POINT TO PONDER
"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see".
- Arthur Schopenhauer
What is genius? It's is an adjective reserved for some of the most revolutionary, influential, and innovative people in history: Albert Einstein, Leonardo DaVinci, Galileo, Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla, and Mozart are a few names that come to mind. Most accounts attribute greater intelligence, an unyielding belief in vision, and even a dose of madness to what sets a genius apart. But perhaps "genius" isn't too far off and it can exist in all of us, in the things we love doing most?
According to Gay Hendricks' book, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear, there is a zone of genius and we are all capable of achieving it. However, there are other zones as well and often we find it difficult from moving from one to the other due to our own perceived self and societal limitations. The zones in Hendricks' book are as follows and we can find ourselves in one of them:
- The Zone of Incompetence: Naturally, we can't do everything and the things we do not do well fall into this category. This is the zone in which we should spend the least amount of time and moving into the other zones. However, it is possible get stuck here or give up on finding purpose.
- The Zone of Competence: Here is a zone dedicated to things you do well. These are activities that you may not enjoy but you do because you are competent in them. Typically, this type of work is done exclusively for the paycheck. There is consistency here but not excellence as there is no greater purpose to the work.
- The Zone of Excellence: This is the zone where talent is found. These are things that you do extremely well and do better than most people. Rewards often come in this zone. Money, promotions, status, and acceptance are most often found in the zone of excellence. There are many reaffirmations from friends, colleagues, and family in this zone. You have mastered your skill. In many ways, you have "made it", but the trap here is stagnation. You don't grow because you become too comfortable with your success and skills. So you keep doing the same thing over and over again because it is in your comfort zone, but there is no growth, and that can lead to dissatisfaction even in spite of the usual perceived indicators of success.
- The Zone of Genius: The zone of genius is not necessarily a comfortable place. Yes, this is the zone where we are operating at a level that is a combination of great talent, innate passion, and innovation. We are working with purpose; challenging yourself and the world around you. You are stretching what is possible in the field of your endeavor by working with a blank canvas and without a net. It's a scary place. The thought of failure is a regular companion and often you must move forward with your work alone, at least initially until reality can catch up. "Genius" takes vision, it is being different and believing in possibilities. However, with the possibility of creation, there is also the risk of madness. Just look at Vincent Van Gogh - during his life Van Gogh never sold a painting, his work was regularly ridiculed by his peers, and he was eventually put into a mental institution. And yet, even when Van Gogh was in asylum, he still kept painting. So why would anyone pursue this path? I'm not encouraging or glorifying what is a serious condition but I bring it up because genius is pursuing something greater, something more, even when the challenges life presents are harsh and steep. Operating in the zone of genius also allows for what is one of the greatest joys in life: doing work that fulfills your greatest gifts and strengths. Work is no longer work, but is fueled by purpose and meaning. Genius merges the self with craft and what emerges is the inability to separate the work and the person that creates it. Try to look at the Mona Lisa without thinking of DaVinci or watch Hamlet without hearing Shakespeare - it's nearly impossible to separate the creation from the creator. But that is the result for the greatest part of genius is in the doing. Fulfillment comes from doing what comes from your greatest and truest self. You don't strive for genius, it is a byproduct of what you most love.