Growing Up Asymmetric: Entering the “Real World”

August 16, 2022

By JohannaKate Connally

Giftedness does not just go away when you turn 18, but most resources for gifted individuals do. This was a painful realization as I entered my adult life after graduating from college. Everyone has the “after college you’ll enter the real world” talk at some point in their lives, but I did not realize how true that statement is, especially being a neurodivergent individual. All the intensities and overexcitabilities are still with me. I have been fortunate to grow up with my giftedness supported, from being homeschooled, where I could learn at my own pace, to starting college at 15 through a program built for neurodivergents. Even without such an obvious sign that I am “different” from my peers, I am sure I’d have experienced similar feelings of “otherness” had I not taken an accelerated path. After graduation last year I intended to take a gap year to allow time to acclimate to the “real world” before entering law school, and thank goodness I did. This past year has eased the transition from being in an environment tailored to cultivate a gifted mind to one full of neurotypicals. Though I have not had trouble fitting into the culture of my workplace or forming a routine without the structure of school, there was a noticeable learning curve when entering the “real world”.

It is at this point in life when clear rules transition into the broader social contract we all participate in. Being neurodivergent, it is inherently difficult to make this transition. Many have made this transition without ever knowing it, a feeling of “otherness” hanging over them. I however am doing so with a painful sense of understanding. Other students will be at least two years older than I and will have had more time to learn the ground rules of the real world. Is bringing a gift for the host of a small social gathering acceptable in your early 20s or is that more early 30s social etiquette? I certainly can’t purchase a bottle of wine. The structural systems in place, such as higher education or the workplace, don’t exactly have “gifted” or “honors” sections. How am I supposed to find others like me if we are no longer branded? What will it be like living on my own? How do I navigate having an asymmetric personality in a society that has minimal idea what that means in practice?

I have no answers as to how to facilitate this transition; I’m just now at the beginning of the journey. My goal is to share my experience so that those who are starting this transition have some inkling of what’s coming and that those who have already gone through their transition know they are not alone. Throughout my life I have met many adults, professors, even my own family, who are no doubt gifted, but had to experience life without knowing why they felt this “otherness.” They forged their own path through society with minimal support, attempting to conform while still living with this unidentified “otherness.”

My motivation to start this series of articles is not just due to my current experience, but by that of two mentors in my life, both of whom found their giftedness by relating to my neurodivergent teenage woes. Two brilliant people who might have forever felt they were alone in their experience. Giftedness is something that will be with me, with us, until the day we die. Don’t let the lack of obvious resources equate to a lack of deserving support, love, and acceptance.

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