You don’t get to pick your genius. In a weird way, your genius picks you. Or more accurately, God gives you specific abilities to fulfill your purpose and withholds others that aren’t necessary.
For some reason, it’s easy to get hung up on areas of genius that God didn’t give you. Every time a new season of American Idol comes out, we see this fixation: The first few episodes are one comically self-deceived “singer” after another, each of them convinced they possess genius and just need the right opportunity and a little more practice to become the next Drake or Ariana Grande.
We’ve all seen the cringeworthy results. I used to think, It’s so sad that no one loves them enough to tell the truth! But after years in church leadership, I get it. It takes a special, graceful, dedicated kind of love to stick around for the fallout of telling someone they’re not gifted in the way they hoped. And ultimately, each of us bears responsibility for uncovering our own genius. Part of the journey is developing enough self-awareness to walk away from wishful thinking.
Your genius unlocks your unique purpose. Someone else’s key won’t work. So how do you begin to discover what your genius is—or isn’t? Your answers to some core questions will be a good starting place.
What do you give that people love to receive? I have a friend who is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His genius is telling stories. He can take the simplest event, like taking out the trash or dropping kids off at school, and talk about it in such a way that everyone has tears rolling down their face and can’t catch their breath.
But it’s not just that he has a genius for storytelling. It’s that when he tells a story, he connects us with one another.
Which of your gifts are people most excited, blessed or honored to receive? What do they ask for each time they see you, and what do they want others to experience as well?
What are you remembered for, even months or years after someone meets you? What about being near you helps others feel more alive and attuned to God’s goodness? The answers to these questions are major clues to uncovering your genius.
Who is affirming your giftedness? It’s one thing when your grandma tells you you’re God’s precious gift and no one sings prettier than you. It’s quite another when a Grammy-winning producer says so. One proverb puts it like this: “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great” (Proverbs 18:16). In other words, game recognizes game. Are the people telling you that you’re specially gifted in an area qualified to say so?
Where do you see God’s favor? Is there an area of your life where your results far exceed your effort? The Bible tells the story of Samson, who was able to topple a whole building with the strength of his arms (see Judges 16), but Scripture doesn’t say anything about Samson working out. There’s no mention of protein shakes or stacks of peanut butter sandwiches. Yet when Samson exercised his natural strength, the results were supernatural.
Is there something that comes so naturally to you that you assume everyone else can do it too—and then you’re surprised to find out differently? You might leave the exercise of this gift at the bottom of your weekly to-do list because it’s so easy to knock out. You might even overlook it. Where does God seem to double or triple the results you might expect without His favor?
What can’t you turn off? No matter where I am or what I’m supposed to be doing, I want to find out why something works well and what people do to make it happen consistently. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I’ve taken my wife out for dinner and found myself chatting with the general manager about how he selects and trains high-caliber staff and with the chef about building her award-winning menu. I don’t need to know, but I can’t help myself! I can’t turn my genius off, even in situations that have nothing to do with my own passion and purpose. It operates whether I want it to or not. Where do you see this happening for you?
On the flip side, your genius has a way of making itself known and needed in places and ways you might not expect. My sister, for example, works as an executive recruiter for a Fortune 100 company. She gets paid primarily to work with people one on one (and she’s great at her job), but her genius is knowing how to help large, dispersed groups work better together. Somehow, even though it has little to do with her official job description, she has been tapped to create content for multinational staffs of more than 150,000 employees. Your genius has a way of turning on when and where it’s needed most.
What captures your attention? When you walk into a room, what do you notice first? Is it the people—their body language, facial expressions and tone of voice—or is it how well or poorly they’re completing their tasks? If it’s the people who demand your attention, what stands out to you? Do you notice group dynamics? How people speak over the music and one another? Or do you focus on the one or two individuals who don’t appear to be enjoying themselves? Or the couple in the corner who are having a whispered disagreement?
If you notice the quality of work first, observe what holds your attention. Are you imagining a more artistic or compelling way to present what’s being shared, marveling over the seamless execution, or cringing because just one part of the whole isn’t up to snuff?
Every room you walk into can pull the genius right out of you, if you’ll only take notice. Pay attention, and let your key find you.
Courtesy of Stephen Chandler and Union Church