Reflections on Genius

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”

Aldous Huxley

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a genius is a very smart or talented person : a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable. People often name Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton as geniuses in the world of science. A few years ago, the website listed 50 of today’s living geniuses which included: Warren Buffett, Jackie Chan, Bob Dylan, Bill Gates, Wayne Gretzky, Tony Hawk, Stephen Hawking, Michael Jordan, Stan Lee, Yo-Yo Ma, Cormac McCarthy, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Zuckerberg.

When we think of the word genius, we think of someone really smart from our school, from our places of employment, or perhaps from our community. We think of people who have achieved success and prominence through their brilliance. We think of other people, but we don’t typically put ourselves on the list.

I was exchanging messages earlier this week with my friend, Cliff Ravenscraft. Cliff left his job in the insurance world to pursue podcasting. He became known to many as the Podcast Answer Man. More recently, he pivoted and became the Mindset Answer Man. Through his coaching, he has helped many take their lives to the Next Level. In our message exchange, he suggested I take another look at The Big Leap (Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level) by Gay Hendricks. Specifically, Cliff encouraged me to identify my Zone of Genius.

I first read The Big Leap in January 2018, and I remember it making sense. Sometimes it takes a friendly reminder and another look to turn the lessons learned from a book like this into action. On Friday, I took some time to go to the beach by myself. It was a beautiful day. I took time to walk, to clear my head, to stick my feet in the warm ocean, and to re-read the first two chapters of The Big Leap.

In The Big Leap, Hendricks defines our Zone of Genius as “the set of activities you are uniquely suited to do.” He separates this from the Zone of Excellence (“the activities you do extremely well”), the Zone of Competence (the activities you can do, but others can do just as well), and the Zone of Incompetence (“made up of all the activities we’re not good at”). So many of us stop at the Zone of Competence or the Zone of Excellence, but we fail to make it to the Zone of Genius. We do our jobs adequately or even well, but we fail to do what we are uniquely suited to do.

I still have a lot of work to do to re-read and process this book. Working in our Zone of Genius requires thought. It requires us to identify what we are uniquely suited to do. And it requires us to shed the activities in the other zones, so we have more time and energy to operate in our Zone of Genius. We must learn to say “No” to things outside our Zone of Genius. We must learn to delegate. We must learn to let others help us with tasks outside our Zone of Genius. I was talking to some friends last night, and I realized that this may mean asking someone to paint our house for me. I was a painter the summer in between high school and college. I painted all the rooms in our last house. I have painted the garage and the dining room at our new house. I know how to paint. I do an okay job at it. But if I’m honest I’m not uniquely suited to paint. My height helps me, but I don’t have the most steady of hands and I tend to take longer than those who paint for a living.

I don’t remember if Hendricks says this in his book, but I think it is imperative for us to discover and live in our Zones of Genius if we want to be good stewards and live the lives we were meant to live. I don’t imagine I’ll ever show up on a list of the Top 50 Living Geniuses of the World, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pursue my own Zone of Genius.

Thanks, Cliff, for the reminder. I’m excited to share with you in the future where my journey to my Zone of Genius takes me.

What were you uniquely made to do? How do you live out your Zone of Genius in your everyday life?

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV)