The Differing Levels of Genius

March 20, 2014

A lot of us sail through school, college, whatever,  picking up grades, honours and badges by merely showing up. To people outside these systems, without these experiences, we’re often heralded as geniuses, or intimidatingly intelligent, or any other label allowing for systematic ordering. We measure others in order to understand ourselves.

Obviously this isn’t healthy but it’s damn difficult to overcome. If I had suggestions on how to break free of this mechanism, trust me, I’d give them. Sadly I don’t. What I can show you, however, is that this is a disease prevalent inside of everybody at some point in their lives. For the more sensitive among us, myself included, it’s often more frequent and reoccurring. Perhaps we look at others, throughout the day, and stand in admiration. Then, before we even know it, the gun has slowly turned on ourselves and our subsequent failure to match up. The onus, of course, is only on ourselves to relax this kind of pressure.

But we’re probably unlikely to do that for a while at least right?

I’m thinking about this as I’ve just been reading the writing of Paul Graham.

Graham, for those who don’t know, heads up Y Combinator, a seed capital firm responsible for a lot of the current internet landscape today.

For those who haven’t read his writing (it’s not just centred on programming or the happenings inside of Silicon valley), I’d strongly recommend it. Starting with the article “How to Do What You Love” is a good place to get acquainted. Inside of it you’ll find many key points of wisdom that surround popular adult concerns surrounding the idea of vocation and life purpose.

Here are just a couple of highlights…

It’s hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don’t underestimate this task. And don’t feel bad if you haven’t succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you’re discontented, you’re a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial.

The advice of parents will tend to err on the side of money. It seems safe to say there are more undergrads who want to be novelists and whose parents want them to be doctors than who want to be doctors and whose parents want them to be novelists. The kids think their parents are “materialistic.” Not necessarily. All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards.

In essence, Graham’s writing on this subject is similar to that of Roman Krznaric, another writer whose books and meditations I enjoy. Like Krznaric, Graham also adopts a seemingly empathetic approach to this modern determinism toward finding a life’s career that’s both fulfilling and sustainable.

At the risk of almost going off topic there though, what I aim to focus on more here isn’t the nature of jobs, but genius. Referring to Kznaric and Graham? That’s just one way of indicating and illustrating the types of people I find fitting of that ilk.

Sure it’s all subjective, those whose minds we find more resonant than others. And just as a friend of mine pointed out, the novelists and writers that speak bounds to us, are just as valid as the skilled bricklayers or master plumbers that frame the lives and careers of apprentice craftsmen. It would be ignorant of us to pretend otherwise.

One thing we all seem to have in common however is that there are always people that occupy that space. People, who, on the surface at least, seem to have reached the zenith and end-goal of the things we hope to pursue. Whether that be someone investing in prime internet movers and shakers (Graham), or someone banging in fifty goals a season.

Exposing yourself to genius like this in your life is often a two-fold game. For the more emotionally resilient, optimism, in that a single goal can be achieved because someone (a genius) has done so, will be one side of that coin. For the other half though, it’ll be doubt that’s more often the name of the game.

Luckily for me, I have a lot of people in my life I’d consider a genius. Friends I know who have an indescribable gravitas (perhaps as a result of being so humble and gracious), friends with have an unbelievable gift of honesty and directness and friends who are simply good at making a lot of money and living a lifestyle they enjoy.

Each, it could be said, occupies genius territory in their very own way (some, perhaps, in a way they might not even expect). It’s up to myself how I choose to look at them that’s key.

Do I take strength (by aligning myself with their gifts)? Or do I look at them and see only personal faults (by the natural habituation of comparison)?

Whichever way I look at it, I must remember, all this presence of genius in my life is there for my benefit. One, to gift me the experience of learning more about myself. Two, to receive the opportunity to change the way in which I to act.

Different levels of genius help with different ways of bettering yourself.