The Myth of Genius

Beware the myth of genius. 

I’m sure it exists, but if it does, it’s the outlier and not the norm. 

If we look to those we admire and equate their accomplishments as feats of genius, it’s easy to get discouraged. After all, they must be a genius to have created such an elegant and moving work of art. The confidence they have in their craft must be something only reserved for those bestowed with the gift of genius.

I used to believe this myth. It made it surprisingly easy to justify playing small. If I’m not a genius, what chance do I stand at making an impact? Surely, I could never achieve the same level of mastery. 

Thankfully, the idea of genius is a bunch of bullocks.

We celebrate it in a higher proportion than what is reality. Sure, there are always going to be true geniuses in their field or craft but they are the exception. 

Instead, I’ve found a practice that’s accessible to all of us and helps us achieve more than we think is possible.  It’s simple but rare because it’s not easy. It requires commitment, which is no small feat in a world of ever expanding choices.

It’s consistency. 

Look at the people you admire. Examine their behavior.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet they decide to show up over and over again. They’ve made a discipline of sticking with their craft for the long haul. They have a desire to continue playing their game and finding ways to incrementally get better. They see failure not as something to embody, but rather an event to learn from on their journey. They don’t chase perfection or genius. They recognize the path is messy and hard but stick with it because not doing so is short-sighted.

Consistency is a long-game.

Success is a long-game. It compounds upon itself. But, there are no short-cuts. 

And it’s certainly not something reserved for the genius. 

Rest and our responsibility as leaders

This past week I turned 37. 

In preparation for turning another year, I decided to take the whole week of my birthday off and use it to engage in the things I love the most. I wrote, I read, I reflected, I hiked, I spent time with my daughters, wife, and friends. It was intentional, regenerative and peaceful.

It was so powerful that I intend to make it an annual tradition. 

When I shared my plans with friends and co-workers, there were several that commented “how nice it must be to take a full week off,” or “I wish I could take a full week.

I’m sure some of those comments were said in jest, but some felt like conditioned response. And if so, what does that say about our culture? Why is the idea of taking time off to prioritize self-care and recovery considered such an outlandish idea? 

If you are a leader within an organization, this is something we must commit to changing. Our people are our greatest asset and this should be considered an investment in their health and well-being.

Thankfully, I work for a wonderful, empathetic company, Businessolver, that encourages employees to take time off – they even rolled out unlimited PTO earlier this year. 

But, what’s interesting is that even before this occurred, I noticed co-workers rarely used all their allotted PTO for the year. 

This is completely unacceptable. 

As a leader, it’s our responsibility to find out what’s preventing our people from taking time off and help them to make it a reality. That may also include self-reflecting on how you take time off. If you are unable to disconnect for a week’s time, what signal does that send to your team? Are you responding to emails while you are out or are you setting appropriate boundaries?

I know the feeling of thinking YOU are the only one who can do the work so you couldn’t possibly take time off.

But, suppose you were to quit or get hit by a bus, I would bet the work would still get done. You’re important, just not THAT important. 

It may feel like working is the right choice to do in the moment, but what’s the cost of doing so – what are you sacrificing? 

Remember, work is an infinite game – no one wins work, the point is to keep playing as long as possible. 

Sustainability is a balance of hard work and effort followed by periods of rest. 

We need leaders who are willing to push back against hustle culture and set the expectation that rest is not a luxury, it’s a necessity to stay in the game for the long-term.

Rethinking Goals: How changing my perspective lead to greater fulfillment

For the first time in almost a decade, I don’t have a laundry list of goals to accomplish this year. It was a choice I consciously made.

It’s a weird feeling and their absence is felt like a phantom limb. 

As a high-achiever, goals have been my jet fuel. They were the foundation on which I laid my identity and self-worth upon. 

In my journey to shift from achievement to building a purpose-driven life, I’ve come to rethink the role goals play in my life.

Goals have been a great tool to help me accomplish. I wouldn’t have realized success in my career without them. I wouldn’t have been able to complete seven marathons. I wouldn’t have achieved single-digit body fat percentage. I wouldn’t have started this blog. 

Goals helped me get clear on what I want. Without defining them, I’d never know what done looked like. 

The downside with goals is that they narrowed my focus on the outcome, without really understanding what’s driving the desire to reach that outcome. 

Further, once I achieve a goal, the natural question that follows is: 

What’s next?”

The combination of these two often lead to a mindless pursuit of more. I anchored my purpose to the pursuit of goals and became misguided by a belief that to achieve greater success I must take on bigger and better goals.

Making Lemonade Out of Putrified Lemons

This past year has been brutal. The unprecedented nature of the pandemic against a tumultuous socio-politcal backdrop has fatigued me to no end. I lost my motivation and it felt jarring. 

My baseline for stasis had completely been thrown out the window. I couldn’t see a clear picture of the future. That’s not to say I don’t know how to handle uncertainty, but the amount of uncertainty the future held was beyond the threshold of what I knew how to manage.

When existence bends itself into something you never thought fathomable, it takes a minute to orient yourself in this new reality.

Goals, at least in the form I was familiar with, felt outside the grasp of possibility

Fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to recognize the hard moments of life for what they are – moments to lean into and search for the seed of growth. 

Learning to Play the Infinite Game

One of the key tenets I’ve learned from my nutrition coach is the principle of sustainability. 

His approach to nutrition and fitness is such that if you cannot commit to doing it for at least 5-10 years, it’s not worth your time. This long-term lens forces you to think about mastery and focusing on the right habits for sustained behavior change. As it relates to the oft-chased yet elusive goal of weight loss, this meant it wasn’t just about losing weight in a short period of time through restriction, but learning the behaviors to maintain that weight indefinitely through balance.  

Seth Godin writes a similar theme in his most recent book The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. The main point of the book is that anything worth doing, is worth doing consistently. Good days and bad days are part of the journey. The hard part is having the discipline to show up like a professional. 

I realized that the problem I had with my process for setting goals was that they were short-term and finite. I became focused on the wrong thing – the outcome over the process.

Instead of learning how to manage my weight by tracking calories, focusing on the minimum effective dose and proper rest, I thought running marathons and redlining during workouts were the solution. 

Instead of making a practice of writing, I’d consistently set unrealistic writing goals, fail to achieve them and reset with an even more unrealistic goal, thinking the issue was the goal and not my process. 

Instead of learning how to find a balance between work and life, I told myself that once I reached a certain level I’d stop hustling, instead I just struggled to set boundaries.

Simon Sinek’s book The Infinite Game gave me the language to describe what I had failed to grasp about goals. I was treating goals as a finite game – an end-point where there is a winner (achievement) or loser (failure) – instead of an infinite game – with no defined endpoint, no winners or losers, and the focus is on playing to keep the game going as long as possible.

Play On

Goals are important for progress and self-development. They’ve given me a challenge to test my mettle.

However, this past year has forced me to radically rethink goals. The focus has shifted from an outcomes, finite, based goal to a focus on developing the right daily behaviors for long-term sustained change so that I can continue playing. 

Instead of asking myself “what do I want to achieve?” I ask, “who do I want to become?” 

It’s great to have big, audacious goals. But change doesn’t happen just because you achieve it. The goal post will always move further out and you’re back on the hamster wheel. 

Especially during the last year, I couldn’t even picture what the goal post looked like. I was lost without a goal post until I questioned the assumption of the goal post being the goal.

Learning to play and enjoy the game is the goal.

That meant a daily focus on building the right habits for long-term sustained change. It was a commitment to show up and build the discipline to gradually let change take hold. 

If you’re like me and you’re looking for a different approach to fulfillment, I challenge you to rethink achievement.

How would your approach to goals change if you thought of them as a practice worth pursuing for years, rather than a mountain to scale as quickly as possible?

I’ve certainly found a deeper level of fulfillment in reframing life as an infinite game. 

Our life may be finite, but our approach to living it doesn’t have to be.