As best friends in a small Midwestern town, Jon and Stephen, both extremely bright and inquisitive, often talked with each other about their dreams of jobs they would have as adults. Throughout childhood, made alive through imaginative play, their wide-ranging ideas about careers were inspired largely by television and movie characters. They were enthralled with the idea of “special powers” to save the universe, but soon realized that “superhero” wasn’t a career. A few years later, they considered becoming crime scene investigators, lawyers, emergency room doctors, and, briefly, even astronauts. Jon and Stephen were inseparable and were regarded by the elementary school’s Gifted and Talented (G/T) coordinator as the most academically advanced students in her memory. They loved to learn, had vivid imaginations, and inspired their classmates and each other to “dream big” about the future. They were big fish in a little pond (e.g., Marsh, 1987; Salchegger, 2016).
Then Jon’s family relocated to an affluent suburban neighborhood on the West Coast after his father took a position in Silicon Valley. Jon, in middle school, had to adjust to a new set of expectations and found the adjustment quite challenging—in fact, far more so than he had imagined. Surrounded by a large group of intense and extremely driven students, who all seemed to aspire to top-tier universities, and struck by the harsh realization that he was no longer one of the very best students, Jon now felt as if he were a fish out of water. He was plagued with self-doubt about his abilities and future educational and career prospects. Compared to the other students, who had long positioned themselves to earn coveted spots in the local
In contrast to Jon, Stephen remained in the same small Midwestern school district for the remainder of his precollege years and continued to feel passionate—about everything! Stephen’s parents encouraged him to indulge his intellectual curiosity and explore every subject that captured his interest. But Stephen had difficulty narrowing his interests for the sake of establishing career direction. When he was first exposed to chemistry, for instance, he quickly memorized the periodic table and spent many nights at the dinner table teaching his younger brother everything he had learned about each element. Later, when introduced to physics, he could hardly contain his excitement about quantum field theory, cosmic inflation, fluid dynamics, and a host of other topics. Of course, he also loved math and was eager to learn computer languages. Adept not only in