In his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks recommends making the jump from your Zone of Excellence to your Zone of Genius. I think this is great advice, so I thought I’d share it, along with some tips for doing so.

Hendricks basically identifies four modes of living that we move between at various stages or our life and careers.

  1. The Zone of Incompetence - made up of all the activities you’re not good at.
  2. The Zone of Competence - made up of all the activities you’re competent at, but that others can do equally as well a you can.
  3. The Zone of Excellence - activities you can do extremely well and probably make a good living at.
  4. The Zone of Genius - activities which you are uniquely suited to do, as a result of your personality, temperament, DNA etc.

Most of us who are reasonably successful in our respective careers will have progressed beyond our Zone of Competence into a Zone of Excellence, where we’re utilising skills either developed over the course of time or to some extent, leveraging natural talents and abilities. There’s a good chance that we’re also being paid fairly well for doing so, which is where the danger of staying within our Zone of Excellence creeps in.

Life just gets a bit too comfortable in the Zone of Excellence. And not just for us [who are operating within it] either. It’s quite possible that family and friends will have a interest in maintaining the status-quo, because while you remain in this space you can provide them with the lifestyle and relationships they’ve become accustomed to.

Hendricks asserts that making The Big Leap into our Zone of Genius is the “ultimate path to success and satisfaction, and provides the following questions as tools for thinking about what this actually means:

  • What do I love most to do? (I love it so much I can do it for long stretches of time without getting tired or bored.)
  • What work do I do that doesn’t seem like work? (I can do it all day long without ever feeling tired or bored.)
  • In my work, what produces the highest ratio of value and satisfaction to the amount spent? (Even if I do only ten seconds or a few minutes of it, an idea or a deeper connection may spring forth that leads to huge value.)
  • What is my unique ability? (There’s a special skill I’m gifted with. This unique ability, fully realised and put to work, can provide enormous benefits to me and any organisation I serve.)

I’ve found it massively helpful to work through the questions above and they’ve prompted some surprising answers. I’m quite fortunate in many ways, since the work I love to do is mostly the work I’m already doing. But there are certainly some adjustments that could and should be made. Making those adjustments requires some determination though, since Hendricks suggests that many of us will encounter what he calls The Upper Limit Problem just as we’re rising to success.

The Upper Limit Problem is typically caused by false beliefs that can often be traced back to early-life experiences:

  • Feeling fundamentally flawed - I can’t expand to my full creative potential because something is fundamentally wrong with me.
  • Disloyalty and abandonment - I can’t expand to my full potential because it would leave me feeling all alone, or would mean being disloyal to my roots or people from my past.
  • Believing that success results in bigger burdens - I can’t expand to my potential because I’d be a bigger burden [to people I care about] than I am now.
  • The crime of outshining - I mustn’t expand to my full potential because if I did I would outshine /<insert name[s] here/> and make them look/feel bad.

The Upper Limit Problem manifests itself in behaviours that cripple us when we should be riding high:

  1. Worry
  2. Criticism & Blame
  3. Deflecting
  4. Squabbling
  5. Getting sick or hurt
  6. Breaches of integrity

These are problems that I’m sure many, if not all of us have experienced at times during our lives, both in and out of work. Of course, Hendrick provides some suggestions and tools for dealing with these issues, but above all he recommends an attitude of lighthearted wonder towards our personal shortcomings that resonates deeply with me - perhaps because I recognise so many of them!

Being a fairly skeptical kind of person (hey, I’m a tester!) I’m naturally suspicious of this kind of material, but it has always made a lot of sense to me personally to keep learning and striving to be better than I am, both at work and in life generally. As a result of reading this book I have a renewed zeal for dealing with the false beliefs and behaviours that cause The Upper Limit problem, and a deep commitment to rising out of my Zone of Excellence (and all the creature comforts that come with it), and into my Zone of Genius.

I’m ready to make my Big Leap. Are you?