Fate of Prodigies
March 9, 2005 3:55 PM   Subscribe

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posted by Gyan at 3:56 PM on March 9, 2005

"Some suffer from what psychologists call the "imposter phenomenon," the fear that they are not as smart as everyone said they were."

This doesn't just apply to prodigies does it? I've gotten the I-didn't-live-up-to-my-potential blues before...
posted by schyler523 at 4:01 PM on March 9, 2005

Just ask the Glass family, eh?
posted by freebird at 4:10 PM on March 9, 2005

sorta related - The Next Einstein? Applicants Welcome :D

oh and - The Crime-Genius-Marriage connection! [via snarkout sideout]
posted by kliuless at 4:22 PM on March 9, 2005

from the article:

"I thought the only purpose of communication was to exchange ideas," he says. "If someone was telling me something that didn't have an interesting idea, it was noise, and I would ignore it. That was the point of communication, right? To exchange ideas. Wrong! Completely wrong. The point of communication is to exchange emotions. I was on a different wavelength from everybody else."

worth remembering the next time someone starts crying "derail."

posted by Hat Maui at 4:36 PM on March 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

the I-didn't-live-up-to-my-potential blues

Heh. I'd use that as the title of my memoirs, if only I could get motivated enough to live up to my potential and write it...

/only half-joking
posted by scody at 4:43 PM on March 9, 2005

Actually, I think we've kind of entired the age of the prodigy, even outside intellectual pursuits. Wayne Gretzky was a nationally known hockey star before puberty, Tiger Woods was on TV putting as a pre-schooler. Our biggest pop stars are former Mousketeers.

It's bloom early or not at all, it seems.
posted by jonmc at 4:47 PM on March 9, 2005

Them kids is wicked smaat.
posted by ColdChef at 4:51 PM on March 9, 2005

Whadda you, retahded?
posted by jonmc at 4:53 PM on March 9, 2005

The Outsiders is an article well-worth reading about the downfalls of young genius. The observations are interesting--that there's this certain cut-off region of IQ where it becomes so difficult for the intelligent to relate with others around them that social interaction is likely to be doomed. I'm betting that's the case for super-high IQs, but the Globe article seems to imply that nurture is a determining factor for this. It makes sense--I know some damn smart people (not 200+ IQ, probably, but smart) and their degree of socialization is less connected to intelligence than what their childhood and parents were like.

"I consider him a failed prodigy, and with no joy do I say that. I am devastated" . . . "He is jovial. He is amiable. He is full of self-deception."

Wow. His mother sounds like a monster. No wonder they have a "difficult relationship." In this case it's a great thing he went away to college so early so he could meet people who didn't ascribe all his worth to smarts.

Can't imagine how hard it must be to be a parent of one of these kids--you see the ability, you feel the acclaim, and the urge to push them as hard as possible and use all of their abilities must be terribly seductive. But then you forget they're still kids, their emotional side's not caught up with the intellectual, and ignoring the former in favor of the latter's only going to widen the divide. When a person's stretched out like that they'll inevitably snap; while they might recover, odds are against it. And whichever happens they'll end up hating you.
posted by Anonymous at 5:03 PM on March 9, 2005

Err... ah come to this place, I run into a Bahney!
posted by antron at 5:06 PM on March 9, 2005

I see these kids all the time on Maury. Brilliant stuff, that Maury.
posted by graventy at 5:43 PM on March 9, 2005

I was one of these super-prodigies. I could carry on a conversation with my parents at 4 months, monologues off-Broadway at 8 months, and ghost-writing for William Safire by my first birthday. By the age of 18 months I spoke seven languages, three of my own creation. At two years I collaborated with Lex Luthor on a paper. Got my undergraduate degree at age six, then took a year off before Grad school to watch cartoons. Never got my Ph.D. though -- burned out at age nine. Became a carnie. Wish things would have turned out better.
posted by Hildago at 6:21 PM on March 9, 2005

Never got my Ph.D. though -- burned out at age nine. Became a carnie.

So that was you who swindled me at that ring toss in El Paso. I'll get you yet, Hildago!
posted by jonmc at 6:30 PM on March 9, 2005

I know a lot of people who were considered gifted as children and have made very ordinary smart adults. Sooner or later everyone else kind of catches up with you, and other factors start coming into play.

Seems to me the main challenge of being or raising a gifted child would be figuring out how to make the kid comfortable in a world that wasn't set up for people like him or her.
posted by orange swan at 8:09 PM on March 9, 2005

Sooner or later everyone else kind of catches up with you, and other factors start coming into play.

Exactly, orange swan. I think the realization of this is devastating to the super-gifted. Just a theory, though.
posted by malaprohibita at 8:53 PM on March 9, 2005

The interesting gifted people of history are those born to lady poverty.
posted by stbalbach at 9:12 PM on March 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sooner or later everyone else kind of catches up with you, and other factors start coming into play.

Does this statement come from something other than supposition? The reason I ask is that the article is specifically talking about enormously gifted people. Not just smart, 180 iq smart. The world won't catch up to them. They'll just tone it down in public.

I mean, if we're talking about merely above-average intelligence ("merely" sounds funny to me, but it works in this context) then yes, I'd agree that everybody else does catch up. But these kids are going to possess a superior intellect their whole lives.
posted by shmegegge at 9:30 PM on March 9, 2005

yeah, shmegegge, but with their superior intellect, they're going to realize that few actually listen to them ... and accomplishment is more than just being smart ... not to mention that in the world as a whole, there's a LOT of people just as smart as they are and some of them really pull off something

as for the article, i'm not surprised that a musical prodigy would have such a hard time ... it's a rough business and talent doesn't always win
posted by pyramid termite at 9:52 PM on March 9, 2005

Sooner or later everyone else kind of catches up with you, and other factors start coming into play.

I disagree with this, actually. It's been my experience that the smarter you are the more of a misfit you become; it's hard to explain complex things to dullards, after all.

By adulthood it's not so much that other people have caught up to you, it's that you've probably come to terms with the fact that we don't live in a meritocracy (nor should we, IMO) and that ordinary people can get along just fine without knowing any of those fancy facts or figures, especially if they have a nice smile. I don't know if I've ever known anyone truly gifted, but I've seen this pattern play itself out with quite a few very smart people.

And no, I don't even really know where to draw the line between ordinary, smart, and gifted.

But I do think quite highly of myself. :)
posted by gambit at 12:48 AM on March 10, 2005

One of my favourite movies is about child prodigies.
posted by mek at 12:52 AM on March 10, 2005

But these kids are going to possess a superior intellect their whole lives.

It's true, they will, but how many of them will really do anything extraordinary with their lives? Most of the people cited in the articles didn't seem to be — sure, they had good, interesting jobs and did well at them, but they weren't really making a huge difference in the world. Yes, they could converse fluently at two and read at three. But once everyone else learns to talk and read well, the gap narrows a lot. And it narrows further out in the workforce once things like interpersonal skills become more important than they ever were in academic achievement. Sure, a gifted person might speak six languages. But an ordinary person might achieve comparable results through the use of translation.

A high IQ is far from being the only factor in success. My mother, a teacher of about 47 years of experience who just retired last June, told me that she could always figure out who in her current class would score the highest on the IQ tests. It was never the kid who made the best grades. It was the class weirdo who maybe made average grades, or perhaps did really well in some areas and poorly in others. In grades three and four that weirdo was me [cough].
posted by orange swan at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite movies is about child prodigies.

Me too!
posted by COBRA! at 9:37 AM on March 10, 2005

I grew up in a very musical family; both of my siblings were prodigies, and are still musicians, and we spent a lot of time at music festivals. There is a very fine line that becomes clear at these events, between people who are really amazing and take themselves very seriously, and the people who are good, but couldn't give two shits about it. The former have nervous breakdowns and end up taking a dump inside of the practice room piano. The latter are really nice people to be with.
As schroedinger said, the mother is a monster, and, sadly, I've met more than my share of mothers like that; usually they end up destroying their child by alternating beatings and coddling until the child has absolutely no idea which way is up.
posted by 235w103 at 9:53 AM on March 10, 2005

As in the movie Shine, which was what I was afraid mek had linked to as his/her favourite movie.
posted by orange swan at 10:16 AM on March 10, 2005

I know a lot of people who were considered gifted as children and have made very ordinary smart adults. Sooner or later everyone else kind of catches up with you, and other factors start coming into play.

This is a pretty big one.

I wasn't a genius or anything -- but I was a pretty sharp kid and I had the freedom to run with it when i was growing up. By the time I hit twelve, I'd already started a couple of small businesses (complete with slave labor assembly lines). I was a couple of years into a 7-year stint writing and editing a zine with a few hundred paying subscribers. When I was fifteen, someone explained to me that I had been doing a 'zine,' and I had to look the word up. I Interviewed Walter Payton and a couple of congressmen. Hooked up with book publishers and angled interviews, got flown around the country a couple of times to appear in public service announcements, it was all very cool.

I have some bizarre, crazy memories (like that pedophile stalker from Colorado who saw me on Pat Robertson's TV show, and started sending me Pink Panther movies on VHS...). I had to come to grips with my identity being something inside me, something personal and human, rather than my burgeoning portfolio, a kickass resume, and a string of editorial positions. It's very, very hard, though, when you hit 16, 17, 18... and realize that you're not that special just because you did things earlier than other kids.

Being 'five years smarter than everybody else' is dazzling when you're eight. It doesn't matter for shit when you're about to hit your thirties. That's not good or bad, it's just the way it is. I'm engaged now, and talking with my fiance about the future, about our hypothetical children. Figuring out how to encourage them to stretch, to grow, to learn and enrich themselves, is tough without getting sucked into the cycle of intellectual show-parenting.
posted by verb at 10:29 AM on March 10, 2005

verb, I think you have a really good point. Being a gifted child or teen can make the moment in your twenties when you realize that your skill no longer defines you as a person pretty devastating, from what I've seen.

btw, I could read and write at three and I flunked out of the 6th grade so it's not exactly an infallible predictor of academic achievement.
posted by fshgrl at 11:26 AM on March 10, 2005 [2 favorites]

One of my favourite movies is about child prodigies.

Me three!

The terrible trouble with being 99th percentile on any form of standardised test you care to name is that some people still believe crap, even when you take great pains to point out how wrong they are. If it wasn't for the regular applciation of the mental numbing effects of alcohol I'd long have been incarcerated for repeated intentional slapping upside the head.
posted by Sparx at 12:47 PM on March 10, 2005

I always belived I was "Gifted" when I was growing up, my mom told me constantly. But she definetly didn't push me at all. In fact, I wish she had a bit more, I ended up terribly lazy and I feel like I could have learned so much more growing up if I'd had a bit more of a work ethic.

but yeah, kids will definetly enjoy their childhoods a lot more if you just 'let them be kids' regardless of how smart they are. And in the end, thats probably more important.
posted by delmoi at 1:10 PM on March 10, 2005

A number of groups like Voyagers exist to help parents who don't know what it means when their toddler conducts adult conversations at the supermarket. But these things cost money, lots of money, and that's the open secret of this particular subculture. If you can't afford to pay for services, or if you come from a background that hasn't prepared you to work the system, your child could go without support,

Huh, just what's that supposed to mean?
posted by delmoi at 1:17 PM on March 10, 2005

anyone read Herman Hesse's The Progidy? Just to ruin it for you, genius eventually flunks out of school, gets work as a mechanic, then gets drunk one night and drowns. Go figure...
posted by leibniz at 2:17 PM on March 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Being 'gifted' in the 70s in the California public school system meant one was supposed to be good in art. Me and the other 'gifted' students were excused from classes to go sit in a separate classroom and, I don't know, paint, or sculpt (we'd have been better served studying languages or science, but. . .). Mostly we left campus and went out and got high. I left school at fourteen. Yes, am still a tidge bitter. My nephew is now in the grip of the 'gifted' treadmill and it scares me. I doubt he's a genius, and I wasn't one, but superbright kids aren't served well in public schools. Lady poverty indeed.
posted by goofyfoot at 5:15 PM on March 10, 2005

"Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising." —Cyril Connolly

Me four.

Sparx: I second that.
posted by bricoleur at 3:35 AM on March 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I was 15 and starting to apply to colleges, my mother sat me down and said "You know, you can do anything you want in life, and the most important thing is that you find something that makes you happy. Of course, it's always been my dream as your mother to be sitting in the audience when they give you the Nobel Prize. If you decide that you want to do something else with your life, I'll be disappointed, but as long as it makes you happy I'll understand and I'll still love you."

It took me another 15 years to undo the damage from that conversation.
posted by fuzz at 8:07 AM on March 11, 2005

fuzz I had the opposite conversation with my Dad. I was 17 and going on and on about how I wanted a really meaningful job that really advanced humankind and he was all, OK kiddo. Don't become an accountant, and also you might want to start actually attending that high school you're enrolled in. He was so right.
posted by fshgrl at 4:31 PM on March 11, 2005

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