In considering how I spend my time, and whether I am making progress toward my goals and expressing my potential for “genius”, I’m forced to think both more deeply and more broadly about what I do.
One of the challenges I struggle with, personally, is the sense I have of a lack of meaning in my job. I often feel that what I do there, right now, has little or no measurable or positive impact for the company that employs me. The question that arises is whether this is because I am personally bored by my job, because I am not fulfilled by the work that I do, or because there are barriers in my job that prevent my work from adding value. Certainly my employer did not hire me with the intention that I not do any work of value. But I wonder, if I were to leave tomorrow, what would happen? The immediate consequence would be that (until I was replaced) my department would be unable to fulfill its role in providing accurate and timely analysis of forecasted financial expenditures. The consequence of that would be that the CFO and other financial directors in my company would not have some of the information they need in discussions with other decision-makers in the company. The supposition that this would be of detriment to the company, however, is based on the assumption that this financial information is very useful to the primary decision makers in making their decisions. I frequently have the sense that it is not. This leads me to wonder, is there something more I can be doing in my job that would be more useful or valuable than generating financial forecasts that are of limited worth? If I don’t find financial analysis fulfilling, what fields would I find more fulfilling? Are those fields of worth and value to either my current or future employer? If I can’t make a meaningful impact at my current company, is there some place else where my efforts will be more meaningful?
The purpose of that train of thought is to illustrate two things. The first is that it is difficult to understand and measure the impact that we can have, because it depends on a lot that is outside our control. The second is that analyzing what we do and how we do it might, hopefully, lead us to finding ways of doing something better. And if there are impediments outside our control, in our current situation, that prevent us from doing better, then perhaps we can change our situation.
This leads me to a simple conclusion: at the end of the day, I need to feel like I’ve done some good, that I’ve made some progress toward my goal of expressing my genius by improving those around me.
Genius, in its most commonly understood sense, is in the act of creating something of lasting value and meaning. Creation, itself, is genius. That creative potential exists within each of us, and I know it exists within me. When we think of geniuses, our thoughts turn first to those whose impact has been monumental, even global: the Leonardo da Vincis and Albert Einsteins and Martin Luther Kings and their ilk. We follow those names closely with the names of those who have had more profound and personal impacts on ourselves and others more like us. I might add J. R. R. Tolkein to my list, or John Williams, and even Robert Jordan. Their impacts are more narrow in scope, but no less meaningful to those individuals who have been affected by them. But rarely do we consider the quiet geniuses whose impact is most often felt only at the personal level: mothers and fathers, teachers, friends, mentors, ecclesiastical leaders, community leaders, and peers. But in each of these roles, great and small, we have endless opportunities to create moments, circumstances, and means by which the lives of others are improved. This privilege, this responsibility, is not limited to those only of great intellect or immense natural talents.
The Leonardo exhibit highlighted one thing very clearly: that genius like that of Leonardo da Vinci doesn’t exist without context. It doesn’t arise in a vacuum. Each of us is influenced and improved by the genius of others. And each of us has the potential to influence and improve others around us. This is the purpose of nearly all worthwhile human endeavors: a virtuous cycle of continuous betterment. That I can apply myself to this task is my hope. That is my renaissance.