He reads slowly but remembers everything he’s read, using this random knowledge to make unusual connections.
She’s the person I go to who always has a new perspective, a new way of looking at a problem. She helps me get out of a thinking rut.
He can fix anything. He understands the inner workings of things and how they fit together. He uses pieces and parts to create surprising but effective solutions.
She always has interesting friends coming in and out of her house, and has 50 projects going on at once. She’s game to try anything and she’ll keep working until she’s figured it out.
These are descriptions of some of the most brilliant people I know, the deepest thinkers, those most able to solve problems in new ways and understand complicated, disparate ideas.
I could have written hundreds of these descriptions. I can spot these thinkers like a botanist can spot a special plant species.
For years, I didn’t have a word to characterize these people who I love so much. The words highly creative, gifted, or innovative touch on aspects, but they only capture a sliver of their essence. These words also run us into a problem, the number one commonality among these thinkers:school did not fit them.
The underlying structure of our current educational system runs contrary to the way they think.
Because they think differently, adults and other kids couldn’t figure them out. They were often told they were dumb or wrong or lazy. Some aced their tests but refused to do busywork, others ditched class in favor of the library, and still others checked out altogether. Even those that were academic successes often felt that they had to give up a part of themselves to achieve. This disconnect with school continued to undermine their confidence and self-concept even as adults.
Until I connected the dots for them, demonstrating the paradox, holding a mirror up to their creativity, and proving that the most eminent creators in history had a similar rub with school.
Over the past two decades, my work with at least hundreds of deep souls, coupled with research in the fields of creativity, psychology, and education, has helped me to identify seven characteristics that they tend to share. And, I finally have a name:
7 Characteristics Deep Souls Share
(besides a past or present disconnect with school)
Please know that I don’t love to categorize people. Whenever you make a category somebody gets left out. So you may be a deep soul who says, “I’m this and this, but not this.” That’s ok. People have unique constellations of strengths that vary in intensity.
My hope is that this designation, “deep soul” will help millions of us understand ourselves more clearly. Most human beings have deep soul characteristics to some degree. If you feel you are a deep soul, you probably are. Here are seven commonalities that deep souls tend to express when they are being purely themselves.
1. Bravely Independent
Deep souls are independent all the way around. They don’t just take your word for it — they’ve got to figure it out themselves. They don’t like to be told what to do. They won’t mechanically follow rules to play the game; they need to know the reasons behind the rules and for playing in the first place. If it makes sense or seems purposeful they might play, but only on their terms. They cringe at the idea of blindly following the crowd. They might do what others are doing, but only if they’ve come to their own conclusions that it’s worthy.
Their independence might seem like stubbornness. The pressure to conform is so intense that it can take stubbornness to protect one’s unique identity from being absorbed. The flip side of stubbornness is courage. It takes courage to think independently. There is constant pressure to toe the line, follow the norms. Independent thinking offends the crowd; it causes those who are content to follow to feel threatened. Deep souls tend to hold freedom as a top value. They need opportunities to exercise their independent thinking. Risk-taking is essential for true innovation and deep souls take the greatest risk in being themselves.
2. Meaning Seekers
Meaning is at the heart of everything deep souls do. In fact, without meaning, they probably won’t do it. Deep souls think in 4D and the ever-present fourth dimension is meaning. Meaning usually connects back to deeply-held values, interests, or strengths. If they can tie into one of those, then motivation runs high.
Deep souls aren’t divas. They aren’t trying to be smug when they require meaning in their lives. This need is baked into their being. Meaning is fuel, and it’s high octane. When a deep soul finds her spark, it’s like turning on the ignition and the fuel burns red-hot. Meaning goes along with independence. Deep souls are unlikely to feel satisfied following the crowd or implementing without purpose. But once motivation is kindled from within, there is no stopping them.
3. Deep Divers
Speaking of meaning, when ideas or projects have captured deep souls’ interests, they will likely become engrossed. You might not see them again until they’ve explored all aspects of the topic. But if you tell them something they must do and they can’t connect it with meaning, they might stall, forget, or do “just enough.” If their lives are filled with meaningless-to-them-tasks, they may check out or disengage or rebel. The key is to find meaning in daily tasks or at least pursue interests on the side. Otherwise they will become disconnected from their sparks.
4. Knowledge Questers
At the core, deep souls are curious. They want to know and learn, and they seek truth. Usually they are self-directed; they get intrigued about something and pursue it with intensity. They might ask a million questions or they might dive into books and articles or make quiet, astute observations. They probably learn by experimenting, exploring, and doing. Their thoughts don’t go efficiently from A to B because on the way they are connecting A to everything else they know. Connections fuse and pop in their minds, creating new insights. They probably don’t have a linear learning process and most likely don’t love sitting through a lecture without the opportunity to take the information and run with it. They tend to learn most when given independence and autonomy, collaborating with other deep souls, or seeking out experts to talk with. They tend to inhale knowledge or absorb it in non-traditional ways.
5. Learn By Making
Deep souls like to keep it real. They learn actively, applying new ideas to what they already know. They learn by making — connections, ideas, scenarios, things, systems . . . They think in spirals, connecting new information with old to find patterns, themes, solutions. This might take longer. It might look messy. New input is like flint to the stone of their minds, constantly making sparks. This active, original thinking is meaningful. Deep souls want to solve problems and they do it through writing, experimenting, building, sharing, testing, tweaking, tasting, or imagining. Thinking is constant and original. They resist unthinking implementation. “Just memorize it” or “just get it done” are commands that won’t get very far with deep souls. They are not content in doing without meaning.
6. Intuitively Sensitive
Though some may hide it on the outside, deep souls are universally sensitive. Their sensitivities manifest in many forms. They may be deeply empathic or sensitive to their environments. They often “know” what others are thinking. They can sense discomfort or criticism even when it’s not voiced. They highly value respect and can quickly sense when someone is pandering to them. They are sensitive to criticism, especially from those who they know don’t understand them. They have a deep sense of fairness and feel deeply. Their intuition is strong. They sense gaps between what someone says and what they actually do. This sensitivity ties into their pursuit of authentic understanding.
7. Crave Authentic Understanding
Above all, deep souls want to be understood for who they are authentically. They want to understand themselves, too. Since they are outliers, they experience this less often than most. They are fortunate if they have someone in their life who truly gets them, or at least who lets them be them. All of their characteristics together make for powerful fresh thinking, but others might view them as complicated and thus they are less likely to be understood by the world. This can lead to self-doubt or a feeling that something is wrong with them. In fact, deep souls’ abilities to be individuals and think as individuals are vital. Though they are often criticized for their unique approach to life, their ability to think differently helps devise new solutions, inventions, and ideas for the benefit of all of us.
Is Everyone a Deep Soul?
The underlying traits that fuel deep soul strengths are universal characteristics of creative thinking. Research shows that nearly all of us have an intense combination of these strengths in early childhood, but they get dulled over time–especially during our school years. Deep souls, however, have resisted this dulling. They can’t help it. The intensity of their ability to think differently cannot and will not be stopped.
Because of this, they are at risk of being misunderstood. They need people around them who, from an early age, recognize their differences as strengths and help them channel these productively so they can grow and blossom. I’ve created the free Sparkitivity Strengths Spotter tool to help us identify and cultivate deep soul strengths. When we recognize these as ours, too, we are more open to seeing them in others.
So, yes, we can all cultivate our own underlying deep soul strengths. But I have coined this term to help us spot those among us whose very being defies labels and therefore gets them labeled incorrectly. We now have an accurate lens through which deep souls can be understood and grow, for the benefit of all of us.
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