A touch of genius

By all reports, one of the most celebrated talks at this year’s TED conference was by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  Elizabeth starts with a compelling question she gets asked a lot lately, “Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to be able to top that?  Aren’t you afraid you’re going keep writing for your whole life and you’re never again going to create a book that anyone in the world cares about…at all….ever again?!”

Her answer is at times whimsical, at times profound, and I won’t try to do it justice except to summarize that she goes back to ancient Greece to revive the idea of daemons, external manifestations of genius or creativity that are outside and separate from us, who grab or touch us at some times and for some unknowable reasons.

Elizabeth Gilbert says that this construct gives her  some solace.  She (and we) can toil away all we want, but we don’t actually control when genius will visit us or our work.

This takes some of the pressure off, but implicit in what she’s saying is that you absolutely have to do the toiling.  That part isn’t optional, it’s necessary.  It just happens not to be sufficient.

More important still, it seems to me, you have to toil at the right things.  The daemon (genius) of a great book – or a great performance, a great presentation, a great pitch, a great product – by definition will only visit the person who is toiling away and putting their heart and soul into what they are creating.

With so much upheaval in the world right now, and so many tools at your disposal, now’s a good time to ask yourself: if I keep toiling at this and everything goes great, where will I be in 5 or 10 years time?

Enjoy the talk.

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