(An excerpt from Who Do You Think You Are)

The concept of your Zone of Genius (and the corresponding zones of Incompetence, Competence and Excellence) grew out of Gay Hendricks’s book, The Big Leap.

Gay describes the Zone of Genius this way: In this zone, you capitalize on your natural abilities which are innate rather than learned. This is the state in which you get into “flow,” find ceaseless inspiration, and seem to not only come up with work that is distinguished and unique but also do so in a way that excels beyond what anyone else is doing.

Because most of our world functions around what we are doing, we tend to put our attention there. Consequently, people look at these zones (and try to figure out what theirs are) by looking at what they do.

We’ll ask questions like, “What do I do that no one else can do?” and “What do I do that is so effortless I’m not even aware I’m doing it?”

I assert these questions are traps. They immediately narrow your scope down to the world of the doing and completely eliminate the deeper, ontological picture (that is to say, the picture that looks at who you are being in the world).

Here’s one example of the kind of question that leads you in this direction. “What sucks away all your energy? What do you avoid doing? Those things fall outside your Zone of Genius.” (This question is from Dan Sullivan’s book, Unique Ability, another book focused on this concept.)

It seems like a great question since if you avoid doing it, it must not be part of your Zone of Genius. Whether or not Gay intended people to look through this lens, I invite you not to.

Being drained is not a function of the circumstances of your life, the people you’re around, nor the thing you’re currently doing. It is a function of who you are being while you do those things.

Being drained is the result of resisting the expression of your truest self. A function of forcing yourself to show up in a way that is incongruous to who you are. While we think our resistance is related to the task in front of us, the person we are talking to, or the experience we are having, the deeper truth is that your experience of being drained comes from holding and expressing yourself differently when those particular circumstances are present.

Your Zone of Genius is simply a function of your particular essence—your unique way of being. When you are coming from this place, you are operating from your Zone of Genius.

Let’s imagine someone named Reginald who is Brilliant but struggles to own his brilliance powerfully. When he find himself around people that don’t share the trait of brilliance, Reginald tends to dumb himself down (basically being condescending and a little manipulative even if it’s intended from kindness).

It’s predictable that Reginald will experience his time around these people as draining because he is resisting simply owning the brilliance that he is. This is the same way it would be draining for me to walk around on all fours when my body is designed to be bipedal. Reginald will conclude that being in situations like this one must be outside of his Zone of Genius and then correspondingly arrange his life so that he doesn’t need to spend time with people like this.


Except it’s not. Reginald is just contracting from life and granting more power to his story that he can’t be with certain aspects of life. In reality, Reginald’s Zone of Genius is always available—provided he’s willing to let other people have their own experience (which may include feeling awe or even some intimidation in the presence of his brilliance expressed).

Your Zone of Genius is never a function of what you are doing. It is a function of who you are being while you do whatever is in front of you to do. The gift then is that your Zone of Genius is always available. The bad news of that is that when confronted with a task, person, or circumstance you don’t like and find draining, your job is not to turn away from it, citing it not being in your Zone of Genius as the reason but rather to lean in and ask yourself, “How could I face this circumstance in my life from my deepest, truest ways of being?” This question will deepen your ability to live in your Zone of Genius.

Who Do You Think You Are will point you to your Zone of Genius. The hard part is choosing to be and express these parts of yourself in the areas where you have learned they are not welcome.

For a deeper dive into the concept of your Zone of Genius as well as your Zones of Excellence, Competence, and Incompetence, check out the book The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.

Who Do You Think You Are is currently scheduled to be published in the next two months.