What are you afraid of?
Last week I sat next to a TSA manager on a flight to Washington, D.C. for the last stop of my book tour. We got to talking and I discovered that my new acquaintance was quite the paradox; security expert by day, mad history buff by night. It literally took one question for this gentle soul to open up and tell the truth of who he “really” is.
“What are your passions?” I asked.
“I love history, theology, and I have a fascination with Okinawan history.” He then went on to share countless stories and colorful facts about Okinawa. While I listened intently, I also wondered what the heck is he doing working for the TSA and why wasn’t this lively, passionate person doing work that relates to what he clearly cares so much about.
Curious to know, I boldly asked him, “So how do you intend to use all this knowledge?”
In response, he got very quiet, casted his eyes downward (never a good sign) and replied, “I’m not a smart person, I just know a lot of things.” What he was saying, of course, was “I’m scared.” Fear is a bitch, I thought to myself. Why does it have so many of us in a stranglehold?
The fearful fellow in seat 5B went on to tell me that he writes at night in the privacy of his home office and has never shared the work he has produced over the years. Feeding his intellectual curiosities quietly and not doing anything with his innate talents and passions is not just a loss for him, but for everyone out there in the world who might benefit from his insight.
I have never felt such sadness for someone as I did that morning and for the millions of others amongst us who are paralyzed in fear and self doubt and either don’t recognize their condition or know it and choose to do nothing about it. I think that while fear can be an interesting motivator for some people (mountain climbers and race car drivers come to mind), it is more often a bear trap that stops us from living the complete lives we’re not only capable of, but deeply, richly deserve.
As a coach, it’s my responsibility to hold up a mirror for others and try to inspire them to shift their perspectives. My objective is to show them what is possible when they bring their skills and strengths into balance with their passions and values. When they land on that intersection—the place where genius lives—miraculously, fear is no longer the master in their lives. I have a theory that genius and fear can’t co-exist. When your genius is in full bloom, fear shrinks and fades to nothing. When your genius is undeveloped or neglected, fear fills that vacuum and comes to dictate decisions in matters of both the head and the heart. That’s no way to live, people!
As our conversation drew to a close, I challenged my seatmate to stop making excusing and to begin to address the self doubt and fear that has held him back from living his great passions. I also challenged him to look hard at his job and to try to imagine what would happen if he unleashed the power of his passions and the clarity of his values on his work in the security field. Because honestly, this isn’t just how one person’s life and work is transformed, it’s also how organizations and communities are transformed one genius at a time. I don’t know what he will do with my advice, but I hope that the hour or so of airing and sharing his passions in the light of day would give him an irresistible taste of what it’s like when his personal practical genius rules over him instead of his fear.
I share this small story to encourage you to reflect on what holds you back from sharing your genius with the world. Take a moment to reflect on your quiet aspirations and curiosities and consider what’s stopping you from acting upon them. Only when you confront those demons that lurk just beneath the surface of the ego can you begin to find the path to your own genius. So come on—come out from the shadows (or the basement or the middle of the night or wherever it is that you’re hiding your light) and step into the sunshine—the warm, edifying, Vitamin-D rich sunlight that will feed, sustain, grow the genius in you.