A highlight from my second day at the SENG Summit in Seattle was Victoria Ragsdell’s talk titled Obsession: The Gift and How to Use It. This talk was different from the usual topics at SENG conferences. The topic was how gifted adults can nurture their obsessions to their benefit.
An example of when obsessions can be beneficial is with Temple Grandin. In 11th grade, her teacher wrote in her file: “I can’t get Temple to focus on anything in class. All she’s been working on is designing a cattle chute.” Temple went on to reform the stockyards with her inventions of new cattle chutes and more humane treatment of the animals.
Another example is Chelsey B. Sullenberger III (Captain Sully), the pilot who successfully crash landed the jet into the Hudson River. He has been self-admittedly obsessed with airplanes, jets and aircraft for a long time. His acquired knowledge, from having an obsession about aircraft, allowed him to react quickly and correctly to an emergency situation.
If we groom, guide and nurture obsessions, can’t it be seen as a foundation of giftedness rather than a disorder? What if instead of obsession, we called this “persistence of thought, a drive or a passion?” What if Thomas Edison hadn’t been obsessed with trying over 10,000 different ways to make a light bulb? Persistence of thought can create inventions. Obsessions can tip over into OCD when the person gets anxious, repetitive or negative. It’s also not positive if sense of self, reality and goals are lost. The challenge is in learning how to harness and manage your obsession so it can become a positive, not a negative, trait.
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