Why Gifted Adults Face Unique Career Change Challenges

By Cathy Goodwin

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Gifted adults often face unique career change challenges. They're often described with words that seem negative in the context of most corporate jobs. For instance, gifted adults can seem restless and undirected. They juggle several projects at the same time. They come across as intense and supremely focused.

When children are gifted, they often get into trouble at school because they are bored. They are not always the "A" students because their minds don't work in conventional ways. Teachers often don't know what to do with them.

However, being a gifted child can bring rewards because children are praised and rewarded for learning and scoring high on tests. Adults are rewarded for broader forms of success, which require social skills and personality traits that often conflict with the gifted adult's nature.

Many gifted adults have felt "different" since childhood. Some understand that they don't fit in because their mind works differently. But others think there's something wrong with them.

When gifted children become adults, they face unique career challenges, especially if they don't recognize themselves as gifted. They might try to fit into corporate life, only to get frustrated. Corporate life rewards qualities like frustration tolerance and conformity. Gifted adults tend to get bored easily and have trouble conforming, even when they want to.

Gifted adults tend to be rewarded when they find themselves in careers and environments that support their abilities. Examples include scientists, professors in research-oriented universities, authors, and many other professions. Some gifted adults know how to "play the game," moving beyond unrewarding entry level jobs to reach positions where they can use their gifts.

Unfortunately, other gifted adults remain stuck in jobs where they are guaranteed to remain misfits. A manager who conceptualizes the company's problems easily can get repressed by bosses who don't encourage her to explore these directions. A worker in a dead-end job who lacked the education and social skills that would let him move to a more congenial environment can't use his mind.

If you relate to these descriptions, you may encounter difficulties not only with career choice but with career guidance. Career counselors can be intimidated by gifted clients. They are trained to discourage career changers from moving in too many directions at once. They see gifted clients who seem to grasp ideas really quickly but sometimes have trouble translating these ideas into action.

In particular, gifted adults tend to catch on to things so quickly they face two dilemmas in choosing a new course. First, they seem to be good at so many things, they say it's hard to choose. Second, they (and their advisors) often say, "You're really good at this. Maybe it should be your career." Aptitude turns out to be a small part of career satisfaction, so it is important to look at the total picture, including personality and style.

If you're a gifted adult (and there's no hard and fast measure), be aware that you may come across as restless, distracted or even flaky. Don't be discouraged if you get negative responses from your friends and even career coaches. Be aware of what you need and keep searching for creative ways to find career fulfillment.  


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