More Thoughts on Finding Your Purpose and Your Genius

I‘ve written before about Dick Richards’ book Is Your Genius at Work?, and amplified his model somewhat (as shown in the graphic above) by breaking what he calls Genius into two components: Your Gift (What you’re uniquely good at), and your Passion (What you love doing). What he calls your Purpose I have narrowed somewhat to What’s Needed, because I think that most of us, unless we are of independent means, need to be pragmatic about defining our Purpose in terms of what is needed, and affordable, today. Otherwise we may be doomed to be forever too far ahead for our own good.

Most of us struggle to ‘move’ work that is currently in Area 5 on the graphic above (stuff we’re good at, and which has a market, but which doesn’t really fulfill us) to Area 3. Or we try to ‘create’ a market, through promotion, for work we love and are good at, and hence move a thankless and unprofitable business (Area 2 on the graphic above) to Area 3. I have argued that both of these efforts are somewhat futile, and that the work in the ‘sweet spot’ (Area 3) exists (for each of us) and needs to be discovered rather than manufactured. Most of us simply don’t know enough to know how to discover it, or even how to go about beginning to discover it. I confess I am still searching myself.

There is no silver bullet approach to this discovery process. I have suggested that one approach is to start with who you want to work with, and then work with them to discover work that is needed, which the collective group is good at, and which each member of the group can work within, doing work that they love. Another approach is to start by asking the question Who needs your gift now? And as part of my writing on The Natural Enterprise I have suggested a way to discover What’s Needed, as a starting point to finding or creating Area 3 work. For those (like me) who know what’s needed (goods and services that are recognized as needed and affordable by those who need it), but are not at all excited about making a living filling that need, I have no suggestion other than — keep looking.

Jeremy Heigh has received a lot of ideas from other people on Dick Richards’ Google group on what his Genius and Purpose might be. He ended up with a host of possible candidates for his Genius, and a host of different views on which of them best reflects his Gift and Passion, and was looking to understand how I managed to identify my Genius and Purpose so quickly (though not, alas, their intersect). I responded that what helped me most was looking first for the Gift/Passion overlap. To do this I considered each candidate for my Genius in turn and asked:

  1. What kinds of things should I best be doing if this is my Genius? and
  2. Do I really want to do those things more than anything else?

So I started by identifying the Gift implicit in each possible candidate for my Genius, and asked myself What kinds of work would give expression to that Gift, that ability. And then I asked myself if I would genuinely enjoy spending a large part of my time and energy doing such work. This enabled me to whittle down the list of Genius candidates quickly. Because (I think) I have a pretty good imagination, this might be easier for me than for others, however.

I also found that deciding on my Purpose also focused my Genius. Finding that sweet spot in Area 3 really requires approaching it from all three angles, using a large amount of imagination, iteration, soul searching, and exploring and researching each possibility until you find one that intersects your Gift (what you’re good at), your Passion (what you love doing) and your Purpose (what the market recognizes it needs and will pay for. Several times I’ve thought I’d found some Area 3 opportunities, only to find, on further consideration and research, that I’d overestimated the market, or my interest or skill in doing them. But the process works. I’m convinced I need to explore the Area 4 opportunities more closely — perhaps by partnering with others who have skills I lack, together we can make a living each doing what we love using our Gift, producing a collective product that is needed. Trying to make a living alone makes the task unnecessarily difficult.

Two things will often prevent us, or at least delay us, from finding those intersects. The first is unawareness of markets and opportunities, i.e. not knowing what is needed, by whom. This is doubly difficult because quite often the people who have a need that we could fill don’t realize they have it. We may need to imagine it, surface it, explore it with those who may need it, co-develop the solution to that need with them. And if they still don’t recognize that they need it, then they don’t need it yet, and we are too far ahead. The second blocker is not knowing ourselves. If our work and life experience is limited or unvaried, we may not really know what our Gift, or even our Passion, is, and can’t be expected to until we have broadened our experience. Volunteering, travel, research, and exchange programs can speed up this process, but to some extent we have to give ourself time for our Gift and our Passion, and hence our Genius, to emerge.

If you think you’ve found work at the intersect of your Gift, Passion and Purpose, i.e. genuine Area 3 work, I’d love to hear your story, and the process (deliberate or accidental) that helped you find it.

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5 Responses to More Thoughts on Finding Your Purpose and Your Genius

  1. I’ve worked in startups for the last 9 years, and I find startups to be much more fulfilling than large company jobs, because the value I bring to the organization is clear, significant and generally recognized. Over the last 4 years, inspired by a number of sources, I’ve started writing novels in my spare time (I’m putting my first online here, I just finished my second on May 14th). The discipline and excitement involved in creating something that large has been wonderfully fulfilling, as well as the ongoing sense of improvement in my writing skills. I have an experimental side business – Bellygraph, which is a great learning experience for me, as well as fodder for a number of posts on my blog: PicoBusiness I have another experimental side business with some friends, which is also a great learning experience, and even more fulfilling than Bellygraph, since it is a shared excitement. I believe that I am setting a great example for my kids, that they do not have to live as cogs in a big machine – that they can strike out and find their own way. What could be more fulfilling than that?In short, I have found fulfillment by taking a meaningful job, and spicing it up with a bunch of personal initiatives that give me paths to self improvement, and potential opportunities for new forms of income, all the while giving me the sense that I am doing right by my children by taking this path.

  2. Kris Olsen says:

    That graphic is an awesome visual. I can relate to each of the sections (including the two you didn’t number). Without even reading the text, I knew exactly what it meant. Lately, I’ve had a sense of actually closing in on the center.

  3. Avi Solomon says:

    Yes, I’ve slowly found my ‘genius’ (Making Herb Gardens), but it could only happen by the variety of work experiences I’ve had,patient persistence in creating my own work agenda, and the support of my wife:)The metaphor that seems to work in my case is that of an inner magnet that leads me through both good and bad experiences towards clarity of what really matters.Fred Gratzon has some good thoughts on the subject:

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    John: That’s a great story — thanks. Kris: Love to hear more, and great blog BTW. Avi — Thanks; if only we could find a way to get experience without having to have it ;-)

  5. I used to take entrepreneurial coaching from The Strategic Coach, and their call to action was to find your “unique ability”, which is really your area 3. Finding others to work with effectively is a matter of finding those with complementary unique abilities, not the same abilities.

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