The categories of Marylou Streznewski
In her book ‘Gifted Grownups, The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential’, American author Marylou Streznewski (1999) broadly divides gifted individuals into three categories: Superstars, Strivers and Independents. She devised these categories after interviewing 100 adults and adolescents who had previously achieved exceptionally high scores on their IQ tests.
Her ordering can be used for recognition of XIPs, but even more so for describing three different styles for, or circumstances of expression. The fascinating issue is whether the XIP is somehow aware of his/her process of expression, and if not, whether more awareness would make a difference and induce choosing another category.
People expect all gifted individuals to be superstars. The XIPs that can be recognised as Superstars are ‘taller, healthier, more attractive, richer, happier, and nicer than average’. They work hard, but also do a lot of things outside their work: social activities, sports, culture, etc. They excel in whatever field they operate in. Their values are typically in line with the values of their environment, and their lust for life is just as above-average as their performance. The subject of Xi often holds no interest for them because they feel no need to have an explanation for being a Superstar. As far as they are concerned, they have always achieved things without any effort on their part.
XIPs that can be recognised as Strivers work incredibly hard – at school, at work, in everything they do. They produce almost superhuman performances, all based on their inner motivation. They appreciate structure and clear leadership. They typically do not contribute any innovative scientific or cultural efforts, but whatever they do, they do in an extraordinarily meticulous way and in the most appropriate manner. The adults often consider themselves to be married to their work.
For them too, Xi is typically not a topic that interests them: they explain their above-average performances as being a result of their above-average desire to work, and are too concerned with work to be distracted by ‘side issues’. If Strivers enter our career counselling practice, this is often as a result of a temporary lack of motivation, for example caused by overstrain, burnout, or the life phase they are in, typified by the question: ‘Is that all there is?’.
If something grabs the interest of Independents, they will work hard at it in a creative and often brilliant manner. They possess a deep-rooted personal value system. They pay no attention to anything that does not interest them, irrespective of the consequences. Because they are the square pegs in the round holes of society, their career path can run rather unpredictably. If there are issues of authority at play, Independents can be enormously uncooperative, and conflicts can run high.
They typically attach no value to being popular.
Independents are more often innovators than followers. They are the ones most likely to produce the invention that constitutes a breakthrough. If you are able to understand them, they are never boring and always inspirational. If you cannot understand them, they’ll drive you crazy. The social breakthrough of these creative XIPs can take a long time to manifest itself, if at all. This can result in them abandoning all social links, or leading to criminal behaviour or even death.
Independents have relatively much to gain by exploring the topic of Xi, certainly if they also experience their ‘being different to their environment’ as negative: Even though they are the most talented of the three groups, they are often the least understood by their environment.
The acknowledgement of Xi can be the catalyst that leads to ‘hearing the sound of pennies dropping’, so that they are better able to let their talents loose on the world.