My husband (then boyfriend) had described his dad as this all-knowing, fascinating, benevolent being, and the first time I met him he was spewing made-up historical “fact.” I pointed this out to my boyfriend—just the made up facts, not my opinion of his personality—and it turned out he (boyfriend) and the rest of the family didn’t know. They themselves weren’t particularly interested in history. Or maybe they did know, but preserving the family dynamic was more important to them than the truth. I should have run for the hills then but it seemed that he lived far enough away that it wouldn’t be a constant problem.

    I remember him, on the occasion of a family vacation, calling all of us adults around (this was somewhat late at night and after a few drinks) and telling us that he saw a copy of an iq test he took in high school and that his iq is 140. First of all, who does that? Secondly, I’ve never believed it and never will.

    I’m lucky to have the experience of being around many gifted adults, both in my career and among the parents at my kids’ school. They are mostly extremely polite and somewhat self-effacing. They tend to vaguely understate what they do for a living. There are a few abrasive ones though, and I’ve always suspected they’re the ones who haven’t achieved what they desired in life, but maybe I overthink and it’s simply personality.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Sarah. There are probably multiple factors why they are abrasive. I suppose those are the ones who reinforce the myth. Appreciate hearing from you.

  6. Meadow Avatar

    I’m never in anyone’s face about being smart, but people can tell. Some think it’s cool. Some don’t care. Some feel threatened by it. It’s all a matter of how they feel about themselves. Once I was in a meeting at work, and attentively listening. Two people gave me feedback after that meeting. One said that I was too quiet and timid, and the other said I was too aloof and arrogant. But I was the same person… in the same meeting… doing the exact same thing. That experience really illustrated to me that people’s perceptions stem just as much from their own insecurities as they do from my actions.

    Interestingly, other smart people recognize me (and I them) and we usually get along well.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Great examples, Meadow. Thank you!

    2. annakirksmith Avatar

      Marvellous post, Meadow!

      I actually had “aloof and distant” written on my primary school character report at age 10.

      I agree that many people find quieter, listening personalities quite difficult to be around. I tried explaining to a few that it was better to listen than talk at meetings as you learn more and then can come to thoughtful conclusions afterwards, once processed and explored from all angles. Few agreed, many cited that the purpose of meetings was to reach a conclusion there and then, but to me that would mean that only a few of them really took part in a decision and it became a reactionary rather than a reasoned action.
      Needless to say, I wonder at, but rarely enjoy meetings.
      You sound like someone I would choose to have on my team. Listening means so much more than talking. Hope everything goes well for you henceforth 😉

  7. Kara Avatar


    I’m in the throws of leaving teaching…..( After 21 years in the field, 16 of those working with gifted students)….to pursue something similar to your path.

    I’m much older than you were when you changed paths. What advice might you have for me? I’d love to be able to pick your brain about these things.

    Thank you.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hi Kara. Send me an email and I’ll respond with some ideas if you give me a bit more information. paula@rainforestmind.com.

  8. clignett Avatar

    I agree totally! The gifted (or other rainforestyminded) people I have encountered and some I speak regularly with, are all open minded, slightly apologetic people. They (as I) do not mean to bluntly show their intelligence, not be arrogant about it. It is just what it is, a rainforest mind with many interests and hidden facts in the brain.

    I do encounter arrogant “smart/gifted” people as well, unfortunately. They live in the same appartement complex where I live, so I can’t really avoid them. They are not only arrogant, but also loud, know-it-all, love gossip (even when it’s not true and they know it), lying about anything so they can shine or take credit, can’t follow a thought through. When I’ve tried (in the past) to open the way to the follow up thought, and come to a sensible conclusion, they make me the focal point of their wrath. So I just shut up and hold my tongue. I’m polite, but no more than that.

    It makes me feel sick and sad that people like that exist, that they have no shame ánd that they make other people feel like they are inferior, when in fact it’s probably the other way around. I mean that they themselves feel inferior at that time.
    Is it jealousy? Is it that they know the other person’s brain works differently and they can’t understand it? Haven’t figured that one out yet.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, so sorry to hear that, clignett. Are you sure they are gifted and not just smart? Maybe they are cognitively advanced but not empathetic or sensitive? Not rainforest-minded? And, yes, another factor is likely people who are insecure need to boast or are jealous. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully others will chime in.

    2. itssue42 Avatar

      I’ve always felt that arrogant “smart” people aren’t really what I would call gifted. Self-centered and selfish, afraid to look around them at reality, so they inflate themselves to try to convince themselves that they are “better” than everyone else. I find people like that pitiful and disgusting …. and yeah I think they’re definitely jealous of true RFMs as well as a lot of ‘ordinary’ people around them. They subconsciously know that people avoid them, so they keep trying harder to seem ‘important’ by lording it over everyone else.

      Being gently honest with them about the negative impact they have on others sometimes helps, or at least causes them to back off. But you have to be subtle and careful, so they don’t feel threatened — then they tend to become more obnoxious.
      Yup, definitely wouldn’t call those unkind, unwise people gifted.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Thanks for sharing, Sue!

  9. robinprincemonroe Avatar

    I like that, Rainforestminded.
    Thank you. I need to say one thing. It is only recently that I discovered that I’m the g- word. I am 65. You’d think I would have been smart enough to figure it out before now. 🤣

    I have to say it has been a relief. For years I couldn’t figure out what was “wrong” with me.

    Like you, gifted kids kept showing up in my life and I learned all I could about making a difference for them. But I had no idea…

    Anyway… thx

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Being smart doesn’t necessarily mean you get that you are gifted, robinprincemonroe!! Good to have you here. Thanks for sharing.

      1. robinprincemonroe Avatar

        Yes. I know that, Paula. I know what it means. Thx

  10. hksounds Avatar

    This is a very thought-provoking subject and a challenging one for me. I don’t know how to negotiate this. I don’t think I am arrogant, and I don’t want to be arrogant, but I believe others may think that about me. They are wrong, of course (or is that an example of my arrogance to dismiss their opinions out of hand?) I do seem to know more than those I meet. I seem to have a broader range, seek to uncover deeper levels, make more connections, and ask more and tougher questions. And I am not a shrinking violet when it comes to opinions.

    Other people are advised to be themselves and apparently do just that. But when it comes to me being me, ever eager to share my passions, answer a question, ever trying to clarify, always ready to suggest ways to approach problems in novel ways, that generally doesn’t result in acceptance. So on some level, when I can’t find people with the intelligence and knowledge I want, it does make me doubt the abilities of most of those around me. I really don’t like feeling that way. I have little, outside the basics of survival, in common with most other people.

    I believe the solution is to find folks that I can comfortably converse with. The last really intelligent, satisfying, easy-going and compatible conversation I had was almost exactly 2 years ago. I am grateful for that opportunity and wish I could have more like it. The prior such conversation was years ago. The other solution is to just answer a few questions on Quora and get along without having much contact with people while doing things that I love.

    Even though I don’t think I am one of those you are particularly aiming at, I do enjoy reading your blog.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I think I remember you saying you were 2e, hksounds. Is that correct? That could be why you enjoy the blog but it doesn’t feel quite right for you. What do you think?

  11. annakirksmith Avatar

    Agree Paula, all the rainforest people I have had the pleasure to meet have been low-key, just getting on quietly with being brilliant in their own way.
    Similarly, and (as expected I really hesitate to include myself in this, but have reluctantly accepted it after intense scrutiny of your RF criteria)…you will always find me in the shadows skirting around any limelights. It’s much more comfortable there, I don’t feel the need to talk about it;-)
    OK, except on this comment to your post, but I consider this a ‘safe space’.
    Thank you for your continued writings, explorations and musings.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m glad you feel safe to share here, annakirksmith. Makes the blog so much more meaningful!

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