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Finding My Zone Of Genius and Leaning Into Joy

Have you heard of the concept of foreboding joy? Brene Brown found that in her 12 years of research into how people live a wholehearted life, the number one most terrifying emotion for people to experience was, Joy. 

This does not surprise me. I can recall events in my own life that have reinforced the belief that when I felt joy and happiness, the next second everything fell apart. My earliest experience was when I was 6 and my father had a terrible accident (you can read more about this here). 

The second life-changing experience was in 2010. I was happily married, work was going well, the family was great, in fact, the year before we had a new addition to our family, my niece, Isabella. I will never forget the day my sister called me to let me know that Issi had a brain tumour – she was only 11 months old. When I finally got a hold of my dad he said ‘this shouldn’t have happened, we have already had all the bad things happen to our family.’

My heart broke. I secretly felt the same way. I thought the universe had served up all of the bad crap and now it was our time to just be happy. 

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way and without consciously knowing, I had associated joy and happiness with bad things happening to me. So even when I hit major milestones in my life, I made sure I kept a lid on all the emotions.

Hitting My Upper Limits

I have been with my husband for 19 years (wow that makes me feel old) and the number one thing that drives him crazy about me is that I do not get too excited about any opportunity that enters my life. In fact, most of the time I would have a negative spin on it.  Here are some classic Julie examples:

  • Every time I went for a new job after the interview I would call and tell him it went so awful that there was no chance in hell they would hire me. Then I would get a call that day with a job offer. 
  • When family and friends would congratulate me on getting a new job or promotion, I would play it down and say something like “they probably offered it to the wrong person and now they are stuck with me.”
  • I would cancel career-enhancing opportunities at the last minute, especially if I was set to present at a conference, in my mind, I genuinely thought that I would stuff up so bad that the conference organisers would hate me.

Now I realise that these are all examples of what Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap, refers to as ‘upper limit problems’. Every time I would take a positive step forward, I would immediately mess it up, e.g.: cancelling conference talks at the last minute, so it would bring me back down to where I was feeling before the positive event happened in my life. 

The Upper Limit problem can be triggered by a set of four hidden barriers of fear and false beliefs:

I can say with certainty that hidden barriers number 1 and 3 are big for me; I know that in moments of joy I feel guilty that I am experiencing this happiness and that I am undeserving of my life.

A live example for me right now is that over the past 12 months, although we have been in a pandemic, I have found a deeper connection between my husband and son and I have started to move forward with building twofeetin – quite often I have stopped myself from leaning into the joy and happiness because I have felt that something bad is going to happen because no one is this lucky. 

Finding My Zone of Genius & Leaning Into Joy

The whole concept of Zone of Genius sounds scary to me.

When I paused and asked myself, why, the following became apparent “what if I took the Big Leap into my Zone of Genius and fail. What if I really opened up to my true genius and found it wasn’t good enough?”.

Wow – how much fear can one person possibly have?!? A lot. Apparently.

The truth is, for most of my professional career I have been operating in the comfortable space of Zone of Excellence. I identified areas in which I was good at, honed those skills, and out of comfort have stayed there, not trying to push the boundaries too much.

I don’t think I am alone here – we aren’t really taught as children to focus on what we love doing and find a way to add value by focussing on those skills. 

I asked myself the following questions to find out what things I do when I operate in my Zone of Genius:

As I completed this, I was reminded of the Ikigai exercise and a lot of my answers link to what I am building with twofeetin.

If I have all the answers, why aren’t I leaning into it more?

Because I still have a lot of fear around stepping into something I truly love; it might fail and, even scarier, what if I am so happy I am not prepared for that bad thing that might happen? 

This is where Brene Brown says practising Gratitude is so important. She found that people who live a Whole-hearted life have all the same fears about life but when they hit up against them, they instantly start practising gratitude.

Does this really work?

I will let you know.

Rewiring Challenge: Identify your Zone of Genius

Take your time to answer these 4 questions:

  1. What do I most love to do? I love it so much I can do it for long stretches of time without getting tired or bored.
  2. What work do I do that doesn’t seem like work?
  3. In my work, what produces the highest ratio of abundance and satisfaction to the amount of time spent?
  4. What is my unique ability? There’s a special skill I’m gifted with. This unique ability, fully realised and put to work, can provide enormous benefits to me and any organisation I serve.

You can also try taking the Zone of Genius quiz here

Final Thoughts

Some days I feel like I can handle life better than others. On the days I am feeling solid and on my path, I can pace through my days with very few negative thoughts telling me I am a complete idiot. But on other days, like today, it all feels heavy and I do not know what the hell I am doing or if anyone gives a crap about reading these newsletters.

But what I am noticing, is that if I consistently practice the techniques I write about, like gratitude and catching my negative thoughts, on the harder days, I have the ability to press on and not get overwhelmed. 


Take the Zone of Genius Quiz 

Read, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks 

Read, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown 

Listen, Brene Brown talk about courage