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June 22, 2016

The Dangers of Avoiding Your Genius

I probably should have never even headed down the path to discovering my genius. After all, I was successful in my career, had a wonderful wife, and was about as happy as I knew how to be.

You see, I was living a success life in my zone of excellence — I did my work better than most people, rose to the top of my profession, was highly rewarded in my job as a network news producer. Hell, I’d even won four Emmys. So why would I want to change any of that?

Because it was costing me my health, my relationships, and my happiness.

A typical day for me would end around 10pm, after a hair-raising-but-successful fight to make deadline, with me being guided to the bar, where I’d order a triple, then be driven home, where I’d have another drink or two just so I could function enough to tell my family good night, fall dead asleep for five hours and get up to do it again.

It was clear things were on the wrong path sometime after Emmy number three, when my wife told me that if we had another year like that, she was divorcing me.

So I was looking for a better way. The idea of living in my zone of genius — doing that special thing that I did really well, where I was working in flow, effortlessly and joyfully creating great things – seemed like a fantasy to someone who had achieved nothing without hard work and sacrifice.

But by that point I had nothing to lose: I was on an unsustainable course and headed for a crack-up.

So I began stalking myself: looking for those little signs that I was in the zone of flow, working effortlessly and yet still getting things done, having fun while sharing my gift with the world. Gradually I began to see where my genius lay.

That’s when the trouble really started.

You see, my zone of genius had little to do with my job as a network news producer. The prospect of leaving that job and everything that came with it for the uncertainty of following my genius seemed crazy and terrifying.

And yet, the more I thought about it, the more dissatisfied I became with that job and life. Month after month, the conflict between what I wanted and what I was willing to do intensified. The pressure to change grew, and the terror of letting go of what I had grew, too.

Something had to give.

And it did. June 12, 2012. A beautiful spring day in suburban New Jersey. My wife and I enjoying the first few miles of a weekend bike ride. Salvation came in the form of a gigantic Honda that hit and nearly killed me.

It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, because in that split second between the time the SUV hit me and I hit the pavement, I had two thoughts:

  1. This really hurts. A lot.
  2. This is my worst fear realized. And that idea that I’d been living my life by – that I could save myself from what I feared by playing it safe – was just an illusion. Life could change in an instant despite my best efforts to protect myself.

During my months of recovery after that crash, I came to see that giving up the miserable safety of my life as I knew it was not such a big deal. Fear was not keeping me safe. So I might as well just take the chance of doing what I really wanted and live in my genius [Tweet this].

A few months later, another corporate reorganization caught up with me in the form of a layoff and severance package. By that time I knew it was my chance to go out and follow my genius. So I took the leap and so far the landing has been surprisingly soft, with greater rewards and lower costs than I ever imagined.

And that’s the point: we feel safe staying in the familiar, working from excellence even if it’s slowly killing us. 

The idea of leaving that zone of the known seems dangerous. And yet the real danger lies in ignoring genius and continuing to play small.

So if you want to take the leap to genius, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t mess around and play for time, because the wake-up call can be painful.
  2. If you do decide to let fear get the better of you, make sure you have a good bike helmet.

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