2020 has already been a year that most of us won’t forget. Most notably, the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police set off a cascade of events and reactions that have skyrocketed the social and racial injustice movement, led by Black Lives Matter, to new heights. Although 2020 hasn’t been easy for anyone, long-sought change is altering our society in ways that we’ve desired but couldn’t make happen for decades.
The fight for racial equality is a battle that the BIPOC community has been fighting for more than 450 years. For white Americans, June 2020 will likely be remembered as the time when many of us finally opened our eyes to the work that is required in order for real equality to endure. Race has been something that many white people have avoided, and now that we are being directly confronted with the disparities between our lives and those of the BIPOC community, it’s impossible to continue averting our eyes. As a white person who is committed to doing the work to be anti-racist and ultimately to become an ally, I am addressing race in ways I have never done before.
This movement has opened the floodgates for information, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and burnt out and to lose sight of what’s most important. Though there are many ways that you can and should help—such as expanding your education and making donations if you are able—it’s also important to step back and think about how you can have the most meaningful impact. To connect with your innate brilliance and drive so that you can use your most powerful resource—yourself—as a tool to propel the success of this movement.
I call this your “Zone of Genius.” While it’s a powerful tool for just about anything in your work and life, here’s how you can use it as a guiding light to be an ally for racial justice.
What Is Your Zone of Genius?
Your Zone of Genius is the intersection of the work that is most intellectually challenging to you and also the impact that is most meaningful to you. When you experience this convergence, you gain the ability to achieve a work experience that most people dream about, one that leverages your greatest intellectual strength in order to have the type of impact on others that fills your soul. This is the kind of experience that makes you unstoppable; where work doesn’t feel like work, it feels like an extension of who you are.
To break it down, let’s first focus on the Genius. This is the thinking or problem solving that you’re best at, and it’s the process by which your brain most likes to function. Think of the three most recent moments that you were totally in “The Zone” at work—meaning you were intellectually on fire. Write them down in great detail. What was the most prominent thinking process that you experienced? Was it distilling ideas, was it creating structure, was it coming up with big picture visions? Get clear what this was, and give it a name. This list can help you come up with language that resonates with what you observed.
To identify Purpose, you need to do some digging into your past or get ready to go deep under the surface of your last meaningful moment. First, think of your life and childhood. What were some of the most memorable and challenging moments from it? Write them down. Is there a theme in the emotional pain that you experienced? This is most likely your core emotional challenge. If you can name this and then apply it in reverse to help others, that is oftentimes your Purpose. For example, if you struggled to be heard as a child, you are likely highly motivated to help others have a voice.
Or think of the last most meaningful moments you had at work or at home. What was the impact on someone that mattered most to you? Take that impact and identify its root. If you helped someone to feel better, what was the specific way that they felt improved? Did they feel seen? Did they feel heard? Did you help them express something that they couldn’t otherwise express? This is likely inherently connected to your own core emotional challenge and thus is another reflection of your Purpose. If you’re still not clear, check out this list of core emotional challenges and Purposes—it may help you see your own.
How To Use Your Zone Of Genius To Be An Ally
Once you have identified both your Genius and your Purpose, use these tools to think creatively about how you can take action. It doesn’t mean that you don’t participate in anything that isn’t aligned with your Zone of Genius, but rather, use these insights to identify ways that you can contribute that reflect who you are.
For instance, my Purpose is helping others feel seen. One devastating side effect of systematic racism is that BIPOC often have to adapt to accommodate white culture. This inherently means that they are disconnecting part of who they are in how they show up at work. I can help them begin to see, own and proactively bring forward who they are at work. This is not only a powerful way to support the BIPOC community but also one that fills my soul, which means that my energy for this type of work is infinite.
As another example: Say that your Genius is all about distilling complicated topics into one cohesive and powerful message, and your Purpose is helping others feel safe. You may want to consider lending a hand to nonprofits that support disadvantaged BIPOC children or writing op-eds about the difficult issues that they face. Or if your Genius is about building possibility and your Purpose is helping others have a voice, you may want to use your Genius to envision innovative ways that BIPOC can be heard. The key is that you are contributing to the problem in a powerful way for the cause and for yourself.
Regardless of your specific Zone of Genius, I hope this framework can help you begin to navigate your own journey to being an Ally in a way that allows you to access energy and enthusiasm for how you’re contributing. This, I believe, will truly create uncharted change—which is something our society has desperately needed for a long, long time.
- Laura Garnett, author of Find Your Zone of Genius