Finding the Genius Within 🧠

June 6, 2023

We all have something we’re naturally great at. Here's how to uncover it.

The following was originally posted on Substack by Justin Schafer, a former Grand member.


It’s a word we've often reserved for the brilliant people we encounter. Not just for the smartest kid in the class, but for those whose brilliance radiates beyond the classroom or county. The polymath who seemed to walk on water and knew everything. The Bill Gates and Elon Musks of this world.

Most of us project amazing traits onto these people, imbuing them with godlike understanding and putting them in a class far different from our own.

But if you look to the root of the word—a practice I find instructive in all circumstances—you’ll find it’s literal meaning to be “generative power” or “inborn nature.

And as a conscious human being, you’ve got that.

Thus every person is a genius in their own right. We all have something we feel we’re naturally great at. And doing that thing activates us. It makes us come alive. It awakens the god within.

Perhaps, though, the people around you have conditioned you to believe you lack any sort of genius. You’re just an ordinary person.

To hell with them. They are dead wrong. But don’t take my word for it—prove it to yourself.

How does one discover one’s genius?

Set aside an hour of uninterrupted time and sit silently with a notebook. Think back on your early childhood, adolescence, college, and any professional experiences you’ve had so far. Go year by year and recall whatever highlights you can. As particular events or moments leap out at you as something exciting and enriching—something you’d have done for the activity itself, not the accolades that may have come with it—write them down.

Don’t worry about hitting a certain number. Don’t concern yourself with their magnitude or how many people knew about what you did. This is for you, so write out what beckons to you.

With each moment, write down not only what you call the activity, but also what about it excited you. Then, look over that list.

As you note the events you’ve written down, you will start to draw connections between these disparate events. You may see themes emerge—capture those, too. Synthesize whatever is emerging from those pages and run it past your soul. If something starts to light you up, you’re on the right path.

And that’s all you need—to start down the path. You don’t need to have it all figured out right now. But if you can see the types of things that have enlivened you in the past, you can start to attract opportunities to do them again in the future. You’re onto something. You’ve found your genius.

And if this all sounds fanciful and silly, let me give you my examples and what I loved about them (in roughly chronological order):

  • Learning times tables with my dad when I was ~4❤️ systems that have order and structure
  • Raising dairy goats as a child when nobody else was interested❤️ practical, resourceful, unconventional ways to do more with less (goats convey outsized benefits for their small stature)
  • Falling in love with old Volkswagens when I was 11❤️ like goats, they’re efficient, unconventional, and accessible to everyone
  • Building a biodiesel reactor for my senior project when i was 18❤️ novel ways to produce energy from what would otherwise be waste
  • Learning German, Russian, and Spanish (to varying degrees of competency 😂)❤️ understanding the impact of language on shaping our thoughts and self-expression
  • Immersing myself in solar energy from ages 23 to 28❤️ efficient, resourceful, rational ways to power our lives
  • Rebranding a startup at age 26❤️ attempting to convey an entire idea-set in a single word and icon
  • Presenting a product strategy to a hypergrowth startup at age 31❤️ contagiously spreading excitement and optimism about technology’s potential
  • Becoming a husband at 29 and father at ages 32 and 33❤️ sharing my enthusiasm for life and learning with other humans I’m responsible for

What do these 9 events have in common?

The obvious theme is doing more with less—taking novel approaches to reduce scarcity and create abundance. Another is communication: I am activated by spreading the gospel of hope and optimism with those who will hear it. And a third is responsibility: I find fulfillment in planning, organizing, and acting on behalf of the collective good.

So try it yourself. You may be surprised by how awesome you are.

This exercise—called “Zones of Genius”—I learned from Anita and Rei over at the Grand. If you want some guidance changing your life, they know their stuff.