How to Bring Your Young Genius to Work

Embrace Your Young Genius and Enjoy More Meaningful Work

We live in a new world of work, one in which we yearn to bring more meaning and purpose to our offices (or remote work spaces). A 2013 Philips Work/Life Survey revealed that 68% of Americans would take a salary cut if they could apply more of their personal interests to their work. If that were possible, twenty-three percent of that pool said they would cut their salary by a quarter. Those numbers show that we’re lacking meaningful work in our day-to-day jobs.

But here’s the thing: When you feel stuck, it can be tempting to seek another job or completely change your career. Unfortunately, most employers are not equipped to meet your purpose-filled needs. This is something you have to uncover for yourself.

So instead of abandoning your job, consider another option: find the force of character within you, and seek out new meaning. A force of character, which I like to call your “Young Genius,” can actually guide you toward your best work, no matter what your existing occupation or job, role or responsibility.

By bringing your Young Genius to work with you, you will see yourself and your work in a radically new light. With this new perspective, you will not just embrace daily challenges, but learn how to navigate the uncertainties that exist within this new world of work.

How can wonder change the way you work?

To bring your “Young Genius” forward is to see yourself with wonder. When I conducted a study, utilizing over 200 influential (and fulfilled) innovators who work across the fields of creativity, business, and the sciences, I found that what distinguishes exceptional workers from non-exceptional workers is their capacity for wonder. Wonder is the secret to standing out and the answer to lifelong personal and career success.

Experiencing momentary wonder dissolves our habitual ways of perceiving ourselves and our world, allowing us to imbue our lives with more meaning and beauty. Wonder puts aside expertise and serves up fresh insight, curiosity, and pragmatic possibility.  

Wonder is not child’s play. Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, says wonder is a survival trait of the 21st century, Richard Branson attributes his success to naiveté (rather than his superior knowledge), and Arianna Huffington calls wonder one of the three new metrics of success for our times. Those who flourish over the long haul (and achieve a life well-lived) tend to maintain a healthy relationship with their Young Genius.

Classic Greek thinkers of the good life, such as Plato and Aristotle, believed that we are each born with a distinct force of character. If we regularly honor and recognize this force of character, they believed it would lead us to our best work (at any life cycle).

This force of character in Greek is called a daimon. In Aristotle’s descriptive study of how certain people flourished throughout their life, he observed that those who flourished, consistently engaged in activities that best brought forth their talents of this daimon. A consistent translation of daimon is “genius.” The pursuit of this quality of thriving – eudaimonia – loosely translates to the American ideal which is laid out in the Declaration of Independence as “the pursuit of happiness.”

How to embrace your Young Genius, against all odds

Sometimes reconnecting with your true genius is disorienting. Consider Koes Borg. When I first met Koes, he was in his early 30s, he was a computer programmer who had been earning a substantial salary with great benefits. Yet, he felt his work was impersonal and unfulfilling. Unable to express his profound dissatisfaction, he alienated his wife and children.  

After Koes completed one of my Wonder Interventions at Work workshops, he came up to me and started sobbing. Then, he said, “I have not been in touch with that Young Genius,” he said, “since I was 9. I’m so unhappy with my work and my life, and I think this is part of the reason.”  
We talked at length about what he could do to bring his Young Genius to work with him and how that might lead to more open conversations with his wife. One thing that came up was his desire to control outcomes and how engaging in this force of character within him might let him let go of complete control.

A few months later, he told me he brought more play and curiosity both to his work and to his relationship with his wife – something, it turns out, his wife had been hungering for. A few months after that, Koes lost his job. On the same day that Koes lost his job, his wife went into surgery for a kidney stone removal.

In spite of the profound disorientation, Koes felt he had a new ally on his side: his Young Genius. For the next year, Koes navigated the humbling state of unemployment, but felt more comfortable with the uncertainty and was more open to problem-solving without succumbing to the inevitable despair.

That journey eventually led to Koes, his wife Lindsay, and a friend Sam Thomas, to launch a new podcast venture focused on love, self-love, and compassion. By embracing his Young Genius, Koes found himself on the path of a purpose-filled life.

How do you glimpse that force of character within?

I have tested a variety of tools with entrepreneurs, professionals, and creatives, and have found that one of the most valuable tools to identify what might be your respective “genius” is to recall certain episodes from your youth in which you felt most free and at your best – without regard for external reward.

Imagine back to when you were seven or eight, nine or ten. See your young self making, exploring, creating worlds. In what instances did you feel free and at your unique best? Regardless of circumstances – good or bad – every child (no matter how young or old) has this capacity to create their own sanctuary.

With compassion, play a movie in your mind in which you see your Young Genius act, relating, making. Then, write down the three adjectives that describe your Young Genius.

Creative? Caring? Curious? Responsive? Compassionate? Adventurous? Daring? Courageous? Daydreamy? Bold? Quiet? Clever? Choose the top three.

Now, here’s the habitual practice: Each morning, commit to bringing those Young Genius Traits to work with you. Keep them written down in a notebook, a planner, or a journal. With this intentional act, recognize the force of character that will guide the best quality of your intentions, actions, creations, and relations each day.

Changing the way we work with wonder

More studies and articles on The Power to See Ourselves are corroborating with this crucial information: How we view ourselves can positively influence how we spend our days and how we approach our work.

By uncovering your Young Genius and bringing it to work with you every day, you embrace the process of renewed self-discovery and self-admiration. Self-admiration is a face of wonder, an experience of seeing your true self in a new light. This daily practice can filter your day’s work anew and lead to profound work-life shifts in how you contend with daily challenges.

If you’re adjectives are compassion, adventure, and boldness, contend to bring those forth in the way you present your work to your team, in the choices you make, and the goals you set, both personally and professionally. Make sure you align your actions with your intentions.

I recognize that the tool of embracing your Young Genius won’t magically transform your work to becoming meaningful work. But it will help you to complete the work more meaningfully.

By embedding this practice into your day-to-day life, you will stay better connected to your own sense of mission (both in the short term and the long run). Embracing your Young Genius will help you craft more purposeful days, and bring more meaning to your actions. Likely, it will bring out the best in you, and allow you to perform your best work as a result.

If you want to get out of a creative rut, take advantage of wonder, and find meaning in your work, then take a listen to this podcast episode from Season 1 of the Tracking Wonder Podcast. In bringing your Young Genius to work (and to all areas of your life), you may just find that the work itself becomes, not just bearable, but enjoyable.

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