My friend is a stay-at-home mom. She spends her time volunteering at her children’s schools, and matching endless pairs of socks. She has a law degree from Duke. Another friend is a tattoo-covered recovering addict with a rap sheet, seasonally employed as landscaper. He’s a genius.

What happens when you don’t live up to your potential? More importantly, how do you balance your idea of underachievement versus what the world, family members, or friends consider your potential as a gifted person? It isn’t easy.

I’ve written about facing my own expectation struggle with underachievement, and never having a college degree. I’ve written about parenting and potential with my four brilliant boys. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the achievement expectations that I have of people I meet who are gifted.

It can be easy to brush off people for how they look, or what they do for an occupation, especially if they are gifted. It takes more effort to recognize what others may view as underachievement, can really be living up to your potential as a human being. My perception of underachievement has evolved, especially when it comes to the poet Emily Dickinson.

The worst piece of writing I had to read in high school was by Emily Dickinson.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, 

I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching, 

Or cool one pain:

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain. 

I despised that poem, and cringed every time we had to read it. And then my inner monologue would start…Really Emily? A robin? That’s your life’s purpose? Dramatic much? Seriously. You’re a female in a male dominated world. You have the power to influence others with the pen, and you’re going with a robin. Talk about setting the bar low for your life goals. 

Hearing her her name annoyed me for years, because it would remind me of that specific poem. I judged her harshly. What a waste of potential.

That poem is one of the consistent things that has been on my mind for the past year and a half through some of my struggles. I realized that I had judged Emily too harshly when I was a teenager. Time and research have softened my opinion of her. I learned more about Emily Dickinson’s life. She dropped out of school, spent time caring for ailing relatives, and wrote for herself. Her writing was mostly published posthumously. She was helping the robin.

I’ve pondered how I spend my time, and if I’m living up to my potential a lot over the past year. I’ve shifted my roles and responsibilities, and now work full time running our Xbox gaming store. I’m not a gamer, and this is pretty much the last thing that I imagined I would be doing with my time. Am I underachieving? Nope. It’s not about the games. We own this business because of what it does for the community. I work hard running our store, because I feel like I am making a difference in the lives of my customers one person at a time. I am helping the robin.

I provide a safe environment for kids. I help people feel cared for, acknowledged and appreciated. I’ve worked hard to learn about a variety of specialty board games, card games, and video games, because I see the connections people make through gaming. Don’t tell anyone, but I still haven’t played Fortnite, even though it’s the most popular video game in the world.

Back to my friends. I believe knowing more about a person can create empathy and appreciation for them. My mom friend was able to use her intellect and skills to pass a tax levy to start a library in our rural community. She’s written grants to secure funding for books, and organized summer programs to promote literacy. My landscaping friend has been a devoted husband for nearly a decade. He is a loving father, and hands on parent of four beautiful daughters. He influences his friends to make wise choices. Both are gifted, and living up to their potential.

As gifted people and parents, we don’t have to worry about what everyone else views as underachievement. We don’t need to judge the potential of others based typical measures of wealth, power or social status. Our potential is in our ability to help and serve others. That will not be in vain.

This is my perspective for Hoagies’ Gifted Education monthly blog hop on underachievement. You can read more on this topic by clicking this link or the graphic below.

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