Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Gifted Kid and His Unfinished Projects

by Amy Cortez, Editor Eclectic Telegraph

It's Springtime. The weather is breaking. Summer is around the corner. Lazy days ahead - right?

If you're homeschooling a gifted kid, perhaps the lazy days have been around all winter.

The gifted student can be the most wonderful individual and the most frustrating individual all within the span of minutes. Why can't he just finish the dang project? Is it ADHD? Teen hormones? Dissect that unfinished project and you recognize that you're dealing with perfectionism. Again.

It seems I have surrounded myself with perfectionistic people, or am I the only one that can see projects through from start to finish?

Periodically I have to refresh my memory on what perfectionism looks like because it can turn the smoothest running homeschool into a horrific train wreck.

Back in November of 2006 I wrote about perfectionism. I researched and found some good stuff on how to deal with the evil beast called perfectionism, but here it is again in a big way, back in May 2008, morphed into a newer version of the evil beast stopping progress towards the end of our "school year". So I am off again on the trail of new tricks for the trade for mentoring a gifted student at home. To rework some ideas I have already made part of my bucket of tricks, I remember that with the perfectionist:

  1. There is a preoccupation with real or imagined judgments and expectations from people who matter to them, making the perfectionist his own worst critic.
  2. His self-worth is defined by a precisely defined sense of grand achievement. A larger than life picture of what ought to be.
My new and refined list of clues to why a project is not being completed:

The perfectionist ultimately will:
  1. Procrastinate and leave work unfinished because he fears the result won't be good enough, forgetting the idea that it's what a man can do along the way that matters; He will focus on mistakes, rather than on what he did well.

  2. Avoid trying new things for the fear of his definition of a a botched outcome.

  3. Set unrealistic and grandiose goals and then condemn himself when he doesn't achieve the goals and an end product pictured in the grand movie in his head.

  4. Not tolerate criticism and will find it very hard to laugh at himself, under certain circumstances.

  5. Approach projects with such an inflexibility that indicates he believes that there is only one way to do accomplish it and that he is the only one who can do the job the best. This causes him to ultimately underachieve because of his inability to complete projects that are turning out less than his definition of "perfect." Projects that are less than perfect do not deserve his time or talents.
We want our children to live up to their potential. But what is potential? In Physics we look at the concept of "potential" energy, and this idea can be applied here as well. Many will define "potential" as striving for the goal of excellence which often gets translated into a quest for perfection with the gifted student. Potential shouldn't be a quest for perfection. We need to encourage the definition of potential to be the the idea that one needs to explore and develop the fullness of their own talents & interests.

There's a big difference between wanting children to develop their potential and expecting them to be the best in everything they attempt. As a mentor to a gifted student we need to remember to encourage the expansion of imagination, to foster risk taking, and to maintain a joy in discovery in tasks. Once we're sure that this inner achievement is taking place, you'll find find that this becomes s far more important than being "perfect" and that unfinished project may even get done.

© 2005-2008. Amy Cortez. All Rights Reserved.


Silvia said...

What a nice article--thank you for submitting it to the CoH!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I found this through COH, and I'm glad I did. I am a gifted adult, and I still battle perfectionism to this day, though I do finish projects. So there's hope.

My perfectionism tends to bring me to black-and-white (or should I say perfect-or-terrible) thinking as well. I have worked on it, I am working on it now, and I will be working on it for therest of my life.

I guess it's the curse that goes with the gift!

Dawn said...

I was a perfectionist most of my life though I just mislabeled it unfocused and lazy. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I realized what was at the root of my procrastination. There were clues though, like the time, at 12, I thought I was never going to be a writer because my favourite author (Gordon Korman) was already published by the time he was my age. :D

I now know how to check and toss out those perfectionist voices. It feels good.

loonyhiker said...

My husband is perfectionist. Many times he writes up comments in a word document and revises and revises and revises until the deadline is past and it goes into comment heaven.

travelnhsr said...

Thanks for the wonderful comments. It's good to know that perfectionism can be recognized and dealt with in a way that shows style & grace! My student read these comments and feels like he is in great company!