Here is everyone's regularly scheduled reminder that Stressed Writer writes better when not Stressed over money matters. I have a Patreon, a GoFundMe, and a PayPal donation link.

Just to prove you get something out of this, today I'm going to tackle a reader question from the last round, a request to write more about gifted kids and What They Go On To Do With Their Lives. What do gifted kids do with their giftedness?

The short answer is: I don't know. The slightly less short answer is: It depends on a lot of stuff.

Despite what the adults told you from birth through high school, there are an awful lot of gifted kids who never go on to change the world. There's a distinct over-representation of high IQs in the fields where you'd expect it, like college faculty, but that doesn't mean that most gifted kids grow up to work in research or higher education -- the field isn't big enough, and it self-selects for other qualities in addition to intelligence. "Genius," to a lot of people who aren't geniuses, encompasses either careers that require a thousand years of formal training, or artistic pursuits that run on what might as well be dark magic.

In America especially, "genius" is also informally restricted to "intelligence that somehow makes you a lot of money," which is so far from true I have no idea where that one even started. (Possibly with the Baby Boomers, a lot of whom viewed the jump from "blue-collar" to "professional" the same way people today would view the jump from middle-class to the 1% -- as the difference between always struggling and never having to worry about where the car payment was coming from.) The pay scale for merely "being an evil genius" turns out to be shit, so there are a lot of very smart people going the Einstein route and working as patent clerks, simply because being a patent clerk doesn't take up any brain power to speak of. They go to work, draw their check, and go home to spend their mental energy on more interesting things.

There are reasons that a lot of very smart people are very underemployed. One is that it's difficult to get someone to buy something if they don't grasp why they should want it. The whole thing that got you labeled a genius in the first place is the ability to think of things nobody else thought of -- and if nobody else has thought about it, they have no idea why they should hire you to do it. The idea that it might be handy to pay someone to think about stuff that you can't, won't, or just don't want to does not gel with most people. They haven't thought of it, so the idea that it's even a thing that should be thought about does not compute. You want to think about it, then you can go do that on your own time, and on your own dime.

With genius kids that probably should be working genius jobs but aren't, it's often a matter of certification. It would take me more money than I will ever earn in one lifetime to get officially certified at all of the things I can actually already do. Without the pieces of paper, they're just hobbies that nobody pays any mind. Or, worse, they assume since I'm not professional, clearly I'll be happy to do this for free. For every person who tells me I ought to get paid for something I do, there are five more who would be offended if I asked for money, because if I were serious about it, I'd have slogged through school.

[This is especially annoying if it's something I once attempted to major in, only to discover that there was no such thing (yet). The main reason I didn't get an entire bachelor's degree in "stuff pertaining to video games and video gamers" is because I could not find anyone on the faculty who had any idea what I was talking about, and consequently couldn't find anyone to grade me on it. The best I found was one guy in the Electronic Media Production department who admitted to once owning an Intellivision. Some of these things are around now, but I'm at the oldest end of the first generation to have had home video games around literally all our lives. When I was an undergrad, so were all the people who got their PhDs right away and started the programs that exist today.]

The certification process is at least as much of a stumbling block as the money. Gifted kids are notorious for picking things up quickly, often without ever having any formal classes, and frequently without anyone else ever noticing they're learning until they pop up one day with unexpected expertise. What is often not understood is that they're not learning faster, they're learning differently -- what looks like instant mastery from the outside is almost never 'going through the normal process at great speed', it's 'going through a wonky idiosyncratic storm of cross-connection and analogical reasoning that happens to come out at the same place as the normal process, mostly, but much faster and from a weird direction'.

A lot of gifted kids -- me among them -- test well, and class really poorly. I do brilliantly at things where I'm required to write (or craft, or produce) something which, when shown to a genuine expert, would convince them that I know what the hell I'm doing. I do incredibly badly at things where I am required to demonstrate that I am learning things via a set process, at a set rate, using set techniques. I went through a few of my required high school classes in one summer specifically because I had already figured this out, and told my parents that if I were forced to sit through an entire semester of that drivel, I would fail it. (My high school wouldn't even let you enroll in these until your final year, and failing them would prevent me from graduating -- my parents ponied up for summer classes.) I flunked a few other things in college before I figured out how to game the system/avoid it.

It may be nigh-impossible to get certified in something that you are in fact already good at, simply because the process is only designed for people who aren't you, and the economics of being able to do the thing for pay are only designed for people who have the certification. Which puts you back at 'patent clerk'.

It can also be remarkably hard to get a regular job when you are catastrophically overqualified for everything on Earth. When your main talent is learning, then by the time you get out into the adult workforce, there is literally no such thing as a job that requires all of the things you know how to do. It's much better for me in Boston, where people sometimes manage to get PhDs in things just because they like doing it, and still do mundane things for a living. Other places, not so much. If you happen to be in an economically-depressed area, you often won't get called specifically because you come off as intelligent/educated -- crap employers with crap jobs often don't want to hire anyone they think will be uppity about things like 'asserting their rights' or 'quoting labor law', or just has the confidence and opportunity to quit said crap job so fast they leave a Wile E Coyote-like hole in the wall the nanosecond something better comes along.

[People who don't get the chance to go to college still seem to have this idea that having a college degree automatically opens doors, no matter who or where you are. I was so desperate for a job at one point, back in Arizona, that I started handing out resumes that listed my second, unfinished BA and didn't list my first, completed one. One woman at the job I finally got, who dropped out of school to have her kids, told me very earnestly that I should do everything I could to finish my degree and get out of there. She looked crushed when I confessed that I had a degree, and had to quit telling people about it so I could get enough work to eat.]

One thing you will get continually, if you have demonstrated aptitude in multiple things, is people asking, "Why don't you work in X?" where X is a field that they aren't in. Nobody thinks their own job is glamorous. Sometimes they're just confused; occasionally you get someone who thinks you're slumming it just to show other people up, and resents you for it. As far as I can tell, there is no way to explain any of this to anybody's satisfaction. I've always found it easier to cultivate an air of eccentricity and let people assume you show up where you do because unfathomable genius reasons, but YMMV.

In short, most genius kids don't wind up doing anything with their lives, at least from the perspective of either great economic or great academic success. Most of the great things of which they are capable are things which society has no way to assess. They are valuable because they are new and different, but that also means there's nothing against which to measure them and calculate their worth.

Intellectually, my own personal opinion is that the people who did the most with their specific spark! of genius were philosophers, which in the modern day tends to translate to 'person who writes or speaks of science or other intellectual topics to the popular masses', whether it's in the context of fiction, non-fiction, or entertainment. It's a vocation that requires expertise in a lot of different things that look completely unrelated, until they are. I'm probably biased because 1) I'm proficient in a lot of the things it requires already, not because I was trying for a career in this but just because I enjoy them all, and 2) someone I personally know has recently been hit directly in the face with the Frying Pan of Immense Success doing that, so I now have concrete proof that this is a thing that really happens.

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