Finding Your Best Fit: How Gifted Adults Choose Their Careers

  • May 27, 2024
  • Dr. Deborah Ruf
Deobrah Ruf

My talk on July 2, 2024, at the Mensa Foundation’s Annual Colloquium in Kansas City, MO, is about how much leeway different gifted people have to “try on” and find their true callings and passions as they set off on their adult lives. And what price might they pay for making their own choices or taking “too long” to make any choice at all?

Gifted people usually have multipotentiality. They are often told they can do anything they want to do because they are so capable in many domains. There are so many things they are good at that it becomes difficult for them to be sure they are on the right path.

Which of their talents should they take into their careers? They want to find the perfect place and role for their interests and goals. They want their families to be pleased with them. And they want to be pleased and satisfied with themselves, too.

My 18-year longitudinal study of 78 gifted children grown-up included subjects whose families had been clients of mine or volunteered to participate in my study for the first book, Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind, 2005, which was renamed with no other changes to 5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options in 2009. The first book provided the details for how to identify “how gifted” one’s children are, how other people and schools will react to that concept, and what parents can do now to improve circumstances for their children. It still sells well. People seek those answers because they need them. Now.

The follow-up book is The Five Levels of Gifted Children Grown Up: What They Tell Us (2023). About 60 of the original participants responded to participate in the follow-up. I am turning that book into three stand-alone smaller books with discussion questions at the ends of each chapter.

I’ll discuss some of my findings from the study at the Mensa Colloquium. Here is a description of topics key to gifted adults finding their best career fits:

Social privilege plays a huge role: Gifted children who come from families that have generational knowledge about navigating the systems they are part of gives them and their families more leeway for the paths needed to reach their goals. For example, there might be family money available if the gifted adult doesn’t make much money at their ideal career. Social privilege includes access to an appropriate background education and net-working support.

One potent form of Parental Influence: Some parents have strong views and expectations for their gifted children’s futures and career status and disregard or ridicule ideas their gifted child may express having. Some parents want their children to follow in their footsteps; they want their child to make them proud (or not embarrass them); they want their child to enter a prestigious and lucrative position because of their own beliefs or vanity; or some parents want their child to do better than they did in life; and some parents compete with their gifted children and basically say, “If you’re so smart, why can’t you figure it out?”

Some parents just want their gifted children to be happy. They want their children to do what they — their children — want to do. They assume their gifted children will have any and all opportunities because they’re gifted. Some parents don’t interfere, make few career suggestions, or aren’t sure how they’d help anyway. Lack of social privilege or an assumption their very smart child automatically knows what to do plays into this attitude.

Family background and culture affects the perception of needs and achievement-based outcomes. This is why some families — more than others, perhaps — stress hard work, good grades, and high socially-agreed-upon achievement levels.

Some cultures stress helping others, making a difference. Parents and extended families may value different levels of achievement and goals based on the gifted child’s sex, as well.

Some people want to move past poverty, abuse, sexism, racism, etc. by “showing them” or being so good and capable they might finally have a chance to find respect, safety, and affirmation. When the child and parents agree with this goal and are supportive, it can make a huge difference even when money isn’t easily available.

I will also weave into the discussion the gifted adult subjects’ social-emotional and mental health outcomes related to the different family situations described above. Finally, I have chosen excerpts of what the subjects themselves say about their thoughts and circumstances.

I look forward to speaking to you in-person or virtually the afternoon of July 2, 2024.