Loving Your Idiot Zone

It is common in January for people to start thinking about what skills they would like to learn in the coming year, or what areas they would like to improve in. So this month ILSPA wanted to consider not only how best to set and achieve your chosen 2019 goals but also the best mind-set to allow yourself to succeed and progress too. 

The genius zone idea is popular among many friends of mine. The idea is that we should spend more time doing what we do amazingly well, and delegate or eliminate everything else that we can.

Imagine being a surgeon with a surgical team who handles everything else for you. They do all of the prep work. Then you come in and do the surgical procedure that only you can do. With respect to your genius zone, you’re the hub, and other people are the spokes. Your team supports you in doing what you do best.

This sounds like a pretty good idea in principle, and it apparently works well for some people. I find it rather limiting though, so it’s not a model I use for myself. I dislike the lifestyle consequences, namely boredom.

The issue I have with focusing on my genius zone is that I don’t grow as much when I’m working from my most highly developed skills. I tend to get more value from life when I step outside of my comfort zone repeatedly, such as what I’m doing with a current delegation challenge, and this takes me far from my genius zone.

If I opted to stick with my genius zone, I’d never get into delegating because delegating isn’t my strength right now. Delegation is among my weakest skill sets. My intention is to turn this area into a strength. I expect this will take years. If I work on this enough, I can expect that my future self will be pretty good at delegation, perhaps even great. This is how I built many other skills that I’ve been able to leverage, such as programming, writing, and speaking.

I love working on personal growth – it’s what lights me up inside – and this requires spending plenty of time tackling challenges that involve failure, rejection and awkwardness. I often feel more enthusiastic about my life when I’m in my idiot zone than my genius zone. I grow faster when I’m in my idiot zone. I don’t pressure myself with expectations to perform well, so I have more fun. I expect to fail now and then, so I don’t worry about it. I play with risk.

To me the genius zone isn’t nearly as important or useful as it sounds. It’s one tool among many.

I tend to put more emphasis on being in my fun and enthusiastic zone. If I do have a genius zone to speak of, I’d prefer to think of this as my ability to plough through learning experiences, including plenty of failures and setbacks, with no loss of enthusiasm.

Many people also struggle to identify even one potential genius zone, as if it’s something we’ve been granted at birth and are supposed to discover later in life. I think we can develop multiple genius zones throughout our lives – with the keyword being develop. This involves some exploration and discovery too, but it’s mostly about learning, practising, and gaining experience.

How can we expect to develop our genius areas unless we’re willing to embrace our idiot zones too? We all have to pass through the dummy phase to build our skills.

My experience in coaching others suggests that the genius zone has merit for some, but thinking along these lines can easily backfire and keep us stuck. We can waste a lot of time searching our minds, hearts, and spirits for some innate source of genius, and then we come up short. We offer up vague answers like “I’m really good with people.” Or we second-guess our answers. Perhaps we really should be looking to our hands and feet to help us develop that genius, tripping occasionally as we go.

The worst part is that we tend to hide our idiot zones, a trap which leads us to pretend to be geniuses instead of developing any real genius. We’re ashamed of our incompetence. Many of us learned growing up that incompetence is criticized, and genius is lauded. But if we want to develop some genius, it’s easier if we can fully embrace and enjoy the incompetent phase.

Given the choice between leveraging my genius zone and learning and growing in my idiot zone, I have to go with the latter. The more time I spend in my idiot zone, the less self-conscious I feel about being there and the faster I’m able to learn, grow, and embrace new experiences. I still appreciate my genius zone, but without the habit of embracing my idiot zone, I wouldn’t have a genius zone to speak of.

If we don’t embrace our idiot zones, we can’t progress. We ought to delve into those darker parts of life that scare us. Expose our fears. Tame our dragons. And celebrate that we’re still learning and growing. Whatever genius we develop along the way, we can then seek to put that into more lasting forms to embed it into this reality – through writing, videos, software, technology, processes, etc.

Merely being a genius is old school thinking. If we seek to be geniuses, technology will eventually make idiots of us all. I think a more useful aim is to get used to being frequently off balance, out of your element, moving through your fears, exploring the vastness of your idiot zone, sharing hugs with people who are doing the same… and yet still enthusiastic about life because you’re learning and growing each day.

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is a Personal Development Coach who runs one of the most popular personal development websites in the world. Steve has kindly contributed this fantastic article discussing the importance of loving your ‘idiot zone’ and stepping outside of your ‘genius zone’, that we believe is very beneficial for anyone looking to progress and develop this year.