Oliver Page

The elegant genius of simply being a fish

5 May, 2021
The genius of being a fish - featured image

Photo by Wang John

I recently wrote an article for PositivePsychology.com on what it takes to have a satisfying, fulfilling job. After poring over the literature, I whittled it down to six core ingredients.

One of those factors touched on strengths – specifically, whether or not we can leverage our unique gifts, traits and inner resources in the workplace. More than that, when people describe having a ‘calling’ or a ‘purpose’, there’s a good chance their career is aligned with their strengths.

But for various reasons, many of us lose touch with our strengths. We might even think it a sign of humility to suppress them. Having done so myself, I know that the cost of such disownership can be tremendous.

In a culture where self-deprecation is the norm, perhaps I internalised a harmful idea – I mustn’t relish in my strengths too much in case I make others feel bad.

If you’re in this boat, here’s a question: is it possible that you’re secretly a genius? That you possess all the gifts and resources needed to create a full, vibrant life? I’m certain the answer is yes for every person.

Note I’m not talking about skills. This is something I used get mixed up, and it stretches back to my childhood:

“Amy’s the best at spelling”

“Simon’s the fastest runner”

“Lucy came top in the class in French”

Spelling, running and speaking French can be learned – they are skills rather than strengths of character. This distinction is important because we place too much value on the former.

I moved into adulthood thinking all I had to offer, professionally-speaking, was my repertoire of skills. I even thought those skills – such as detecting a heart murmur with my stethoscope – defined my worth.

This mentality didn’t serve me well when I stepped away from medicine. In fact without being able to my use my clinical skills, I was soon plunged into a crisis of self-esteem.

I learned a vital lesson: skills, knowledge and expertise do not define the value of my existence. Whenever I have thrived in life, and been of true service, it was because I had the opportunity to flex my strengths. Strengths which include empathy, honesty and self-expression.

The truth about genius

The root of the word genius is the Latin gignere, meaning to ‘give birth’ or ‘bring forth’. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the word ‘genuine’ can be traced back to this same root.

When I’m being myself – in other words, being genuine – my strengths emerge naturally. I sort of give birth to myself. On the other hand, when I’m faking strengths that don’t come naturally, my genuine ones don’t get to come out and play. But they’re very much present, underneath the pretence.

Albert Einstein quote: Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish...

When it comes to unique ability, we’re already sitting on a goldmine. Sometimes we just need to dig for treasure. Or maybe we just need to drop the act and be the natural geniuses we already are. Much like a fish simply swims.

One thing I’ve found helpful is to reflect on strengths which are unusual among my immediate circle of family and friends. I realised those people often trust me with difficult emotional material. They know they can vent about anything, and I will do my best to receive it non-judgementally. I’m aware this doesn’t make me unique, but it does make me a rarity among those I know.

Here are some useful questions:

  • What do people often ask you for help with?
  • What activities can you get lost in?
  • Which categories of factual information stick to you like glue?

Spot the patterns, look for the themes and figure out what you’re really here to do. That way you won’t have to worry about finding satisfying work, because you’ll be the one interviewing employers for work which fits your strengths. Or if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll be actively creating that type of work for yourself.

You’re already a genius. You already hold the cards needed to live life to the full.