Research has not left and will never leave my mind

A few weeks ago I left academia. I have been doing biological research within the marine realm for several years and earned a PhD degree, followed by a short PostDoc-position. Despite leaving academia, research has not left and will never leave my mind. It is a recurring element of all new challenges I am getting myself into, like writing a book on exceptionally and profoundly gifted people throughout history, getting my business started, doing an online MBA programme, and assessing my career chances in other international environments (I will have to see where it goes, if it goes and if I like it). I happen to have intense manias of diving into specific interests, but don’t worry, I always like to finish what I started. I just happen to like variety and as such, transferring and integrating different fields of knowledge and expertise. And oh yes, I occasionally sleep.

I happened to stumble upon the recent Delphi Study on Gifted Adults, carried out at the University of Auckland in multiple rounds. I joined this study and participated in the first round in early March. Its goal is to formulate what is needed to develop research that increases our understanding of gifted adults and investigate how research efforts should be directed in the next five years. Understanding gifted adults has important implications for their well-being at work and everywhere else.

My desire was to answer the questions with exceptionally and profoundly gifted adults in mind. Attention for exceptionally and profoundly gifted children has been increasing internationally, which is very much needed. However, giftedness does not just go away when growing up. I will share some of my viewpoints and activities here, loosely based on the questions asked in the Delphi Study.

Exploring giftedness

I started an online community for gifted people in 2012, based on years of deep self-reflection. Let’s call this my first active step into getting involved in serving the needs of gifted adults – myself included. The community rapidly grew into much more and is now a charity, the Gifted! Foundation (Stichting Hoogbegaafd!) serving over 8000 individuals, including gifted adults, parents of gifted children and professionals working with gifted adults. During the last two years, this charity has differentiated some more to better serve the highly and exceptionally gifted community. With Waves & Currents I wish to focus on a diversity of gifted people, but particularly on the exceptionally and profoundly gifted. Both initiatives have an international focus and do not just focus on Dutch people.

My main interest is in mental health and wellness, but also occupational health is of interest to me. I offer coaching with regard to the following topics: issues regarding meaning and self-development, feelings of loss and grief about what was or what could never be, increasing awareness of one’s own giftedness and how to best apply the talents that come with it, feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of connection with society, issues with relationships and career questions.

My hurdles

I have earned a reputation as the founder and chair of a charity, which should not stand in the way of also working with gifted people on a commercial basis. I am making people aware of the fact that I’m not just doing everything for free.

There is a lot of work to be done on generating awareness of the special needs of the highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted. Doing this from an existential viewpoint is largely unexplored in The Netherlands, with the focus being mostly on IQ-scores rather than the intensities, inner workings and expressions of this population.

I am very careful with whom I collaborate and exchange, because not everybody is open to highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted adults. I look for win-win experiences, so that not just the loudest people take all credit for serving the needs of the gifted. I am carefully building my network based on high standards of integrity and openness. This includes professionals from outside The Netherlands.

What is established and what is not?

Mental health and wellness of mildly to moderately gifted people after “confirmation” by IQ-testing is a well known and common practice in The Netherlands. It is even mandatory within most admission procedures of full-time gifted education, not so much regarding trauma, twice-exceptionality and fear of failure that could all negatively affect test scores. This country is achievement-oriented. It is not surprising that the general attention is directed towards the wellness and achievement of gifted adults at work, again focusing on the majority group of moderately gifted adults.

Not so established is the approach in which conversation is the basis of a dynamic assessment of the level of giftedness and its possible consequences. What truly happens on the inside while living with great intensities, what happens in relationships, how does it work with grief, trauma, finding meaning, and connecting with society by other means than work and career? And what are the specific needs of the highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted, as well as twice-exceptional gifted populations?

What do I think of giftedness?

To me, giftedness is nothing else but living with intensity; the higher the level of giftedness, the more intense. As a consequence, gifted people have a deep and rich way of observing and experiencing the world, seeing and feeling what is unnoticeable by most. The higher the giftedness, the more you likely see, should you have developed yourself nicely and not in some way be traumatized or permanently damaged by negative experiences, which may cause a very large discrepancy between very sharp observations and total blind spots. Increasingly so with higher levels of giftedness, there is the ability to interconnect and transfer knowledge, insights and methods to seemingly entirely different fields of expertise or work sectors, which often leads to challenges in a stratified, hyper-specialized work environment.

It is still often thought that giftedness = IQ, hence the heavy focus on IQ and other outputs, results or achievements. I understand that going with IQ is the most quantifiable way of dealing with giftedness. However, intelligence of twice-exceptional populations is often underestimated in IQ-tests. Moreover, the intelligence of exceptionally and profoundly gifted people is off the charts in the tests used in The Netherlands, simply stating “145+”. This may also come across as an objectification: Man = number. This is not how IQ-tests were meant to be used in the first place. My experience is that talking to gifted people is the best assessment, referring to my more than six years of observations of gifted people.

How to develop the field of research on gifted adults

More awareness of the specific needs of different populations of gifted adults is needed, including highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted adults and twice-exceptional gifted adults. Examples include:

  • How can we better understand the diversity of gifted adults as a basis for (1) helping the gifted community at large as well as society better understand their diverse needs; (2) helping diverse populations of gifted adults find meaning and purpose in life; and (3), more practically, finding a safe place to work, love and live?
  • How can we better understand suicide in gifted adults in terms of mechanisms behind suicide and suicidal thoughts across varying levels of giftedness, with the aim of preventing suicide?
  • How can we better understand drug use in gifted adults across varying levels of giftedness?
  • How can we better explore the phenomenon of “transfer”, occurring to an increasing extent with higher giftedness?
  • How can we spread insights on inner dialogue, especially prominent in exceptionally and profoundly gifted people, including its benefits, and prevent misconceptions?

Dr. Alice K. Burridge