I’m reading a book right now called Nurture Shock: New Ways of Thinking About Children. I’m interested for a variety of reasons – some personal, some professional. What I mean is: we’ve all been children. We all grow into adults. We are all molded in ways we don’t even want to admit by our childhood experiences. So it is interesting to find out more about how this all manifests in our lives both as kids and then as adults.
I just finished a chapter in the book about testing children for Gifted Programs in school. If I step back and look at it, “Gifted Program” is a rather funny concept. How do we define “gifted?” And how do we really test for it? Once gifted, always gifted? Once not-gifted, always not-gifted?
And on a more over-arching level: Aren’t we all gifted? Whether it is gifted with a good attitude, a loving heart or the founder of the theory of relativity, each of us certainly has something to offer to ourselves and to the world around us. And I find that people are driven by a need to find and feel that sense of purpose.
When I consult with people, the primary piece of information they want to uncover is their personal purpose in their life.
When I was in grade school in California, I was chosen by my teachers as a candidate for the Gifted Program at our school. I must have been in 1st or 2nd grade. I remember being called out of regular class to go to the administration office where I met with a woman who was the tester for these exams. She sat in an over-stuffed swiveling leather office chair behind a rather imposing wooden office desk in an enclosed office. I sat with my feet dangling from the folding chair across from her, my legs not yet long enough to reach the floor.
I went through a two-day battery of tests that we’re given to me verbally, including questions and answers, puzzles, sequencing and other things I don’t remember. I do recall being asked a stumper: “Why does oil float when it’s mixed with water?” My 6 year-old response: “Um, because oil is lighter than water I guess.” The math portion was saved to the end of the 2-day test. I was never good with math and I certainly knew that I did not know most of these advanced answers. Which is a truly fabulous irony that now I’m working daily with numbers through Numerology!
The next week, my mother came home and sat me down after school. She had a rather taut way she held both her body and her mouth when it came down to “serious” matters. She told me that she had gone to the school that afternoon for a meeting with the head of the Gifted Program. They told her that my tests were great except for the math portion. My math skills were weak enough to keep me from being accepted into the program.
I remember that I hadn’t really cared nor wanted to actually be in the gifted program. It was something that was foisted upon me. And yet when I heard the news that I’d failed at gaining entry, my 6 year-old self just lost it. I started to cry uncontrollably.
My mother looked at me with a sense of disdain, if not a little bit of panic. And then the part that has the most resonance with me. She looked me directly in the eye and sternly said: “If I’d known you wanted this so badly, I wouldn’t have let you try.”
Let’s say that again:
“If I’d known you wanted this so badly I wouldn’t have let you try.”
As I look back at my choices in life, at the things I have and haven’t done, it occurs to me that this statement had an amazing amount of subliminal power over me.
It certainly taught me to think twice before committing – body and soul – to wanting something, to wanting anything really. Her discomfort with my response only taught me that wanting something really badly is something to be avoided because it only brings massive disappointment and painful emotions.
How about you? What voice or tapes do you hear in your head as you contemplate trying something new?