Meet Maya, a 10th grader studying in a renowned international school in Dubai. Like many of her classmates, she hasn’t figured out the path she wants to pursue after school. What makes her different from her peers however is the range of activities in which she is thriving. She never had trouble getting top grades in most of her school subjects. Maya has a gift for writing and the arts. She has written dozens of articles for her school magazine and won essay writing competitions. On top of that, she creates amazing artwork which won her praise from the head of the school. She is also passionate about researching the human mind. One would think that such a bright child would have no problem making a career decision. However, Maya often feels torn between her different interests and is not sure how to go about making the best choice for her future. She is not alone in this struggle.
Maya falls under the category of “gifted & talented” children, i.e., those who possess a great amount of natural ability, talent, or intelligence which becomes evident at a very young age. The career indecision that Maya is experiencing right now is common to most gifted & talented children as per Professor Jae Yup Jung of the University of New South Wales, Australia. According to Professor Jung, the conventional approaches to career decision-making often fall short when helping gifted & talented children.
Given that these children have the highest potential to become leaders in different fields and bring about a significant impact on the lives of others, it’s important to understand what unique aspects apply to these students when it comes to choosing the best-fit future pathway and how we, as parents and educators, can support them effectively.
In my experience, the following 3 aspects should be kept in mind when dealing with the career development of gifted & talented students. The same factors have been highlighted by the leading global centers for research on gifted and talented youth.
Aspect 1: Multipotentiality – Embracing the Gift of Possibilities
For the longest time, conventional wisdom recommended that people specialize and start specializing early. However, gifted & talented students are multipotentialites, i.e., they have interests and abilities in a range of fields. They can be good in multiple career fields. For example, Maya can enjoy working as a psychologist, a journalist, or even a designer. Not only that, she can be especially suited to work in an array of emerging interdisciplinary fields like Climate Communication, User Experience Research, Bioethics, and Game Design.
According to the Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education and Talented Development, enabling Maya and other gifted & talented children to become open to such possibilities and realize that they don’t have to choose just one thing requires exposure to diverse possibilities, including emerging careers that require multidisciplinary thinking.
Aspect 2: Mindful Excellence – Embracing Imperfection on the Path to Excellence
In recent years, perfectionism has gotten a bad rap as it seems to be a key reason why a lot of high-potential students often feel that they are not good enough and experience anxiety before high-stakes examinations and competitions. Yes, it’s also true that the high expectations that gifted & talented students have from themselves along with high expectations from parents and teachers become a source of stress.
However, author, psychologist, and director of Gifted Development Center Linda Kreger Silverman points out that there is another side to perfectionism. Gifted & Talented students are best placed to strive for excellence when they focus on their strengths. What they require is guidance to understand what excellence in different careers looks like and a realistic estimate of the effort and time required to get there. They also would benefit a lot from mindfulness practices which readies them to overcome self-criticism and persevere through obstacles as they explore future possibilities.
Aspect 3: A Need for Intellectual Stimulation – Balancing Challenge and Skill to Experience FLOW
Gifted & Talented students are filled with a desire to challenge themselves and it often requires personalized attention on the part of school teachers to keep them engaged in class. When it comes to learning more about different kinds of occupations, Maya and other gifted students with whom I have worked with, often share a worry about whether a said career would be able to sustain their interest for this particular reason.
When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed 8000 artists, scientists, and other professionals across different cultures to find the conditions that lead people to really enjoy what they are doing for their own sake and not for any reward, one of the conditions that came out is the need for matching challenges and skills. This means that relying on activities like watching videos or reading articles about different careers alone may not be stimulating enough. Gifted & talented children should be encouraged to immerse themselves in activities that professionals perform in their day-to-day work. I’ve seen gifted and talented students enjoying these challenges much more as they find them to be novel and more complex compared to the academic tasks they do in different subjects. To help them identify work activities where they will experience a sense of timelessness, gifted & talented students should be asked to try out increasingly complex work activities as they build their skills.
Gifted students can grow up to be eminent individuals who can build game-changing innovations and move the world forward. To realize their full potential and ignite their passions they require a conducive environment and a special focus on the 3 aspects highlighted above. Maya and other gifted and talented students would thus be able to effectively tackle career indecision and set themselves to thrive in college and beyond.
At Power Club, we’ve brought together a world-class team of industry experts, college admission advisors, and life design coaches to build a personalized, experiential, and collaborative career discovery program exclusively for the gifted and talented.
Founding Team Member & Product Manager, Learning & Community @ Power Club