April 24, 2014
From presidents to parents, we are all leaders in some way. Every day we make choices that matter. In this multi-part series, we encourage readers to consider their choices as leaders using HopeLab’s Questions for a Curious Leader. The goal? To spark a personal, fiercely honest reflection that supports greater clarity – where new possibilities and perspectives can then emerge.
You have a genius. You simply may not realize it yet. Genius isn’t just for the exceptionally smart, the evidently gifted, or the super famous. It’s for all of us.
Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, writes that genius was used by the Romans “to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling. Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we are and become it.”
Sir Ken Robinson speaks of the Element in each of us, i.e., “the place where the things we love to do and the things we’re good at come together. I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled, but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communities and institutions will depend on it…. It’s about how we can all engage more fully in the present and how we can prepare in the only possible way for a completely unknowable future…To make the best of ourselves and of each other, we urgently need to embrace a richer concept of human capacity. We need to embrace the Element.”
Legendary dancer-choreographer Martha Graham believed it was a privilege and obligation common to us all to cultivate and honor our unique capacities. As she put it, “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and will be lost. It is not your business to determine how good it is. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
Whether you call it genius, the Element, a life force or the Zone, it’s an experience of complete absorption and flow. It’s enlivening. Our whole being is involved; head, heart, gut – everything feels aligned.
Genius wants to make itself known. It is powerful energy, patient, persistent, and insistent. If it is not expressed, we may spend our entire lives feeling uneasy, restless, with nagging unspoken questions in our minds like, “Is this all there is? Is this what I was meant to do?” We may be highly competent, even excel in our roles but if they do not enliven us we may still find ourselves troubled by these questions. These irksome questions are one way genius comes knocking.
Genius takes as many forms as there are people on the planet. The painter, the poet, the CEO, the accountant, the gardener, the parent, the programmer, the police officer, tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, can all operate from a place of unique genius.
In the process of discovering your genius, many things can distract you: fear, other people, the seduction of things you’re good at, even rewarded for, though they bring you no real joy. You’ll begin to know where to steer and where to steer clear. Take that seminar on how to patent your idea. Start that business. Buy those paints. Have that baby. Merge those companies. Pay attention to your attention. Notice the manner in which you and those closest to you expend energy, in all its forms. Say good-bye to keeping up with appearances, gossip and the Jones and say hello to yourself. Your essence. The world is waiting for you.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
This blog series is based on the writing of Pat Christen, Susan Edsall, Chris Murchison and Richard Tate. In creating Questions for a Curious Leader, we’ve benefited greatly from the contributions of several colleagues and partners. To learn more, please download the quick reference guide.