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Giftedness, Creativity, and Storytelling – and Imposter Syndrome

It is the International Week of the Gifted 2012. Around the blogosphere, advocates for gifted adults and gifted children are writing about giftedness with a particular enthusiasm and energy. The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children is encouraging the use of International Week of the Gifted to pave the way for the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity 2013 with the theme “Stories and Story Sharing”.

Giftedness, creativity, and the power of sharing our stories are three of my passions. I feel compelled to do something, organize something, create something.

If I had my druthers, I would organize a series of workshops, offered to gifted children and their parents, using the storytelling tools of InterPlay to help them tell their own stories, hear each other’s stories, and share them through a public performance. I have the training to do this, but I am not sure I have the time, and I definitely worry about whether I have the gumption.

You see, I suffer from the great gifted woman’s disorder: Imposter Syndrome. Essentially, Imposter Syndrome involves constantly feeling like a fraud, like you are not as competent as people around you, and as they think you are. There is an accompanying fear of being “found out” and a lack of willingness to put oneself forth as a resource.

In my case, it manifests as a reluctance to set up workshops because I fear no one will come and that if they do come, they will feel like they have wasted their money. But, I know from past experience that I am a good teacher and a good director. When I lead InterPlay workshops, people enjoy them and many folks want to know how they can experience more.

Lisa Rivero’s article Who Do You Think You Are? Re-Thinking the Imposter Syndrome introduced me to the idea that the feelings of being an imposter may be a sign that one is heading in the right direction and that one should lean into the fear and work through it rather than letting it stop you. That idea resonates with me.

If you had asked me when I was 14, what work I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said I wanted to run a theatre and associated theatre school. A few years later, I saw a performance by teenagers of monologues they had written about their own lives and was struck by the immense power of people telling their own stories in performance. I spent the next 15 years working in theatre, remembering the power of the autobiographical performances, yearning to be part of such things, and yet not doing any work in that area. Until I found InterPlay.

When I discovered InterPlay, I was teaching a class called Sacred Bodies, Sacred Play at Starr King School for the Ministry. I had developed a collection of tools for triggering spiritual experiences through physical play and creativity and was sharing them in the class I was teaching. The overlap between the forms I had discovered myself and was teaching in that class and the forms of InterPlay were uncanny.

But, I had not been formulating my system into a teachable tool for very long and Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter had been working on InterPlay for decades. InterPlay was in many ways simply further along the path than I was. More than that, InterPlay had developed the tools for combining the physical body, the spirit of play, and improvised performance into truth-telling performances sharing deep stories, thereby joining my play-based work with the power of performance autobiography that I had witnessed so many years before. It is no wonder that I started the InterPlay Teacher Training Program immediately after finishing my first class.

After completing the training, I didn’t dive right into teaching. For good reason. I was moving internationally while pregnant with triplets. I was otherwise occupied.

It is now time for me to start offering classes and workshops.

And, I feel the fear of the Imposter Syndrome surrounding me, telling me I am heading in an important direction, considering a meaningful path, and must take action.

I am not an Imposter. I am well trained for this work. But, sometimes, I have to remind myself of these facts.

  • I have been leading rehearsals and teaching performance as a director for 25 years.
  • I have been organizing rehearsals as a stage manager for longer.
  • I have organized events with substantial budgets.
  • I have produced theatrical productions and special performances for half-a-dozen theatre companies.
  • My InterPlay training was with the founders of InterPlay, including performance classes.
  • I have performed in several InterPlay performances as a dancer/storyteller.
  • When I participate in InterPlay Leaders Events, I am recognized as a peer by leaders with all levels of experience.
  • My understanding of the power of InterPlay as a storytelling tool has deepened through my writing about InterPlay.

I am hopeful that I will have time in 2013 to lead workshops for gifted children and their parents to share their stories. My family is going through some changes that will take some months to settle out, and until they do, I will not know what 2013 is going to look like.

But, I am committed to being a part of the world-wide community of people telling the stories of gifted people, sharing what our experience is. If the performance project looks too big, I will focus on telling more of my story through my writing.

Gifted people are identifiable because we are outside the norm. Sharing our stories helps us connect in a world where we too often feel isolated. I can be part of enriching that connection by sharing my own stories. One way or another, I will be creating work supporting the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity 2013 on the theme of Stories and Story-Sharing.

I hope you will join me in 2013 by either telling your own stories or finding other people’s stories to witness.

For a list of other posts related to International Week of the Gifted, click here

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The Trouble with Passing for “Normal”: Especially for our Gifted Girls, Part II

Part of a series on truth-telling in life and art. See the first post, Dare to Be Yourself, here.

This post follows on from The Trouble with Passing for “Normal”: Especially for our Gifted Girls, Part I.

I started trying to pass for normal before I had any idea I was gifted. All I knew was that I was different and that different was bad. I have no memory of the beginning of the process. All I know is a story my parents tell, one that in retrospect shows a problem that nobody thought to address. For decades, this story has been told as an example of how clever I was. It is only now as an adult, going through the process of recognizing my own identity that I see it as a cautionary tale.

I was born in England and attended early school there. My father took a sabbatical in the U.S. when I was 5 and I started Kindergarten. I was one of two students who entered Kindergarten already reading and my only memory from that year is of the two of us lying on the floor by the coat cubbies reading while the other students learned the letters of the alphabet.

The story my father tells goes like this.

“Kate has always been a talker. Once she started, there was no stopping her. At the first parent-teacher conference in Kindergarten, we were shocked to learn that Kate never spoke up in class unless directly asked a question by the teacher. She was still talking up a storm at home. ” Pause, accompanied by facial expression conveying confusion. “The next time we met with her teacher, it was a different story. Kate was talking at school the way she talked at home – but in an American accent. She had waited to talk until she had mastered the local dialect.”

I was 5 and I was hiding myself to fit in. It is a habit I am still trying to break.

As a teenager, the disconnect between my deep truths, the truths I let myself be aware of, and the facade I was presenting to the outside world became unmanageable and I suffered an existential crisis. In the midst of that crisis, I found the ground of my being, and moved forward, but it certainly looked like all was lost for some time.

If my life were a novel, that crisis would have been the final turning point where I rallied and strode forward into the fight that would lead to the novel’s resolution. But life is messier than art. In life, the protagonist doesn’t always make the choice to fight. And, resolution is not assurred. But, that turning point is the place in my memories that I need to access in order to write about the descent into deep crisis that will push my protagonist into change.

The Trouble with Passing for “Normal”: Especially for our Gifted Girls, Part I

Part of a series on truth-telling in life and art. See the first post, Dare to Be Yourself, here.

“Passing” is a term from the history of racial discrimination in the post Civil-War United States. At the end of this post is a little more information about that context. I apologize in advance to anyone who thinks I am being insensitive to the history of the word in using it in the context of this post. 

Gifted girls face enormous pressure to be more average than they are. Because giftedness is not a visible difference from the norm, they have the option to do this.

“Because of their enhanced ability to perceive social cues and their early conditioning about the critical importance of social acceptance, gifted girls are much more adept than gifted boys at imitation….They fit in by pretending to be less capable than they really are, disappearing into the crowd.” – Linda Silverman, Counseling the Gifted and Talented

This leads to under-identification of the giftedness in girls:

“By the age of 9, highly gifted children may hit the ceiling of the tests, and gifted girls may be socialized to hide their abilities.  Unless they are absolutely certain they are right, gifted girls are often unwilling to guess, which lowers their IQ scores.”Linda Silverman, What We have Learned About Gifted Children

Highly gifted teens who suffer existential depression are at an unacceptably high risk for suicide and are adept at hiding their troubles from everybody. Because these teens often present as highly successful, they are very hard to help once they have started suffering. They have also generally learned to distrust adults and are suspicious of proffered help. Prevention is key in helping these children. And that means identifying them early and helping them see their own true colours. And, we must listen to them and take them seriously.

“Gifted people often adjust what they say so that they will be accepted. They sometimes feel that other people do not take them seriously. This can lead to not trusting themselves. Careful listening can also be a lifeline. It can convince children that there is someone who thinks that they are valuable and worth understanding.” Betty Meckstroth

**A Note About Passing

In American usage, “passing” without further reference to what one is passing as refers specifically to light-skinned black people assimilating into the white community to avoid racial discrimination. When explicit discrimination was law, any traceable mixed-ancestry qualified a person as coloured. This meant that a sizable portion of people legally identified as coloured could “pass” for white if they left the communities where their family history was known. What I know of the psychological experience of passing in this context comes from literature, in particular two books I read in my law school class on the legal regulation of intimate interracial relationships, Passing, by Nella Larson and Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy who Discovered He was Black, by Gregory Howard Williams.

Passing involved isolating oneself from one’s family, denying one’s ancestry, and constantly living in fear of being found out. For some people, it was the better of two evils, but it was an awful way to live.

I interrupt this blog to…

Bionicle in the Bathtub. Luckily, he wasn't there until after the purchase offer had been made and accepted.

Two short announcements this week.

1) The reason for this is that we sold our house this week and the final stages of that process have thrown everything out of whack. This is a good chaos, but chaos nonetheless.

2) I have joined a team of writers who will be blogging about all things gifted from various perspectives. Christine Fonseca, author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students and 101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids, has put together a great group of writers, including Jen Merrill from Laughing at Chaos, whom I mentioned recently. My first post will be up next week. In the meantime, head on over to An Intense Life to see what is going on. There is also news on the site about Christine’s gothic YA novella Dies Irae that has just been released. I am in the middle of it and am enjoying it tremendously.

Out of the bathtub, ready for action.

Leaving the Realm of the Average

I am in-between houses.

The kitchen at the new place is missing a few important things.

We have started moving things into the new place, but we are still living in the old place.

I am in-between in a deeper sense as well.

In the language of social anthropology, I am in a liminal phase, a transitional period between outward personas, an inner transformation reflected in the move from a modern suburban development with matching neighbors to an older, quirky, custom-built house.

I spent my young adult life struggling to fit into a model of the world I had absorbed through my years of schooling. That model involved a lot of applying myself to other people’s goals and working hard to appear normal, getting a good job and putting in the hours behind a desk to earn the paycheck that would allow me to become a useful consumer.

But, those goals were never mine.

Since leaving legal practice in 2000, I have been on a quest to rediscover my values and build a life that reflects me in my full glory. My return to writing and a life centered in creativity and play was part of this quest.

Parenting my challenging children has forced me to confront the pressures I yielded to as a child that I should have avoided. By choosing to homeschool at least some of my children, I have created an opportunity to pass different messages on to my children. The literature that is helping me understand my extremely bright children is helping me understand myself.

Last year, the demands of my novel and the self-awareness triggered by learning how to help my children came together and cracked my persona, and I haven’t put things back together yet. I don’t know what I am growing into; I only know some of the elements my next persona must acknowledge.

The new house is part of my growth. We rationalize the move by saying we need an additional bedroom and that the kids need more outdoor space, but a deeper truth is that my soul cries out for the quirks of a custom-built house.

After hiding in plain sight for years, I am standing up and saying to the world, “I am an outlier.”

Light breaking through

I don’t remember ever not being aware that I was out of the range of normal. In Kindergarten, I spent most of the year reading by the coat cubbies while my classmates learned the alphabet. That was also the year I gave up my English accent so I didn’t sound strange to my American classmates.

I learned about bell-curves when my class-mates accused me of “breaking the curve.” I learned about percentiles in 3rd grade when the doctor referred to my height as 105th percentile; my mother gave me a math lesson during the drive home. By 6th grade, I was taller than most of my teachers. And the stories of my struggles against gender-stereotypes deserve a blog post of their very own – or maybe a series of posts.

For too many years, I saw being different as being bad. But it isn’t. It  is just different.

I’m not sure where all this is going. I’m sure it will show up in my writing.

I hope you’ll come along with me for the ride.

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