• Dr. Matt Zakreski

what gifted means to me

Updated: Feb 16

So for #giftedawarenessweek and in support of the amazing #gifted and #lgbtq panel I'm on this evening with my amazing colleagues from The G Word I wanted to create a blog post for what Giftedness means to me.

I often say that #giftedness to me is both a personal and a professional obligation, because I'm a #neurodivergent person myself. I love my job in that I get to guide gifted kids through a world that doesn't always understand them and sometimes seems to work to actively undermine them. Being smart isn't easy and we need to not only understand that as a society, but also make changes to support it.

So here is what being gifted means to me:

G - "Genius" - Can I tell you how much I hate this word? I was called a "#genius" most of my life and it only served to make me insecure. When you call a kid a "genius" it runs the risk of fusing them to that identity, such that any performance failure (or anything that a "genius" wouldn't do) feels like a personal failure. Our kids do so much better when we praise their efforts and their process, rather than their outcomes. Having a gifted brain is special, but it will never be all that you are.

I - Intensity - If gifted people are anything, they are #intense . We are intense in thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships. This intensity can make it hard to connect with others and hard to self-regulate. Many gifted people, as a result, report to me that they feel out of control, at the behest of their own thoughts and feelings. Through therapy and practice, however, you can make space for your intensity and use it prosocially (or at least keep it from making things worse!).

F - Friendship - I never really understood friendship until I went to #cty as a middle schooler. Friendship is about authenticity, and I was holding myself back from being my true self because I was afraid to show how smart I really was. (Like I said, being smart isn't easy). But I soon realized that when I was around people like me, I was my best self. And when I was my best self, I made better and lasting (some still to this day!) relationships. That confidence let me engage more authentically with other areas of life, including in the theatre, leadership, and even business.

T - The Impostor Syndrome - one of the areas of my practice and research that has really grown for me has been the concept of #impostersyndrome . For me, I am always reminded of this by the fact that we are all still learning and if you don't know everything, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Especially for gifted people, the idea that something comes easy to you doesn't mean that it is without value; in fact, your strengths in areas that other people find challenging can inspire people to grow. In short, you belong... just as you are.

E - Education - You have to feed your brain... and you have to keep feeding your brain. I find that if I take 30-45 minutes for me every day that allow me to educate myself, I feel better and I'm a better partner, psychologist, and parent. The best thing about this process, however, is that YOU get to choose what feeds your brain. Sudoku? Great. Cooking classes? Cool. Frisbee golf? Sweet. Coding for fun? Do the thing! When you're doing something that engages your brain, you are seeking that #flow state that allows us to deeply process something that brings us passion and contributes to growth. The biggest thing? Value yourself enough to give yourself to time to learn.

D - Diversity - and not just to "check a box." Traditionally, gifted education has been predominately white, male, and from affulent areas. And guess what? Gifted kids are EVERYWHERE, in every town, SES group, race, gender, sex, and ethnicity. But when kids don't have equitable access to the proper resources, staff, and education, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. My colleagues Dr. Donna Ford and Dr. Kristina Collins have done amazing work at bringing in #intersectionality and the #3E movement. We need to make space at the table for all kids; we all grow more as humans when there is true #diversity at the table, from race to SES to the #lgbtqcommunity.

I've learned a lot in my time in the gifted world, and I want to learn more. I hope that these thoughts spell out where we are and where we are going. As hard as the road can be, I'm thrilled for the opportunity to drive more positive change.

Thanks for being a part of my journey. #drmatt

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