For some years I used to introduce my corporate workshops by saying: “My name is Mark Kahn, I grew up in Johannesburg and spent 12 years in prison.” I would pause feeling the tension in the room and then I would say: “Some people call it school.” And everybody would laugh.
And then I would say: “How many of you felt like school was a prison for you?” And 70% to 80% of the room would raise their hands.
Is this surprising? I don’t think so. Most kids are not particularly interested in history, or biology, or science, or maths, or learning languages. If you are drawn to these subjects or if you are a great socialiser or you love sports then potentially the school system is a great place for you to be, but if you’re not then it’s not going to honour your magnificence, your genius.
For years I never believed that we all had genius in us and now I do.
The Genius Gamer.
I worked with a client on and off for a number of years. I first saw him when he was 12 years old and more recently when he was 16. He was always immensely reserved and disconnected and struggled to engage with me and with the world. He got much better over time, it was deeply rewarding to see.
I knew that he was a very keen ‘gamer’ and asked him on one occasion to tell me about it. The transformation in him was spellbinding. From this disconnected, anxious and disengaged kid came this inspired, animated and energised expression of his genius, but the school system had never recognised that – it’s a tragedy. It drove him rather to fulfil its requirements, rather than acknowledging his skills.
The System Dishonours Genius.
The most illuminating piece of Self-Esteem research I’ve ever seen, showed that at six years of age, 82% of kids had confidence in learning something new. By the time they were 16 it was 18%. Where did all that confidence go?
The education system destroyed it.
Which means that there is something wrong with the education system – excluding Montessori type approaches – and the way many parents bring up their children. There are multiple aspects to this issue, I just want to deal with one here now.
Growth vs Stagnation.
Life is either growth or stagnation. The more we grow the more we live our inspiration, our genius and our purpose. Life, with all of its challenges and stresses can be deeply rewarding, but only if our genius is honoured. Everyone has skills in some area.
A schooling system that looks for these skills and honours them, has to be a beautiful thing. The more we stagnate the more depressed we get. Stagnation enhances our neurosis and our pain. The worse we feel the more the stresses of life are going to overwhelm us.
Why until the last few years, did I not believe that we all had genius inside of us? Because I didn’t truly recognise my own. And I perhaps didn’t think that the genius which I have been blessed with, was enough.
The Mind Notices What’s missing?
The mind tends to notice what’s missing in the world. This is one of its functions. It looks for a problem and then it tries to solve it. It creates problems and then tries to solve them! And so as we grow up, if those around us do not honour the genius that we are, then likely we are to dishonour it in ourselves. The sadness and pain that this creates is spellbinding.
One of our difficulties is that we are so obsessed with being successful. Our genius isn’t always going to lead to success and so we undervalue the genius while we are emphasising generalised success.
I’ve written previously about performance anxiety. What happens to so many people is that the spectre of anxiety begins to infiltrate every aspect of their lives and most sadly the areas of our genius too.
Have you noticed this in yourself? When you are doing something that you truly love it seems to often have a fear attached to it, running through it, that contaminates the joy and the blessing of expressing our true nature.
Discovering Who You Really Are.
My tagline for this Self-esteem work is Discovering who you really are.
What I mean by this, is that genius and love and joy is the foundation, the essence of our nature, our being. To see this, honour it and live it has to be part of our purpose in being here.
But the fear of failure, of not being good enough, of not satisfying the criteria that the culture prescribes the success, so often sees us desperate and scared and alone and disconnected from our true nature.
Do You Doubt That You Are a Genius?
I’m wondering if you are doubting that you are a genius, yes?
Well, my answer would be, just notice where you get inspired animated, energised.
Some people are geniuses at acquiring knowledge, world affairs, working with their hands, IT skills, psychology, clothing design, making connections with others, entrepreneurship…The list is really endless, but who takes note and nurtures and encourages and emphasises the development of these skills?
Who honours this genius, enabling the Original Self-Esteem that we are to emerge from us unburnished, unhindered?
The Complexity of Life.
Part of the difficulty in this whole discussion, is that life is so immensely complex. There are so many aspects to living and our genius may only occupy a small area of this complexity. All of the difficulties that arise within this complexity can very easily obscure the one or two things that we are great at and crush our confidence.
My parting words on the topic nevertheless are, could you perhaps begin to notice where your genius lies? Can you notice how you’ve dishonoured it or discounted and how you do that every day!
Can you begin perhaps to change this attitude of nit-picking scorn, toward that in you which is so magnificent?
It may not lead to wealth and success, but perhaps it is a reflection of that in you which is truly beautiful and to live our beauty…what could be more delightful?
In love and power,
I so resonate with your article. My son is 4 and I’m determined to guide him through our deficient education system with his confidence and joy intact. It necessitates the rediscovery of my own confidence and joy!
Mark Kahn says
A lovely realisation you have had!
I wish you confidence and joy on this journey, Mark.