Yvonne: Can parents help children discover their genius...at what age? What should they do to encourage children to let their genius loose?
Dick: I am no expert on childhood education, I have no children myself, and the youngest person in any genius-seeking workshop that I have led was a high school senior. So my knowledge and experience in this arena is quite nearly zero. But I do know that there exists a platform upon which rests anyone’s ability to recognize their genius. That platform has three elements: enough varied life experience to be able to spot when and where the genius has been active, appreciation for the value of self-awareness and self-reflection, and some base level of skill at self-awareness and self-reflection.
So while I cannot say with any certainty that there is an optimal age to begin helping children recognize their genius, I can say with some confidence that efforts to do so are quite probably not going to bear fruit until that platform is laid.
I also know that there is some danger in trying to decide what another person’s genius might be, no matter what the person’s age, because we tend to project our own genius onto others—to assume that they are like we are.
My advice to parents? Make sure that your kids have varied and rich experience, help them appreciate the value of self-awareness and self-reflection, help them develop skill in those arenas, and only then can you help them to recognize their genius.
I can offer one other piece of advice to parents. It comes from my wife, Melanie, who, unlike me, is an expert on childhood education. In a comment at my blog, she wrote, “The next time one of your children acts out in some way that pushes buttons, think – perhaps it’s the genius that is trying to express, and it’s really just bugging you because it doesn’t seem like the right time. Such moments may offer clues to your child’s genius – but on the other hand, lest we over-analyze childhood – they may simply be acting like alien beings, as all children sometimes do!”
Yvonne: Once again, as in so many books I read, your stories were so descriptive and emotional, they inspired me to keep searching when I was getting frustrated. Can you share just one story with my readers, today?
Dick: I’ll tell a story that isn’t in the book. It is about a woman who had a successful twenty-year career working for and heading up philanthropic organizations. She decided that she’d had enough. She felt burned out, but didn’t understand why. She quit her very senior job in order to give herself space to explore the source of her malaise and decide what to do next. She immediately received several offers of new work, including consulting contracts. She resisted these offers because she feared that she might become drawn into the very situations she wanted to avoid; she had no compass to guide her decision-making.
Recognizing her genius, which she calls Expanding Capacity, provided her with that compass. She had become burned out in part because the politics and bureaucracy of the organizations in which she had worked had increasingly frustrated her genius, and because her genius was seeking a larger playing field. If your genius is Expanding Capacity, for sure you will want to expand your own.
Today she has a thriving consulting business. She takes on only those projects which enable her to expand capacity in some way that is meaningful to her. She coaches leaders of philanthropic and not-for-profit organizations, helping them to expand their own leadership capacity while also expanding the capacity of their organizations. She likes to work with young leaders because she believes that they are likely to have much capacity to expand.
I like that story because it presents a fairly clear picture of what can happen when your genius is not at work, and what can happen when you recognize your genius and then use it as a compass for deciding on a new direction.
Yvonne: Slightly more than halfway through the book, you write, "I will tell a few more stories. They are about genius and purpose, self, life, and work, and about people who, at least for a time, did meld these aspects of their lives to answer the four key questions... (To ask before our next career move). Then, you write, "I do want to illuminate three aspects of self that are crucial to bringing it all together: responsibility, awareness and courage.
I understand responsibility and awareness. Where does courage fit in?
Dick: One of my favorite quotes is from the potter and poet M. C. Richards (we are not related). She said, “It takes courage to grow up and be who we are.” That is the kind of courage I mean: the quality of mind and spirit that enables us to face the difficulties, risks, and disapproval that often come with recognizing ourselves at a deep level, to act with integrity, and to accept the consequences. That kind of courage is not an absence of fear. It is doing what we know to be right despite fear.
It is the kind of courage that enabled the woman in the story that I just told to leave a lucrative job without knowing what was next, and that enabled you, Yvonne, to change your name.
There is always some emotional response when a person recognizes his or her genius. The response is usually joy or surprise, but sometimes it is anxiety or fear about the person’s own ability to live up to being the person that they truly are. It is a matter of owning one’s own power—one’s genius. That is scary for people who have learned to minimize or downplay their power. Courage is especially important for those people.
Yvonne: You talk about words a lot. I have a great respect for words. And, a great fondness for them. Can you share an exercise (perhaps from the book) with my readers that will help them make friends with words - to help them learn about and recognize their genius?
Dick: I also love words. My father spoke only Italian until he went to first grade. The other kids made fun of him, so he determined to master English. He listened to radio and did crossword puzzles. When my sister and I were small, he played word games with us over dinner. So it is no accident that both my sister and I are book authors. Can I give her a plug? She is Patti Schroeder, professor of English, sought after blues scholar, and author of a book about blues icon Robert Johnson.
Finding a name for your genius is largely a matter of word-play. People frequently consult a dictionary or thesaurus, and I encourage use of an on-line tool, the Visual Thesaurus.
There is a sample exercise from the book on-line. It helps you Refute Your Disrepute as a way to find clues to your genius, which really is a matter of finding the perfect words, according to a certain formula, to describe your spirit.
I also like to remind people that words are not the things that they stand for. Although language is a beautiful thing, it does have its limits. Your name for your genius will be the best description that words will allow, but it is not your genius itself. This becomes important when people realize that the name that they have chosen for their genius is not quite right. So your name for your genius may change as your awareness of it grows, but the genius doesn’t change.
Yvonne: When did you discover YOUR genius? What is it? How do you serve it day by day?
Dick: I discovered my genius, which I call Creating Clarity, about twenty-five years ago and have managed to construct a work life that calls upon it very often. I write to create clarity about issues that are on the edges of my awareness and that I want to understand, and also to provide clarity for others about those issues. When I coach, it is almost all Creating Clarity for the other person about who they are, and about the meaning of where they have been, where they are now, and what direction they might take. It isn’t giving advice, but involves Creating Clarity about the meaning of the person’s experience. My organization development practice is much the same.
I also get involved in pursuits that take me out of my head, where I often spend too much time. Those pursuits can also feed my genius. For example, I recently built a short fence to screen trash receptacles from view. I loved Creating Clarity about how to build a fence, as well as the actual building of it! Trout fishing, re-facing a door, building a deck, hanging a light fixture—all of those endeavors require some measure of clarity. I get into trouble where a job or task is repetitive and there isn’t much clarity needed. I have always hated mowing grass!
Yvonne: Let's leave folks with some of the summary of finding one's genius: 1) You do have a genius. 2) You have only one genius. 3) Your genius has been with you for your entire life. Any last thoughts on this?
Dick: The most commonly expressed disagreement with the work that I have done comes from people who do not like the notion that they have only one genius. But that is what our spiritual and cultural traditions tell us, and it is born out in my experience of helping people discover their genius. The disagreement is usually a semantic problem, confusing genius as I use the term with talents, skills, interests, passions, and so forth. Our traditions tell us that we may indeed have many talents, skills, and so forth, and that we are drawn to develop those when we discover that they allow us to express our one genius.
Other than that little tidbit, which nags at me occasionally but not seriously, I’d like to say thanks to you, Yvonne, for this opportunity to support my own work and yours at the same time, and to everyone who has visited this interview.
Now, everyone, go find your genius!