Much of the gifted adult experience has been terra incognita, and many of us gifted adults have been making decisions and leading our lives using mismatched or partial knowledge of our inner ecosystems as a guide. In this article, Karin Eglinton explores our need to fully map out and integrate our full gifted selves, both for our own thriving and to act with wisdom in our changing world.
GIFTEDNESS INTEGRATION IN THE MIDST OF AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS
At our current point in this radical—and for many, deeply shocking—passage of a year and a half into the Corona pandemic, I see us entering a new phase in our collective awareness. The pandemic, together with simultaneous major natural and political crises around the world, appears to be pushing a critical mass of people to turn toward, rather than away from the ecological and existential crises created by our culture. We are becoming acutely aware that we are called to respond skillfully, with maturity and self-leadership, in order to have a chance at a future on our planet.
As members of the gifted community specifically, the global challenges are catching us in a kind of cross-current: we’re navigating the realities of a world in crisis, tuning into our inner calling to make a difference, and trying to understand our gifted selves well enough to navigate the challenges we face with wisdom. Considering that personal and social development for gifted adults is quite new on the scene, our global and local crises find many of us at a time when we’re just (re)discovering that giftedness is a major piece of our puzzle of self-understanding and authentic values and contributions.
This last aspect — our understanding of our gifted selves — is a pivotal one as we respond to our world's calling at this time. There’s much in the gifted adult experience that has been terra incognita until very recently. This is now changing with the trailblazing and expansion taking place in the realm of gifted personal and social development. Yet, because giftedness itself has had a long past of under-recognition as a whole-person phenomenon, having been mapped only partially through an achievement-focused lens, many of us have been interpreting our gifted inner ecosystems with erroneous or (very) incomplete information. We’ve been making decisions and leading our lives using that mismatched or partial knowledge of our inner ecosystems.
In each of us, giftedness manifests with commonalities to other gifted people as well as essential differences. What we have in common is an ability to perceive, process and organize information with complexity. But every one of us brings a unique version of giftedness to the world, as we each have an individual gifted profile. Our giftedness expresses itself through the particular interplay between our gifted cognition style and areas of intelligence, which can combine in varied, colorful ways: each with its own style, vantage points of perception, challenges and strengths. This expression combines with further factors such as overexcitability, neurodiversity, personality preferences, and together with our culture and biography, shapes the irreproducible signature of how we take in and interact with the world. Some of our most intrinsic tendencies arise out of our gifted profile, as well as our personal set of gifted needs, which, like essential nutrients, are the kinds of experiences and avenues of expression that nourish us, support our thriving and help us show up in the world as our most complete selves. Understanding our gifted selves with this level of granular clarity gives us a map to engage with some of the core challenges and tasks we face in our environment.
CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION
When I first began my gifted discovery, I had a trajectory of over a decade of self-development and leadership work under my belt. I had already cultivated self-understanding and was having a positive impact in the ecosystems I engaged with through my leadership. However, I came to realize that the scope of what I could do was limited by how much I didn’t yet know about myself specifically as a gifted person. I couldn’t move forward without the essential puzzle piece of my giftedness. When I tried to continue developing in the ways I already was familiar with, I could see that I was only widening the gap between my authentic presence and contribution and the concrete actions I was taking as a leader in my environment.
Slowing down at this impasse and taking the time to learn about my gifted profile shifted my perspective radically, and I was able to reframe the gap I’d been experiencing as a portal to the growth that came next. The practice of mapping, integrating and learning to embody the nuances and facets of my gifted profile was deeply liberating. Instead of adapting to navigate my life around the splits I’d needed to create to cope with life prior to this process (and at times, believing those splits were my biggest tasks in life), I could depersonalize and recognize the splits as factual gaps in my self-knowledge. Further, I could see that those gaps had obscured the complex form of my own possibility space, my range of optimal possible ways of co-creating with life.
The process ahead, as I experienced it and as I've supported gifted clients through it, is to shed layers of incorrect, unclear, muddy or confusing information about ourselves, and the beliefs and behaviors stemming from it. It involves taking stock of our newfound spaciousness as we explore what our experience is like without splits, blocks, gaps and arbitrary limitations that before we weren’t able to go beyond. In doing so, we expand our awareness of self, finding where our edges and limits truly lie. We get to learn to meet the world at our real edges, rather than our previously imposed ones. After the process of release and expansion, finding our edges is often experienced as extremely comforting — we feel a real sense of contact with people, experiences and life, a feeling of being complemented rather than “trying to do and be everything”. These initial phases of clearing out old notions and adjusting to the authentic form and expression of our gifted selves liberate our energy and attention, which we now can dedicate to pursue our chosen avenues of generative engagement toward the world outside us.
At the relational level, our gifted self-discovery paradoxically gives us a healthy distance from both ourselves and from others. Learning about the details and complexities that make up the patterns of our inner ecosystem and how they manifest concretely, we gain a level of objectivity we don’t have access to without granular gifted-specific reference points of self-understanding. Being able to see our inner world with both objectivity and nuance allows us to understand, not just intellectually but “in our bones”, that the world is filled with people who think, feel and process the world differently from us. This translates into a settled and constructive relational attitude toward others as much as toward our own self.
Sticky or distracting relational binds can fall away as we realize that many of our iconic problems and ruts were never, in fact, personal to us, but rather a function of misunderstanding at this objective level. And if before we were dependent on other people’s feedback and cues to determine our navigation of life — and confused as a result because of all the conflicting viewpoints we received — our newfound clarity allows us to filter much more efficiently which ideas, opinions and feedback align with our attuned understanding of our inner ecosystem. In this way, the depth and breadth of our agency grows, and this, together with our newfound relational awareness, sets a foundation for what comes next: navigating the new, integrated ways that we’ll carry out our gifted expression as world-connected impact.
CONSCIOUSLY DESIGNING OUR ROLE
At the following stage, we undertake a journey of consciously designing our role in the nestled ecosystems we co-create. This can be an opportunity to re-examine our values and to tap into what we most deeply care about. Like with the personal and interpersonal processes I described above, this re-examination and re-designing process involves contrasting our new understanding of our gifted inner-ecosystem with any “default programming” that may have guided our actions in mismatching ways. Our new guidelines, instead, stem from clear knowledge and legitimation of our strengths, challenges, preferences, most natural expression of complexity, and limitations. We use our creative problem solving and a yes/and approach to bring these together — as fully as possible — with the practical demands of how we create something that we’re sharing with others for reciprocity and mutual benefit.
At this stage of the gifted integration process, I see clients re-articulate their work— sometimes at the level of minor tweaks, sometimes as a major career overhaul. They can then recognize and take action at the convergence point of their authentic areas of intelligence, creativity, passion and desire to be of service. In recognizing the possibilities for a calling inherent in the unique functioning of their gifted inner ecosystem, they take on the challenge of exploring, through projects and experiments, how to develop that calling as a way of being and belonging with the community of life.
This full giftedness integration journey— from the inner and interpersonal landscapes to the conscious creation of our unique generative role in the world — takes us through spiraling cycles of progressive discovery and integration toward mastery. Having a clear blueprint built on our gifted self-understanding means we can keep a meta-level view of these cycles and be empowered to lead ourselves to the next step on the path.
STEPS TO INTEGRATION
Wherever you find yourself on the cycle, here are some suggestions to guide your next level of integration:
If you’re wanting to explore your gifted profile and learn about the complexity of your inner ecosystem, you can start with a process of mindful self-exploration by reading about your areas of intelligence in What is Giftedness?. You can also learn about different forms of gifted cognition by reading about High, Exceptional and Profound Giftedness.
Consider working with one of our assessors via our qualitative giftedness assessments. An assessment is an in-depth process of mapping out your gifted profile, with practical and personalized recommendations for next steps for your integration journey. An assessment with us is a transformative process, and is indicated for when you’re in a stable place psychologically, personally and professionally.
After an assessment, you can continue working with one of our coaches in Giftedness Integration sessions. Giftedness integration work is a guided process consisting of a series of one-on-one online sessions. Together you’ll explore, get to know and learn to apply one or more areas of your gifted experience and extended cognitive profile, such as twice- or multi-exceptionalities.
Depending on where you are on your journey, you may also find a good match with our online community, dedicated to gifted exploration, connection and personal development. To find out if joining us would be a constructive next step, read more about our groups here, and our community FAQs here.
If you’re in the process of learning how to weave together your understanding of your gifted profile with how you make aligned choices and make impact in the world, I recommend reading these articles from our blog: Discovering our Highest Values and How Gifted People Can Reach Mastery: The Gifted Coaching Process.
If you’re at a point in your journey where you’re extending your giftedness integration to include your ecological intelligence, Jennifer Harvey Sallin has created two comprehensive self-reflection and action guides you can work with: Ecological Intelligence & Ecological Giftedness and Tools for Rediscovering your Ecological Intuition.
Additionally, through InterGifted's partner project, I Heart Earth, we’ve created a wealth of resources for engagement with the climate and environmental crisis through ecological (self) leadership. You can find us on our Facebook and Instagram accounts, where we ongoingly post educational resources, meditations and avenues of action to support and inspire our community in advocacy and activism.
If you’re in a leadership role, and feel ready to take your gifted self-knowledge into inspired action in the current global situation, consider participating in Jennifer Harvey Sallin's course Leading in Our Changing World. This is a deeply engaging, experiential course to guide participants in using their resources, gifts and influence for advocacy and change-making.
photo thanks to Markek Piwnicki via unsplash