“G” in Popular Culture ~ or ~ How to Be a Gifted Elder


Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.  This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity.  The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.  (The Columbus Group, 1991).

My friend, Stephanie Tolan, shared with me recently, “As a kid I thought grownups were just “done.” Just who they had grown up to be. It’s so interesting to discover the growing continues.”  

My own life mirrored Stephanie’s experience. I was selected to be a part of a group of students in late elementary school which, as I now understand, was the beginning of gifted education instituted as a result of the wake-up call that was Sputnik. However, the “G” word was never used in front of us. Those of us selected went to a special room and worked on creative projects. I remember one that I did, a poster presentation with the title, “The Race for Space.” That was the extent of the program. Moving on to junior and senior high school, I forgot about any special group or program. Thus, I “grew out” of being gifted, even though the concept had never been explained to me. Or so I thought.

It was not until I became a gifted education specialist that I began to understand that giftedness is something we do not outgrow, nor is giftedness a crystallized construct that never changes. Furthermore, it was not until recently that I recognized myself as a gifted adult. I wrote the following about my discovery for the SENGVine a few years ago.

  We did not hear the word gifted as a child. We thought we were odd. Even as we age, it is difficult to say aloud, “I am a gifted adult.” We realize the differences in our reasoning, but mostly in our feelings. When loved ones hurt, we feel physical pain. A breathtaking sunset brings tears to our eyes. We lie awake at night, wishing we could set things right in the world. We labor to internalize the wisdom of Candide to tend our own garden; and, when we do so, it is with an intensity that could ignite the universe. 

Now I am an elder.  thought when I retired, I was supposed to quilt, watch TV, and travel occasionally. I thought I would be leaving everything else that defined me behind – wife, mother, professional. What a surprise! I am still gifted as an elder and must find my way in this strange new world. Thankfully, there are role models like my mentor, Annemarie Roeper, and others who teach us how to be a gifted elder. What I have learned from them, I pass on to readers through this blog. The following is a list of ten suggestions for how to be a gifted elder.

  1. Be aware of your giftedness and honor it.
  1. Find others who also honor giftedness and let you be you. I remember when I retired and decided to go back to school to study Clinical Psychology. Some looked askance at me and some even asked,  “What in the world do you want to do that for? Can’t you just retire?” When I finished my program of studies and started this blog, how heartening it was to see the look of understanding on my spouse’s face that communicated that he knew I had to move on to something new.
  1. Know that the overexcitabilities, the intensities, which we may have learned to cope with during our adult years, return. Perhaps that is because we are weaker/less resilient; or perhaps, we are using our resources to cope with aging. Perhaps we reach the age and the wisdom of the crone and are content with who we are, with our natural selves. In any case, they resurface and we need to learn new ways to address (and celebrate) them.
  1. Touch the mystery, your spiritual self, through mindfulness, spirituality, reading, or whatever brings you to a transcendent sense of awe.
  1. Wear the presence of gratitude.
  1. Recognize signs of depression and, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who struggled with it most of his life, “get action.” Each day, make a list of positive activities that you enjoy and pursue them with delight. Follow your bliss.
  1. Honor previous friendships and re-connect, forge new ones. Life is all about relationships.

9. Stay active. Swim, use a step meter, dance, learn yoga.

10. Be gentle with yourself.


Navan, J. (2013, February). 100 Words of Wisdom: Joy Navan. SENGVine. Retrieved from:  http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/100-words-of-wisdom-joy-navan.

Photo Credit: Giananandrea Villa on unsplash.com (https://goo.gl/aT6QqA)


This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page May 2016 Blog Hop on Gifted in Pop Culture. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.

14 thoughts on ““G” in Popular Culture ~ or ~ How to Be a Gifted Elder

  1. I love the idea of growth and continued learning over time. Like Stephanie, I too thought you were “done” once you had reached a certain age. Thank goodness that isn’t the case!


  2. I love the idea of being an autonomous life long learner – there is always so much more to learn! And I like your words of wisdom especially numbers 3 and 4


  3. Thanks for your comment! I agree, Jo, that it is almost impossible for the gifted elder to abandon learning and self-actualization. That is why it is so important for me to advocate for those who find themselves in residential care surroundings that offer no stimulation. And, yes, 3 and 4 are two of my favorites as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice post, Joy! Giftedness follows us, or perhaps guides us, throughout our lives. And it’s crucial that we have voices such as yours to help us along the way. I appreciate your perspective and your willingness to share your experiences with all of us!


    1. Ann, I have been away and thus the delay in replying to your comment. You contribute immensely as well, in terms of perspective. Thank you for being a strong voice for giftedness at all ages and in all forms.


  5. I am very glad that you’ve started this blog and that I found it (through SENG). I’m looking forward to reading your insights and joining in the discussion about being a gifted elder.

    My biggest challenge on the list above is #7. Fighting depression has been an ongoing battle for me since reaching adulthood, perhaps in part because I tend more towards thinking than doing. Even as I write that sentence, though, I have to acknowledge that there is a “chicken and egg” relationship between depression and inaction.

    The other suggestions you give resonate as well. I cannot imagine living without continuing to learn – and without sharing the knowledge and insights I gain with others. Realizing the importance of gratitude towards my emotional self was a huge step forward on my journey. Gratitude has become a integral part of my internal self dialog. The sense of awe in life and beauty brings great joy when I’m lucky enough and open enough to have it descend upon me.

    In short, thank you for a great post.


    1. Hello, Cynthia! I am just back from a trip and so did not get the chance to reply to your very sensitive and insightful comments. I, too, am always aware of when #7 (depression) begins to creep in and thank you for reminding me that it is so important at those times to practice gratitude and to appreciate the awe and joy of Nature and friendships.


  6. I do not yet consider myself being an elder (age 48). But the concept of gifted adults and elders is really important (to me). So we need information about this process and best practise examples. Thanks so much for sharing. I will keep your suggestions in mind although I am currently advocating for gifted youth in Germany.


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