Just because you're good at it, doesn't mean you should do it

by Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick

I'll admit, this has been a revolutionary concept for me that has taken a long time to learn. And apparently, I'm not the only one.

One of my favorite books in the "life changing" category is Gay Hendricks' book "The Big Leap." In it, he talks about the concept of your “Zone of Genius" as opposed to your “Zone of Excellence." Most people, including many high performing executives and other successful professionals, spend most of their time in their Zone of Excellence - doing what they are good at, even excellent at, but not necessarily where their unique abilities lie.

Your Zone of Excellence is safe. Your Zone of Genius is more risky because what if you really put yourself out there and you fail? Or what if you discover you don't actually have a Zone of Genius?

It's ok to feel those feelings, and to make the "Big Leap" anyway. And that Big Leap doesn't necessarily have to look like a Big Leap to begin with. You don't have to quit your job tomorrow to move into your Zone of Genius.

The first step is to figure out exactly what your Zone of Genius is.

Hendricks goes into detail on this process in Chapter 4 of The Big Leap, well worth reading, but in summary he poses the following “genius questions":

1. What do I most love to do? (I love it so much I can do it for long stretches of time without getting tired or bored.)

2. What work do I do that doesn’t seem like work? (I can do it all day long without ever feeling tired or bored.)

3. In my work, what produces the highest ratio of abundance and satisfaction to amount of time spent? (Even if I do only ten seconds or a few minutes of it, an idea or a deeper connection may spring forth that leads to huge value.)

4. What is my unique ability? (There’s a special skill I’m gifted with. This unique ability, fully realized and put to work, can provide enormous benefits to me and any organization I serve.)

Note that while these questions sound work or professionally oriented, you can think about it in terms of all areas of your life, including volunteer work, hobbies, and parenting.

Also in the book is the following exercise to help you drill down and get very clear on what your unique ability is:

I’m at my best when I’m _____

When I’m at my best, the exact thing I’m doing is _____

When I’m doing that, the thing I love most about it is _____

Once you have a clearer idea of what your Zone of Genius is, you can start making small shifts towards spending more time in this zone without necessarily making drastic changes in your life right away.

Maybe you can shift the activities you start your day with. Maybe you can change how you are delegating to your team at work. Maybe it's an adjustment in how you and your spouse and/or kids (if you have them) divide responsibilities at home.

Think about the people in your life and what their Zone of Genius might be too. Talk to them about it - it's different to what their strengths are, and more about what they are truly passionate about, what comes really easily to them, and where they provide value to themselves or others.

It might not be what you expect and what you conventionally think of as "strengths" or even "talent." Maybe they are really good at explaining things, or encouraging others, or rallying a group, or noticing what other people are good at.

So again, just because you are good at something doesn't mean you should do it.

Think of how this applies to everything you have on your plate.

Are these tasks and activities really leveraging your unique abilities? Or are you checking off boxes based on external "shoulds" or recognition?

When you know what your Zone of Genius is, you can stay really focused, and this hugely increases your impact.

Sometimes you don't even have to change what you are doing; it can be more of a reframe that puts a project, task or activity into your Zone of Genius.

For example, when I did this exercise, I came up with the following:

I'm at my best when I'm coaching people.

When I'm at my best, the exact thing I'm doing is listening to someone's struggles and hopes and showing them how to get from one to the other. I can see what is blocking them and what they could do instead to get what they want. The next steps appear almost magically in my mind.

When I'm doing that, the thing that I love most about it is the feeling that I am unlocking potential and finding the extraordinary within the ordinary. I love uncovering things that others have a harder time seeing, and thus helping people create what they really want.

At the time, I had been struggling with writing blog posts, but when I thought about blogging as coaching, I moved it into my Zone of Genius and it became much easier. Not only did my posts improve but they flowed better, were more enjoyable to write, and actually took less of my time!

As I mentioned earlier, your Zone of Genius often can apply to many areas of your life. Mine reflects my work as an architect, a photographer and a coach, as well as when I'm at my best as a parent. 

Today's action step: what is your Zone of Genius?

Take a few moments to go through the written exercise from The Big Leap outlined above.

Notice when you are in your Zone of Genius.

Think about what small "re-frames" or adjustments you can start with to put yourself in your Zone of Genius more.

Let me know how it goes!