I first came across the phrase “zone of genius” in the book The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks (which I highly recommend reading if you haven’t already). This refers to the work you are inherently skilled at doing, that gets you into flow state, and that consistently yields excellent results.
All this time, I thought I had been firmly planted in my zone of genius, only to find out that much of my career existed in my “zone of excellence”. It’s easy to confuse the two, because the latter can feel like your genius zone. You may be very good at the work, but that is mostly due to a great deal of practice and experience.
My days were split between many different tasks as both a music therapist and business owner. I really enjoyed most of them — facilitating sessions, teaching classes, handling finances, communicating with my team, providing customer service — but none of these took me into flow state. Writing, recording, and creating resources, on the other hand, LIT ME UP.
The days that were devoted to my creative work flew by, because I would start working on a project and get completely lost in it. I had to force myself to stop when it was time to pick up my kids from school, and I looked forward to getting back to it after their bedtime.
At the beginning of 2020, I felt like I was in a really good place career-wise, balancing between my zone of excellence and zone of genius. Most of the administrative duties at Music Therapy Connections had been delegated to our employees, and I had launched my book and continuing ed course, Innovative Income for Music Therapists. Then along came the global pandemic.
All of the sudden, I was forced to take over most of the administrative work I had delegated to my team at MTC, because there wasn’t room in our newly shrunken budget to pay for those non-billable hours. Most of my time in those first few months of COVID-19 was spent restructuring my business, teaching classes over Zoom, and of course, spending every waking moment with my kids, who were now doing school from home.
My zone of genius sat dormant for most of March through August. I had very little bandwidth for writing anything of substance, and I think I recorded 2 or 3 songs total. Like almost everyone, I was exhausted, worried, burned out, and having a bit of an existential crisis. What is my actual purpose in life? Am I doing what I’m truly meant to do? These were the questions I constantly asked myself during that period of time.
By the end of the summer, we had established some consistency at MTC and my kids were heading back to school. I finally had the opportunity to get back to my creative work, and it completely reinvigorated me. I felt reaffirmed in my professional purpose, which has always been to help children learn and grow through music, but I was more honed in than ever on exactly how I wanted to do that.
In order to have more time to spend in my zone of genius, I had to reduce the amount of time I was spending in my zone of excellence. My co-owner at MTC, Katey, was amazingly supportive, and we made some changes based on our strengths and preferences when it came to running the business. I took on a new project that is rooted in my zone of genius.
But don’t get me wrong; spending time in my zone of genius is still a luxury. My days rarely go as planned, and that flow state is constantly interrupted by matters that need my attention. That makes me value the time spent in it even more, though, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come in terms of carving out my ideal career.
Have you discovered your zone of genius? What could you say “no” to that would allow you to spend more time there? That’s been the hardest part of the journey for me, because I’ve historically been a “yes” person. Getting older and getting to know myself better has helped, and it has only gotten easier to gently turn down the obligations and opportunities that don’t fill my cup.
For more on this concept, check out the book I mentioned earlier (The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks), and if you’re a music therapist, you might find my resource Innovative Income for Music Therapists helpful when it comes to doing work you love. Thanks so much for reading, and here’s to getting in the flow!