It can be difficult to compile a list of the characteristics of gifted adults because giftedness is, at its core, a unique way of thinking about the world.  It’s less about your childhood report card, or finding the cure for cancer, and more about seeing details that others don’t, understanding complex ideas more deeply, and intuitively connecting those dots to create solutions that are invisible to others.

However, you’ve probably landed here because you’re looking for a more objective method to identify a gifted adult, especially if that adult isn’t surrounded by the stereotypical markers of success.  How can you tell if someone is gifted if they aren’t the wunderkind CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or haven’t launched a million-dollar startup from their college dorm room?

There isn’t one gold-standard test that can quickly identify a gifted adult.  Even IQ tests measure what one knows, not the way one thinks.  Most often, we identify giftedness using checklists of behaviors.  Are you passionate about learning, highly intuitive and energized by challenge?  Do you love intense discussions, complex concepts and genius solutions?  You may be gifted!

But here again, we lack a framework to definitively describe a gifted person.  Why is it so hard to pin us down?

The High Level Summary

Gifted adults are quick thinkers, instinctual problem-solvers, and intense seekers of creative outlets.  We can be driven, hyper-focused, and wildly imaginative.  We interact with the world in a particuarly nuanced way that allows us to see it differently than our peers.

But above all, our brains function differently than other people’s.  That’s the key to understanding the gifted mind — it’s not so much that we’re especially good.  It’s that we’re categorically different.

Here are a few ways to see that difference in action:

Uniquely Attuned to Our Environment

Gifted brains are tuned in to the world on a different frequency, a state that has been described as “overexcitability” or “hypersensitivity.”  These misleading terms suggest a fragile, frenetic personality, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In truth, the gifted mind connects more deeply with the stimuli around it, and we’re much more likely to be found thinking through a deep analysis than displaying “hyper” or “excitable” behavior.

I prefer the term Intensely Perceptive to describe the gifted mind.  This phrase captures the profound natural insight that allows the gifted mind to make the ingenious connections that result in uniquely creative solutions.  We see nuances hidden from the casual glance, much like mantis shrimp can see a wider range of colors with their 12 visual receptors than humans can with our 3 receptors.

This intense perceptiveness isn’t limited to intellectual pursuits.  A person can be gifted in other arenas, including emotional, psychomotor, imaginational and sensory.  In other words, a gifted mind can be innately attuned to human emotions, and may be unusually empthetic, or it may be particularly adept at kinetic activity, effortlessly agile and dexterous.  The mind with a strong imaginational perceptiveness exhibits tremendous creativity, while the person with sensory perceptiveness recognizes subtle non-verbal cues and almost-invisible changes in their environment.

Driven To Find Solutions & Energized by the Process

Gifted people are passionate problem-solvers who thrive on the rush that comes from successfully tackling a thorny conundrum.  While some people find problem solving a chore, the gifted person is actually animated by it.

We’re endless curious, and literally crave challenge.  Without it, we tend to wilt into a state of despair.

We also have an intense need for creative expression.  All is right with the world when we have regular opportunities to invent, produce and craft new things, but in the absence of that chance, our creative energies morph into toxic tendencies.  Much like sheepdogs without a job begin to misbehave, gifted people without a chance to create may express their frustration through apathy, cynicism, or even anger.

A Misunderstood Resource

Unfortunately, gifted adults often find themselves in situations or careers where their “superpowers” are frowned upon.  While we’d never ask a thoroughbred racehorse to pull a plow across a rocky field for weeks, many employers will ask their gifted employees to ignore their unique talents and spend their time working on routine and undemanding projects that require very little finesse.

Sometimes this disconnect occurs because the employer doesn’t have any idea how artful and nuanced a gifted person’s talents can be, while at other times, the employee himself is afraid to display, promote or even acknowledge the range of his abilities in a misguided attempt to fit in or avoid having to live up to a high standard.

Understanding the gifted mind is a challenge, but it’s essential to both those who possess such a mind, and those in their orbit.  When you understand how your own mind works, you can feed it the stimulation it needs to thrive.  And when the people around you understand what drives you and the extent of your talents, they can stop trying to rein you in and start giving you room to bloom.

Try some of these “Gifted Trait Checklists” to see how many items sound like you!

Gifted Adult Characteristics: Eric Windhorst

Characteristics of Gifted and Talented Adults: Lynne Azpeitia

Do You Have a Rainforest Mind? Paula Prober