A Gifted-Tainted Reflection on Andrew Luck
Odd, probably, to see an American Football name in the headline of a Fringy Bit post. Truthfully, I’m a ginormous cheesehead and have been known to stay up til dawn watching the Packers play Monday Night Football while living in England, and frequented many a Packer bars while living in Colorado. However, beyond the Packers, I don’t really pay that much attention to the latest NFL or College Ball news.
Til I heard all the hullaballoo about a young quarterback retiring 2 weeks before the regular season and leaving the field to a raucous symphony of boos. I’ve read a few of the articles lauding Luck as a hero for prioritizing his physical and mental health. I’ve read a few of the articles chastising him for not being tough enough and letting his team and his fans down. And whatever side of the line you fall on or whether you’ve completely ignored the line altogether, I really don’t care. What I care about isn’t how Andrew Luck chooses to live his life. Whatever. I don’t know the man, he can do what he wants. I do, however, believe his retirement and the aftermath highlight an important issue that often stays hidden under the radar.
Our society feels entitled to benefit from the giftings of other people.
I see this in Luck . . . he’s a talented football player, he owes his team and fans to continue to do what he’s good at.
I see this when I hear gifted conferences over-focus on talent development offering keynotes and a bazillion and one breakout sessions helping us adults nurture our young gifted kids’ talent so they can live up to their potential.
I hear this when parents come into my therapy office panicked that they don’t know how to raise a gifted child to ensure they use their gifts and talents to the best benefit of themselves and the world. What school? How do we motivate them? What summer enrichment programs?
I hear this when gifted kids come into my office panicked because they feel a tremendous burden to use their gifts.
I hear this when gifted adults come into my office depressed and questioning existence because they feel they haven’t lived up to their potential, they haven’t developed their talents as they believed they should have.
I lived this as I changed from pre-med and a chemistry major to social work and theology double majors. I lived this as my chemistry advisor shamed me in front of my entire lab as tried not to sign my declaration of a new major form. “You’d be wasting your abilities” he said.
Here’s the deal, though . . . a person who is good at something, owes nothing to the world. A person who is extraordinarily talented in something does not HAVE to pursue it. A person with talent can be a perfectly upstanding citizen without ever using or developing that talent.
So many gifted people feel shame, pressure, anxiety, and existential crisis because our world places extraordinary expectations on these mere humans.
First of all, just because someone is good at something doesn’t mean they actually enjoy or find fulfillment in that thing. My son’s pretty good at Math . . . he hates it.
Second of all, multipotentialites simply cannot live up to these expectations. They cannot fully develop their talent in art and drama and math and writing and history and spiritual understanding and physics all to the fullest extent our world demands.
Third of all, no one knows what someone else’s best life looks like. Each person is completely unique and no one else can tell you how to best be you.
Yes, I believe that as humans, we are generally most fulfilled when we are somehow contributing to the wellness of the world community. But no one else has the right to tell someone else what the contribution should look like. I’m not a doctor and I haven’t practiced any type of chemistry since I was 18 years old, but I’ve still found a way to make a difference. Yes, I have a few gifts that have remained completely undeveloped, and I’m completely ok with that.
So, if you are a gifted person feeling the pressure to live up to your potential, to not wasted what you’ve been given, you are now given permission to ignore other people’s opinions and set your own path. You owe no one.
If you are a person who has been telling people they should feel lucky that their brain works the way it does and you shouldn’t waste it, pleas stop. Actually, please just shut up. Focus your energy on your own lives and develop your own talent. Leave Andrew Luck and the rest of us alone.