What Is Genius?

“Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive! For what the world needs are more people who have come alive.”
~ Howard Thurman

Masters change the world.

The reason they change the world is because they think big, they dream big and they act big. They find their One Thing; and they’re willing to do whatever necessary to master it fully and completely.

And what does it take?

Frankly it takes a lot.

Mozart was considered a child prodigy; an absolute genius. What some don’t consider is that Wolfgang began playing piano when he was just 4 years old. His father was a piano teacher and he began his daily rigors at a very tender young age.

Every day for ten years he practiced and toiled. Hour upon hour each day while most his age played games and did whatever children did in his day.

Not Mozart.

Mozart was about his craft. Developing and honing his skills. Endlessly toiling at the keyboard.

At 14 he was labeled a child prodigy. What many don’t know, and never will, is that it took him 10 full years to “arrive.”

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery,
it would not seem so wonderful at all.”
~ Michelangelo 

When I had dinner with the great artist Alexandra Nichita, her mother told me stories about how they would come into a room in their home, and find it a complete mess. Alexandra was sitting in the middle of a room, with paint all over the furniture and walls, working at her craft. All the while she listened incessantly to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and many other classical giants.

I asked, “What did you do?”

(Imagining how particular I am with my home and environment, I was thinking I would have gone nuts! One of the many reasons I don’t have kids I suppose.)

Her mother replied, “We knew that she was different, talented, and unique… so we just put drop cloths on the furniture and let her do her thing.” She continued, “We could never get her to listen to anything other than classical music even at a very young age.”

Attempt to get the average child to listen to Baroque music and see how far you get.

Good luck!

Talent and unique gifts were present with Mozart, and Nichita that’s a fact. But it’s more than just talent, I promise you that.

More on this later.

By the time I met Alexandra, she was already approximately 13 years old, and touted a child prodigy—the reincarnation of Picasso some said (which by the way I asked her about and she didn’t like). Her originals were already going for tens of thousands of dollars at minimum. Much more than that today.

So we’ve alluded to the fact many times that it takes a large amount time and work to achieve mastery.

If that makes you flinch… then let me ask you to consider…

What else are you going to do with your time?

What else are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Look, you’re going to work hard regardless. Let’s be totally honest…

It’s hard to be disengaged, unfulfilled, and unhappy in your work like studies show 71% of American’s are today.

It’s hard work to be broke and broken. Living a life that is not alive, enthusiastic and vibrant.

Truth be told, you’re going to work hard regardless. So what has to happen for you to decide right now to invest the next 10 years in mastering your Innate Ability and craft?

Now that presupposes you know your Innate Ability, your unique genius. (reference mentor with James)

Again, what else are you going to do with your time?

Anders Eriksson has some of the most well-known research in the study of ultimate human performance; and what it takes to achieve a level of mastery. Bottom line, according to his study, it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours.

But not just any 10,000 hours mind you. Ten thousand hours of what he calls “deliberate practice.” We’ve discussed this previously, but just as a reminder, deliberate practice is practicing with the sole focus of consistent improvement.

I have a terrible slice in golf. When I went out with a former girlfriend (a serious golf enthusiast), to play Torre Pines, she was mortified. People were backing up behind us and asking to play through.

I didn’t care.

I was enjoying the view and the sun and the fun. I was just having a ball smashing that ball!

Our objectives were vastly different.

She was miserable.

She kept telling me to get serious; and I kept saying to her, “I know that it’s not going straight honey… but look how damn far I hit it!”

I must say, my testosterone was pumping and I was absolutely crushing it!

She was not amused.

I retired from golf.

Tiger Woods began playing golf when he was 2 years old. He was the youngest player to ever win the U.S. Masters in 1997 at the tender age of 21. Do the math. It was nineteen years later and he was touted as a miracle. Sound familiar?

I wonder if he listened to Mozart?

Ericsson estimates that after about 50 hours of practice, most people can learn to hit a golf ball effectively enough to enjoy the game. I didn’t even come close to ten hours!

Probably not even five.

Golf is not my mastery and therefore I jettisoned it quickly. It took too much time that I needed to devote elsewhere. If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If it’s not your genius then you must drop it to focus on your greatness. Are you thinking?

Masters focus their finite energy on the One Thing that they’re here to contribute; and thereby change the world.

Ericsson’s research finds that from the point of 50 hours on, the majority do not improve in golf.


Because they’re not deliberately focused, committed, and practicing for the sole purpose of improvement.

Understand why focusing to your improvement and growth is important here.

Incremental gains change the world.

And herein resides the crucial nature of Innate Ability Development™ and finding your unique purpose. (reference IAD series)

I was recently being interviewed on a radio show in which the focus of the discussion was “goal setting.” It was early January; and studies show that the vast majority have already completely forgotten (or at least broken), their New Year’s resolution by the time January 15 has rolled around.

I submit there are at least a couple reasons for this. One of the reasons being that we go about setting goals and intentions entirely the wrong way.

We previously discussed Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ground breaking research and documentation of the “Flow State,” (reference MGG7) and he found several characteristics that facilitate flow. Two of which were:

  • Clear goals; and
  • Goals that are congruent, and aligned appropriately, with one’s particular skillset.

One we didn’t discuss is:

  • Immediate feedback.

My mentoring experience with literally hundreds of thousands of people proves that most people, having absolutely no clue whatsoever regarding their own Innate Ability, unique genius and purpose. They therefore go about setting goals that they are programmed by society to value.

Thereby they set “should” goals and intentions versus “must” goals and intentions and end up should-ing all over themselves.

Or… they romanticize the lives and intentions of public figures and live in constant disappointment. Feeling lack of fulfillment, energy, enthusiasm, and engagement they find no hope of ever reaching flow. Remember we discussed the difference between desire and aspiration? (reference MGG2)

Read the second bullet point from above once again, and ask yourself if this is where you’re headed in your particular life.

  • Goals that are congruent, and aligned appropriately, with one’s particular skillset.

Is this your approach? Do you know what your unique gifts and skills are? Or are you chasing the Unicorn and Pegasus and Sasquatch that will always remain out of reach?

If you’re in the “should” or romantic category, you’ll never reach flow; and make no mistake… flow is the key to Ultimate Human Performance.

No exceptions.

What Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow, other psychologists call the “Optimal Experience.” William James called it a “Mystical Experience.” Maslow called it a “Peak Experience.”

“The peak experience is a self-validating, self-justifying moment…
Many people find this so great and high an experience
that it justifies not only itself, but even living itself.”
~ Abraham Maslow

What the individuals who pursue mastery are chasing, is nothing less than the Satori or Kensho of Zen (seeing clearly into the nature of all things).

It’s in these moments of sudden clarity that we realize our true nature; and ultimately why we are here; and what we are here to discover and accomplish and fulfill.

To compare a Mastery Moment to a moment of awakening and unity with the entire universe,

is the clearest comparison that can be made.

There’s no better explanation of this master experience then in the amazing movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” This might be the first you’ve heard that the film is based upon the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient and most brilliant work, from the Hindu tradition.

When Juna a professional golfer (Arjuna from the Gita) played by Matt Damon, is about to throw in the towel and quit. Will Smith’s character, his mentor, (Actually Krishna), teaches him about getting in flow with nature and all things; and finding his one “perfect swing.”

What’s your perfect swing?

What’s your unique gift to bring?

When you find it, then you not only know why you’re here… you do what it takes to master it, and live it, to the fullest.

But you have to know clearly first!

Not maybe.

Not possibly.

Not could be.

Not romanticized because you think it looks sexy or cool on someone else.

Not because you think you can be rich and famous doing it.

You must know clearly and concisely what your genius is; and you must except it, embrace it, and commit to mastering it!


Because you must!

No other reason.

Even when it’s hard. Even when painful. Even though you’ll often feel like it’s easier to quit.

You won’t quit.

“If you knew how much work went into it…
You wouldn’t call it genius.”
~ Michelangelo

But then again… what is genius besides taking the unique gifts you’ve been given, and developing them to the fullest; and thereby contributing your greatness to the world?

And the journey continues…

Stay Awake.  Love Life. Be Epic!

james arthur ray


Permission to re-post my personal articles is granted with acknowledgment of the author, James Arthur Ray and a link back to this website. Thanks and Enjoy!

7 Responses

  1. Great blog post! Question: what do you do when you know your purpose, you're on the road to mastery and get really, really tired? Maybe you could write a blog about that sometime.

  2. Great message – and I know you are one of those who is willing to 'pay the price' for mastery. God bless……………

  3. Tore Pines is an awesome public course. I took over 100 strokes off my golf game once I had clubs built for specifically for me. Hitting straight down the fairway doesn't fix your putting game or chipping game however… practice and lots of it does. Four hours to walk 18 holes chasing a little ball… was never fun. Having a brief moment of 'control' was however.

    There is a kind of concentrated focus that slows down time around you, it happens for many when terrified, and their life passes in front of them. If, big if, you realize there is no point for fear, while concentrating focus on one thing, in a 'congruent, aligned appropriately' intentioned way, time nearly stops. Faith does not move mountains. Belief and faith rarely align congruently and without the willingness to be doubt free all the faith in the world is useless. Any doubt stops 'Flow'.

    The Flow State, Optimal Experience, Mystical Experience, Peak Experience, some call being in the zone and I experience it as effortlessness. It happens randomly somehow. Not that you are slacking off or taking it easy but what you are doing suddenly is effortless… like hiking up to the top of the rollercoaster but with the same effort as when coming down.

    The last three stanzas of 'For All the Beauty There May Be'

    And dont look to your inner eye
    (though of a vastly greater worth)
    to find among the joys of earth
    happiness and ecstasy;
    more than all beauty there may be
    or may have been or can be now,
    one feeds on something I dont know
    that one may come on randomly•

    Whoever cares to do his best
    should look for what may still be gained,
    not what already is obtained,
    and he will see the higher crest.
    And so to reach the utmost peak
    I always shall be moved
    to go largely to something I dont know
    that one may come on randomly.

    On earth you never must rely
    on what the senses understand
    or all the knowledge you command,
    although it rises very high.
    No grace nor beauty there may be
    Will make me throw away my soul
    Only for something I don’t know
    That one may come on randomly. – St John of the Cross

    Thank you James evoking 'Flow' to effortlessness.

  4. Lori Lee Oates, getting tired is natural and human. Listen to your body and take the rest you need to continue your onward motion. Stress is not the enemy. The enemy is lack of recovery. #LIVEBIG

  5. Wow great lesson James thank you!! I didn´t know that “The Legend of Bagger Vance” was based on the Bhagavad Gita!! that is a real discovery for me since now many things are more clear in that movie, thanks for the info! I must admit that many people (yes in some cases me included) are discouraged by the word "hard work", that sounds overwhelming and boring, but if we focus on the activity we love then those awful words disappear and can be changed to hours of pure joy. If we make that mental change of terms, things could be much easier and then most people wouldn´t be afraid to search for their passion and Innate Ability.
    Just some ideas coming out.
    Thank you James once more! lots to re-read and ponder for this week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *