Laura Garnett, performance strategist, motivational speaker and author, joins the program to discuss her own diversity story and how she came to the work of helping people tap into their unique genius. She also reveals the limits of mentorship and why working harder isn’t always the answer. Discover a practice and methodology for finding your zone of genius.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Laura’s diversity story, including growing up on a dairy farm (3:00)
- Why embracing your genius goes against conventional ideas of success (13:00)
- How Laura developed her methodology for finding your genius (21:00)
- The pros and cons of mentorship (27:00)
- Why we often spend too much time listening to others (31:00)
- The questions you need to ask yourself (35:30)
- Why working harder isn’t the answer (39:00)
- How to know when to move on to the next journey in your career (45:00)
- The cost of not tapping into your genius (47:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Laura, welcome to The Will to Change.
LAURA GARNETT: Thank you so much, Jennifer, I’m happy to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m really excited to talk about your book The Genius Habit today, which came out in February this year. Congratulations, 2018.
LAURA GARNETT: Thank you so much. Thank you. Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wonderful to have something that represents what I think is a really important subject, and something I personally have struggled to find and develop I think in terms of my own genius. And now I do feel I’m in the sweet spot in so many ways, but it just took an inordinately and maybe unnecessarily long amount of time.
LAURA GARNETT: And it does for most, absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, exactly.
LAURA GARNETT: You know, and some people never get to that sweet spot. To me, it’s almost a miracle when you’re there. I mean, it’s just something to be celebrated for sure.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I think that’s true. So, I’m really glad that you’ve codified it. And what I really love about it is there’s plentiful opportunity for like reflection and I love your worksheets.
LAURA GARNETT: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, you’re a very process oriented person, so you equip the reader with a lot of ways to practice and like apply and reflect on application and really build it as a habit. And that’s what you say, it’s a genius habit, right?
LAURA GARNETT: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s not just wanting it, dreaming about it, stumbling on it. It’s literally a discipline, it’s really fascinating.
LAURA GARNETT: Absolutely. I like to think that if you are able to read The Genius Habit and adopt The Genius Habit, then having a job you don’t love is a choice that you’ve made. Rather than feeling as though you’re a victim. Which, to me, is so meaningful for me to be able to say that, because again, you know, that’s — the reason I wrote the book was for myself.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sure, oh, my gosh. Isn’t that true for all of us? (Laughter.)
LAURA GARNETT: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Heal ourselves.
LAURA GARNETT: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, what you — I was reflecting on your story of origin and where you grew up in the country and you know, you’re a white, blonde woman. So I am. (Laughter.) But, you know, we couldn’t have had more different childhoods, I would say. So, tell us a little bit about your early days and you and I reflected on feeling very different and having those memories and knowing we were sort of meant to find a different place in the world. But coming from such different places. So, tell us about that and what you might consider to be your diversity story.
LAURA GARNETT: So, I grew up on a dairy farm in Charlottesville, Virginia. And what was, you know, part of my diversity story is from the very beginning, always feeling like that I wasn’t meant to be on a farm and feeling very different. And even I remember so well in middle school and even in high school, you know, my dad would come to pick me up from school sometimes wearing overalls covered in cow manure. And he would walk into the school and people would see him and make fun of — you know, like, “Who’s that? Who’s that?” And it was just so mortifying for me. Which is so strange to think of as an adult, because now you’re like, “Who cares? There’s a farmer there.”
But that was just really, really hard for me because I would judge. And that’s something that coming off the farm and into school, I didn’t understand why people were judging farmers, other than I guess that they thought we were poor, which we weren’t that well off, but we weren’t, you know, starving.
Anyway, so, you know the farm life for me was something that felt very different from who I wanted to be, and I actually had a vision from a very early age to be an executive in New York City, which to my dad as the farmer, thought was completely crazy.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. What’s that?
LAURA GARNETT: He would actually laugh. I would say, “Okay, is that a difficulty or a misunderstanding?” And, of course, what’s so funny is I moved to New York City to work at a company. But, absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Was it also a religious community?
LAURA GARNETT: You know, we always went to church every Sunday. So, I grew up in that environment and most of my family, you know, my dad’s side of the family were regular churchgoers. So, yes, they were religious. And I was baptized and I did confirmation and I was a part of the church community.
I will say that also as I started growing up in the church, I started to see from my standpoint how the church was — I didn’t understand how everyone revered it as this thing that you had to do to be a good person to get to heaven, and yet there were all of these politics and backstabbing and talking about other people. And I remember thinking that this is very odd, and I also don’t feel as though this is — I’m not very interested in this because of that as well.
There were lots of things in my life growing up that I just — I continually felt like an outsider for very specific reasons.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I know. I can relate. And so fast forward to your want to be an executive, which I love, that you were that girl that probably had the bossiness Sheryl Sandberg talks about, which is actually executive presence. When you got your first couple of jobs, how did you show up in that workplace? Did you feel like it felt like a fit for you? Did you feel you could be seen and heard? Perhaps what was your awakening sense of, “Where do I fit in this?” And particularly as a woman as well, because not many of us, and still to this day, sadly, make it through the knothole to get to the executive level. Maybe that’s what your dad was guffawing about.
LAURA GARNETT: Right. When I was a child, how many executive women were there? Very few.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
LAURA GARNETT: Absolutely. Well, my first corporate job was with Capital One, which is the credit card company, and most people are aware of who that is. When I started working there, it was still very small and just starting out. And I actually had a really great experience with them because they talked about this idea that you are measured by your performance. They also had a really interesting hiring process where you took a bunch of tests, and what your college degree was or what your experience was before wasn’t as important as a fit for the job as how you performed in the interview. Which, for me, you know, coming out of college and I had tried a bunch of odd jobs and still didn’t really know what I wanted to do was perfect because it allowed me to dive into the interview process, take the test, and then they hired me as a marketing person. And I had never done marketing before, which I thought was just wild and crazy and fun and just amazing because I was thrilled with the idea.
And I learned on the job and they really kind of — the way that I experienced it was that they walked their talk. And as a first corporate experience, that was pretty good. And then I also really worked hard to get abroad with them. I wanted to go and start up international companies for them, and I was able to do that within a year of being involved. So, I went to South Africa and Spain and the U.K. and those environments, you know, the cultural differences, you know, from a diversity standpoint, I learned a lot about what it means to be American and feeling like the outsider, but from a corporate standpoint, business standpoint, again, very, very positive. In South Africa, was me and this other woman who were in our 20s running a business together, managing people that were 20 years older than us, which was really bizarre, which was wild as well.
JENNIFER BROWN: So interesting. Do you think the seeds of — like, how far were you from your genius that you write about at that point? Or do you feel like you had sort of figured out a piece of it for yourself? I know our 20s are just a mess in so many ways. It’s such a time of wandering and searching.
LAURA GARNETT: That is such a good question. You know, nobody’s ever asked me that question, and it’s such a good one because the answer is no. I was not using my genius in practically any of my corporate jobs. But what I was doing was measuring my enjoyment of the job based on achievements or based on external things like I’m living in a different country and I’m seeing the world, which in my 20s was just what I wanted to do.
And I also think in my 20s, having purpose and meaning and was less important, obviously, as I aged. I got by on the achievements. And I got by on the prestige of what I was doing and just thinking in my 20s that this is the way life is. I’m really checking all these boxes and I’m doing these things. I’m setting goals and I’m achieving them, and that is what it means to be successful. Which felt successful at the time, but you know, my work, I just was working hard and I was doing work that I was okay to pretty good at. And that got me by for many years, up until I started working at Google and I was 32 and I had a job that was a terrible fit, and the world came crumbling down at that point.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow. So, you knew how to achieve. You could definitely impress, but something was really mismatched or unfulfilled in you. Tell us about that moment and what it made you realize.
LAURA GARNETT: Yeah, I was seven years with Capital One, and then I went to work at Google. So, there I was getting into my eight, ninth, tenth year of professional working. And it was also a different company, different culture, different environment that was, interestingly, a lot more political than anything I had experienced at Capital One.
JENNIFER BROWN: I would never expect that.
LAURA GARNETT: And I think that was the double-edged sword with it is that I also got hired at Google — this was 2005, this was really a long time ago, and in their early days, in their heyday where I just moved to New York City and I would go to a party and say I worked at Google, and people would just gasp. You know? “Oh, my gosh.” So, of course, the achievement junkie in me and I check the boxes to be successful, that all felt like, “Well, I’m successful and this is a great job.” But the feeling of the job was so overwhelmingly wrong and I was crying every day when I would leave work, I had to address it. And at that moment of realizing it was a bad fit, I also had the sense that I started asking questions, like, “Well, what is my purpose? How am I going to actually have meaning in my job? I don’t have it, how can I find it?”
That career crisis really just started opening the world of questions and seeking, which ultimately led me down the path of my work. I’m very happy it happened.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. Those are the best moments. So, when you chose the word “genius,” I can imagine — it’s a big word to claim for ourselves, right? I would think a lot of people think it’s out of touch for them. Like I’m not “a genius,” which is the way we think about it. How do you define it? You also say that embracing it goes against what we’ve been taught about success, which I thought was really fascinating. It’s a very counterintuitive concept. Well, counterintuitive to walk around and say, “What is my genius, and yes, I do have one.” Which is that permission that we need to give ourselves to say, “I am worth it and there is a role out there, there is work I could do that is not just passion driven, but purpose driven,” which is another thing I want you to talk about the difference.
And then once we said that, it’s within the possibility for me to find something that feels like it’s in my zone of genius, and that there is a zone of genius in me. I would think that’s a pretty bold thing to say, to write about, to tell in your book. I love it. I find it really empowering because it’s a message some of us in particular really need to hear. I think that we all have this genius ability.
LAURA GARNETT: Thank you. I’m so glad that you say that, because yes, choosing that word was a very thoughtful thing, and I think you pointed out really perfectly that it’s controversial. Some people are going to be turned off by it because they say, “Well, there’s no way I can be a genius,” and that’s exactly what I want people to think because just as much as what people think they know about success, they actually don’t know. Which, to me, was the biggest revelation I had when I started doing all of the research that I did, that what most people think and know about success is wrong. And what most people think and know about themselves is wrong. And what’s actually true is that we all possess something really profoundly unique and exceptional within ourselves. It’s just that we haven’t become — we’re not aware enough to pay attention to it, and we’re not confident enough to actually claim it and value it and then start using it.
And I think, you know, one of the things that, again, kind of helped me really decide for sure that that was the case is the way we use it in society. Oftentimes, you know, the most common genius we know of is Einstein, and he actually had a genius IQ. So, yes, he was a genius.
But there are these other moments where we talk about someone who has done genius work. They’re a genius, they call certain people or society or most people will defer to someone as a genius, but no one knows their IQ, they’re just referring to the work and the impact they’ve had on the world. And to me, I thought that was interesting. That coincides with what I’ve found. If you tap into your genius and you own it and you value it, then you actually can create work that has the power and impact of others thinking it’s genius, and it has nothing to do with your IQ.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. We’re broadening the definition of the word. What does a genius look like? What does a CEO look like? We’re really in the age of redefining — trying to challenge our biases and the image that pops to mind when we hear a word. I do see you trying to redefine it, broaden it, make it more democratically accessible and to say it lives in all of us and the definition of it is changing and it’s not about IQ, which I love, because I think a lot of the IQ science — I was raised as a Mensa kid, interestingly. I don’t really talk about it that much, but it was all based on the test that I think if I took today, I would fail miserably. All about math and historical recall and memorization and all these things that I haven’t retained, but I’d like to think my intelligence is about a lot of different things now, much of which is relational, much of which is context, much of which is — what does it matter if you’re brilliant if you can’t create something that is — well, in my definition, anyway, changing the world? That’s really important to me. To me, that’s where I focus on genius because people that do that are able to combine all these incredible things together to create change, which is what we all need and what powers us forward.
How did you, then, let’s go back to Google. You’re crying every day. You’re like, “What is going on?” So, what were the building blocks of pulling out of that? And then how did that become this philosophy around there’s a habit that can be built where can excavate our genius, bring it to the fore, live towards it, use it as a filter to make choices in our life, which you alluded to the level of agency we have. We’ve got to know where we’re coming from in order to then, hopefully, steer our lives in a certain way and I would say manifest certain opportunities into our lives for the kinds of work that we should be doing. And for some of us, that takes a really long time. For some of us, it never happens, you know, which is sad. You know, which is hard to believe. And I thought it would never happen for me, for sure. I wondered — I had all this passion, all this purpose, all these perhaps, you know, muted ambition, et cetera, and nowhere to put it. I felt like that for almost a decade and a half, I’d say, which is part of the problem of liberal arts degrees, too. Coming out of a schooling situation which was incredible and stimulating, but also did not equip you in any way with practical knowledge and application and discipline around job search and all of these fun things.
I think our education system — I’m not sure our education system leads young people to actually find this, discover it, develop the practice of staying true to it. And maybe you could talk about that a little bit, too, at some point because I know you have little ones in your family, you think about young people a lot, you think about how are they stumbling into the world, and how can we make their path a bit easier to help them not dither or waste time as much as maybe our generation did in the wandering and questioning and the constant feeling of not being in the right place at the right time?
LAURA GARNETT: Those are great questions. I think the first one was what happened from Google and how did I find my way to the work. I think the second one, which I do want to dig in with you, is I had so much passion and purpose that I just didn’t know where to go, because that’s such a good one. And the last one is how do you help people — kids early on for this?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
LAURA GARNETT: The first one was I ended up going — with Google, I ended up finding a couple other jobs within the company after a year. And I kept trying to find a better job, and ultimately after three years, it just didn’t work and I quit. But in that process, I did a lot of — started on this journey of trying to figure out who I was and how I was going to solve the problem and I couldn’t find any answers. And I think — you know, I talk about this in the book. There was a lot of “what” creates success, but not a lot about “how.” Like, what do I need to do differently tomorrow behaviorally in order to get where I want to go? And that’s what I couldn’t find.
And so I went and started working at a startup, which ended up being another job that wasn’t a great fit. And within nine months of being in that job, I got laid off. Ultimately, was another gift. You know, these failures, getting fired or laid off, I always think these should be on resumes as gifts and they should be celebrated because my life changed in such a better way as a result of that.
I walked out of the building and said, “My dream job doesn’t exist, I’m going to create it from scratch.” And so I started — I didn’t really know I was consciously creating this methodology, but I just did what made sense to me because I just started tracking. I started noticing when I was in the zone and what I was doing and getting really analytical about it, and then when I would take on jobs, I started working with various people, and it didn’t feel right. I immediately took note of that and started to shift my behavior and shift where I was. So, I did a lot of exploring for three years. And then, ultimately, started refining and refining and refining what I did, paying attention to my zone of genius and what I enjoyed to do, and after three years of doing that, I homed in on working with people to help them understand who they are and how that would apply to their careers. Seven years after that, The Genius Habit emerged and birthed — organically, of course. It was there about five years ago, but in a more basic form, and of course it evolved. So, that’s really how that happened.
But in terms of your second question about the passion and purpose, I mean, that is — I see that a lot. And when you’re so clear about what you’re passionate about or what kind of change you want to make in the world, and you’re driven by that, then you don’t know your genius, you can often feel like you’re stumbling in the dark because even though the impact that you’re having is driving you, which everyone needs that intrinsic motivation, if you don’t have the genius part, which is the intellectual challenge, then you’re going to get bored and you’re going to get frustrated. So, that would be my question to you in your situation: When did you finally match that intellectual challenge with the purpose piece of it?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s great guidance. It is good to have passion, but it’s not the same as tapping into purpose and also being in the right role. To your point, tracking on a regular basis. How is my energy at this moment? Am I feeling high? Low? Stimulated? Bored? Tired? Energized?
LAURA GARNETT: What is the thinking or problem solving that’s driving that?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
LAURA GARNETT: That’s the genius.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly.
LAURA GARNETT: Because you actually see, and this is really prevalent in the nonprofit world, people are drawn to the nonprofit world because they feel like they have a calling that’s their purpose to help people or something in this way, but they don’t know who they are and they don’t know their genius and they get frustrated with, well, I’m bored or maybe I’m not even that good at this job, but I’m following my purpose. How could this be wrong? And that’s where the genius comes into play and helps people get the equation get it right.
JENNIFER BROWN: And, you know, you bring up a really counterintuitive point of “ditch your mentor,” which I thought was really interesting. You say you have the answers, and sometimes we get a lot of bad advice in life, which is interesting. So, how do you recommend knowing when you’re getting good advice, bad advice? And it sounds like you’re recommending that you have the answers, you just need to do the work instead of, perhaps, externalizing so much of that, which the bad advice may come from the person’s lens who’s giving you that advice, could come from their own experience, which is not yours. So, it’s almost like you’re advocating that we go inward and that we build this habit of self-reflection and tracking — energetically tracking, how do we problem solve? When do we feel energized? And letting that steer us. So, you say ditch your mentor, which I think is — I’m always telling people, “You need to find more mentors,” because these organizations that I think a lot of us are in risk — particularly in bigger organizations, and particularly when you’re underrepresented from an identity perspective, you are under-mentored and under-sponsored. And we talk about that a lot on The Will to Change as the single most important piece.
But it’s interesting. It’s the quality of the advice you get from mentors that’s important, but even more than that, my point is it’s the power sharing that occurs when somebody in your organization is actually pulling you up. It’s the single most powerful thing that allows you to break through being “the only.” And so it’s a little bit different. And I think what you’re making the point about is that you have the genius in you and nobody’s going to be as adept at pulling that out and understanding that as you are.
LAURA GARNETT: Well, there’s a couple things with “ditch your mentor.” One is that I was trying to — it’s an attempt to help people understand that there’s not ever one formula or one path to success or for you to love your work or do what you want to do. Oftentimes, people are told or think in order to succeed, you need a mentor. And for some people, that may be true. But it also is true that you can be successful, you can have work you love without a mentor. So, I think it’s about — it’s almost very similar to the idea I think in our modern day of going to college. We all have said in order to work, you have to go to college, or be successful, you need to go to college. And people take that and they think, “This is what I have to do, this is the formula.”
And this is where most people get going on the wrong path because it is right for some people and it isn’t right for others. So, a mentor is going to be a good idea for some people, and not for others. So, that’s the first part of it, which is: Is a mentor right for you in this moment? Secondly, it’s why are you going down the path of the mentor? What is the goal? What is it that you’re looking for? What is it that you think the mentor is going to provide that you can’t get from yourself? And having that inquiry before, which most people aren’t doing, and they’re actually thinking, “I need this in order to be successful, and whatever this person tells me, I need to follow.” And that chapter on “ditch your mentor” is really to say, “Okay, for some people, this is going to be great. So, if this is something and you are in the situation where you’re going to have a mentor, someone has offered to mentor you.”
Because I said in the book, you know, if Oprah Winfrey said, “Laura, I’d like to mentor you,” I would say yes. You know?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
LAURA GARNETT: Exactly. But I think what I offer in that chapter is it’s a blueprint for how to manage a mentor relationship because there’s so much room for complication. And there’s so much room for someone to lose themselves within that relationship, especially as the mentee, and you don’t want to do that.
So, I always — and also with a mentor relationship in particular, it’s different from a coach in the sense that a mentor is volunteer. You’re not paying them. They’re doing it because they want to, which then of course even makes the situation more awkward when you’re not taking their advice. So, people tend to follow what a mentor says because they feel bad if they don’t or this person’s super powerful or you’re not competent or what you’re seeking is just too much.
So, at this point in my life, I could go have Oprah Winfrey mentor me, and she could say, “Hey, Laura, you need to go do X, Y, and Z.” And I say, “That doesn’t feel right.” I could say no to her and it would be okay because I built up my confidence, I’m so clear who I am and what my vision is professionally that even if she told me to do something that didn’t feel right, I could say no. That’s where you have to be in order to make a mentor relationship successful for you. Because what you don’t want to do is have that person tell you to do something and you do it when it doesn’t feel right.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is so important. I can’t help but think about this in a gendered lens. Right? So often, I know you coach men and women, but you and I had a really interesting conversation about this book called The Confidence Code.
LAURA GARNETT: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Which is the research of a couple journalists we very much admire. And we talked about how women struggle with believing in themselves a bit — or a lot, depending. And when you largely have male mentors, which in the business world at least, those with that power and that influence and the platform to do the mentoring are more typically male because, typically, we think of mentors as more senior, right? Because that’s the value that they bring to us.
LAURA GARNETT: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: They bestow the wisdom, et cetera. But to your point, right now, we’re sort of — I think when you struggle with the confidence of being able to tune into your truth north of your own compass, and that might be more true for women through nature or nurture, which we can talk about and is quantified in the book Confidence Code, regardless, it’s real.
And so I think we spend a lot of time listening to others because we’re not as self-directed as we might need to be, and therefore, we sort of are — I think we are at risk of spending more time than is healthy seeking that advice, following that advice, whether it’s right or wrong, feeling obligated to be in those sorts of relationships, which is a really interesting way to look at mentoring and the pitfalls of it, which we don’t talk about that much.
So, you coach men and women, what’s your view on the differences in how we approach our careers and that mentor relationship, but also our own genius? What filter do we see that through that might be detrimental to how we move forward and how quickly we move forward?
LAURA GARNETT: Well, you know, I read The Confidence Code, and I read what they found through their research, and I just felt this resonated so much that men believe — they often believe they’re better — their performance is better than it actually is, and women often believe that their performance is worse than it actually is. And that in the end, both men and women are performing at the same level.
And that is very much aligned with what I’ve noticed and observed in women versus men. And I think for women, having to work in the corporate world, where it’s typically been male dominated, that feeling of I’m not as good as I actually am is a huge hindrance — huge hindrance because as we just talked about with the mentor, with all of the research on success and performance, not believing that your performance is as good as it is allows all kinds of other things to go wrong that can prevent you from moving forward.
So, to me, that — when I read that and I thought this is so important and why I love working with women, because I want them — of all the things that we can’t control about sexism and about opportunity, we can as women or any human being, we can control how we feel about ourselves and more accurately, valuing our performance and the work that we’re doing. So that I think is a huge piece for women.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s enormous. I mean, we talked also about how there’s a double whammy because if we’re held back by confidence issues, we’re also held back by the system.
LAURA GARNETT: Exactly. Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know, there’s a piece — my friend Sharon Melmet (ph.) calls this being “impeccable for your 50%.” She likens it to what is within your span of control and what is outside of it, and making sure you’re impeccable for your side of the street, so to speak.
LAURA GARNETT: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I love that. I see your book as a way of assuring ourselves of getting clarity of being more self-directed and then we have — I think what I hear you saying is directing the mentor relationship. You know, knowing exactly what you need that you can’t get for yourself that you can’t understand, that you can’t access, that you need somebody’s social capital, for example, to help you achieve, which is the true definition, by the way, of sponsorship, right?
LAURA GARNETT: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: Somebody literally joining their capital with yours, whether it’s social capital, professional, reputational capital, whatever it is, they’re sort of throwing their lot in with you and your potential success.
LAURA GARNETT: Exactly. Yeah, we didn’t touch on that, that is the other part of knowing what’s within yourself, the answers, that’s also where The Genius Habit can be so valuable. Filling out the tracker every week really allows you to excavate answers to questions that you have that you didn’t even know were there. And that practice of doing that every week then gives you more clarity around what it is you would need to have a mentor for or what you would bring to the table for them, rather than going with all of these questions, half of which you probably already know, such as, what am I good at? What do you think is the right career path? These are the questions that you can — those should come from you. And once you have those answers, then you can go to a mentor for expertise.
For me, I had a mentor and I talk about this in the book, and it was for something really specific that I didn’t have any previous knowledge about, and he was great. And he mentored me for a couple months and he allowed me to navigate a relationship that I didn’t have experience with, and that was a perfect agreement and way of working together.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, and it was finite, it was specific.
LAURA GARNETT: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It had boundaries to it.
LAURA GARNETT: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: Which is great. And I think we’ve got to get used to managing our career in that exact way. Sort of spot coaching or spot support, very specific, but I think that we’ve got to be doing a lot more of the introspection and that tracking and building the “habit.” And I don’t know if we think about cultivating our genius as a habit. It’s such a new and groundbreaking concept. Imaging talking to your friend and saying, “Oh, that’s okay, I’m not going to go out tonight, I’m going to go home and do my genius tracker.” You know? I don’t want to get off track.
LAURA GARNETT: Well, it’s interesting because somebody else asked me this question this week, too, which is this is another thing to do. Oh, my gosh, everyone’s so busy.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, yes.
LAURA GARNETT: So, you’re saying I now have more work to do? Really, I’m like, “Absolutely.” But here’s the reality: The reality is that we haven’t been taught how to know ourselves. We haven’t been taught how to manage our careers. We haven’t been taught how to manage our performance. We’ve been taught the opposite, that it comes top down. We’re told what to do, we’re told what we’re good at, and we’re told if we’re getting promoted and what other job opportunities are available to us. And that system is not working and it doesn’t work, especially when you look at the science of performance.
To me, it boils down to challenge and impact and the only person that can answer those questions for you are you. So, this is, to me, it’s about — our society is evolving. People want — and especially I think the younger generations, we talked about this, the younger generations are driving this — the purpose and meaning and being challenged and engaged at work is more important. And so their generation is going to have to be willing to learn new ways of operating. And yes, I fill out the tracker every week. It takes me about 15 minutes, I do it on Saturday mornings, I love it. I feel off if I don’t do it. And it’s a new thing that I have to do, but I feel like without it, I’m not actually going to create the success I want. I’m just not. That’s the choice.
It’s like, well, do you want to be healthy and live a long life? Yes, you’re going to have to work out, that’s going to take some time out of your day. But this is also, I think, very much in line with the other new way of thinking about work, which is to work better, not more. And to focus on wellbeing and wellness, which is all, again, critical. That’s one of the questions in the tracker, you exercise, get enough sleep, and prioritizing your wellbeing because typically people don’t. And you’re never going to perform at your best if you’re not doing that. As a society, we’re going to move to this place where actual work hours are going to decrease, but you’re going to be doing other things like working out, meditating, filling out a performance tracker, and things that make you better so that when you’re working, you’re actually working twice as — you’re twice as productive as you were otherwise.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know. You just said work smarter, not harder.
LAURA GARNETT: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Gone are the days when it’s about logging a ton of hours and lots of face time in the office. I think this new generation, I hope anyway, is going to introduce a real challenge to the way that business as usual has been done and how we think about our energy, capacity, our sustainability as workers, as employees, even as entrepreneurs. You and I know we’ve got to take very careful steps to make sure we’re balanced, because we tend to be workaholics.
LAURA GARNETT: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: There are zero boundaries when you have your own company and your own coaching practice, because you love it. I mean, we are so fortunate to do what we love every day and finally have found this niche. I like to think we’re both giving back in very substantive ways because both of us, when you struggle to get somewhere, you write a lot about adversity and it gets about adversity. And adversity, it doesn’t necessarily need to be related to diversity identities, as we often talk about on The Will to Change. It was also, to me, the separation I felt from what I really should be doing and finding and fulfilling my highest gift and how I could be of service. Because I knew it was there, but I couldn’t figure out how to find my way to it. So, your book is like, look, it’s a habit, it’s a practice, there’s a tracker, there’s the discipline to it, and eventually through that work, it will reveal itself because you’ve almost got to earn it. I mean, there’s almost probably nobody for whom it appears out of the blue.
LAURA GARNETT: Absolutely. It is a practice and it took me three years before I started getting focused enough to begin my actual methodology. Three years of pivoting and paying attention and trial and error. And no one can avoid that. You can’t avoid the trial and error. You can’t avoid the — to me, that’s the beginning because that’s the start of the journey, because you home in. Oh, this is what I think it is. I’m going to keep going, keep going. You pay attention, you’re more conscious.
And also for me, even with time, I mentioned this, too, in the book. My genius is evolving with me. And so my work will change. It’s always going to get more — I’m going to get better at what I do, and I’m going to try to find different and more challenging ways to leverage my genius. So, it’s never — I think some people think that the concept of a dream job is not really true because it’s constantly evolving. It’s like a dream career that can look like a lot of things. And it’s always committing yourself to the practice of putting energy into making those small changes and shifts that are really a reflection of how you’re shifting and evolving. It’s a very active process.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
LAURA GARNETT: I would say one other thing, too, with this being extra work. Here’s the other thing that’s changing with the business world: Job hopping is on the rise. People are shifting jobs at such a rapid rate now. 30 years ago, people were staying in one job for 25, 30 years. And when you do that, you can get away — well, you end up probably getting jobs that you don’t love and aren’t a reflection of you, but you’re not going through the job search. If you have to go through the job search, you have to be clear about who you are and what you want. The Genius Habit helps you do that. There needs to be a practice that empowers people to be excited about the job search rather than it being something so feared that it keeps you somewhere longer than you want to be.
And with job hopping and our business world shifting and changing, people are going to have to be — and I call it job search ninjas, you have to be clear about who you are and what’s right and what you want. And, again, that takes work. That’s a new habit that you have to incorporate into your life.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. You’re right. We’re never done changing. We’re always becoming. I’m curious, what have you — in your journaling and tracking, what is an emerging area that you have discovered recently in your own genius and your own evolution where you’re like, you know, I’m not quite matched up right there? That’s something that I need to align better or something I need to answer the call of or something I need to do less of so that I can do this? Is there some shift that you’re learning today, having written this book, and you’re discovering about yourself?
LAURA GARNETT: Absolutely. So, when I’m filling out my tracker every week, one of the things that I’m constantly asking myself is: Am I pushing my compass? Am I really using my genius, really taking it to the edge and working to improve it? Most often, when I’m in my zone of genius is when I’m in client sessions one on one. That’s where I’m in the zone the most. But what I’ve been playing around with — or I’m doing research, because my genius is seeing an inside excavator, seeing patterns in data that draws insight.
But what I’ve decided recently is that I want to take that to the next level with groups, so coaching groups, because that’s another level up from my genius because I’m looking at patterns from a variety of different people, different personalities, different types of people, lots more activity going on. To me, it’s like another gymnastics. It’s stretching my mental genius more, so that’s really where I’m focused on now.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s awesome. Yeah, so good. So good.
LAURA GARNETT: I’ve created new products, I’ve been managing a group now for four or five months and I’ve booked a couple executive teams to coach them and have them go through a new version of my process. I’m really excited about it because it feels like I’m stretching my muscles more. That’s, ultimately, what it’s all about — constantly tweaking your job so that you’re always engaged and you’re having the impact that you most desire.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I love what you shared about job hopping becoming something that is much more accepted. And not only that, but allowing us to get closer faster to the right fit. You know, you’ve got to pivot and quickly. You can’t spend too long in one place. I always thought for myself, I was a bit of a hopper. The intellectual challenge or the mastery of a certain role or task, at some point, you saw your learning curve really flattens out. I think that should be a sign to all of us to say, okay, have I gotten what I need to get from this and can I move on? It will always be yours, you will always carry it with you, but do you need to continue to spend time doing it or is this task more of a rote thing at this point?
I realized that when I was doing a lot of training. I was teaching the same 20 soft skills classes over and over again. I got to the point where I knew the cadence of what would happen in the room and I could predict the questions that would come up and I knew how exercises were going to go that I was facilitating. I remember thinking, “I’m done with this. I’ve learned what I need to learn, and now I need to set off for different pastures. And I don’t know what those are,” but I think that also just the power of asking the question to say, “Okay, I’ve got this, what’s next for me? Where else can I apply my gift? And where is my next stretch?” And not being afraid to put yourself first versus put your job and your job security first, which I think was true and is true for a lot of people.
They might say to you, Laura, “Well, I don’t have the privilege of switching things around and looking for new opportunities.” Many of us are very much economically close to the edge every day and paycheck to paycheck, but the stakes for not doing this are also really high to imagine missing out on your genius in your life, not being able to know what it feels like to work from something where I like to say it’s like you do it better than most people, you enjoy it, you’re in the zone and time loses its meaning because you’re so deeply in your zone that you’re able to impart gifts like nobody else. I think that lives in every single person. Your book is great to unearth that. I recommend it for everyone. I want people to know where to find it and where they can follow you. You’re a prolific writer. You write in a lot of the business press as well. Where can people get more of you and your thought leadership?
LAURA GARNETT: Yes. Thank you for asking. People can reach me at LauraGarnett.com. you can go to The Genius Habit tab. On that tab, you can click to get the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or pretty much anywhere books are sold. Yes, I write about six or seven articles a month for Forbes and Inc, so you can always check out my latest articles if you go to the writing tab as well. Join my newsletter. I don’t really market or sell much on it, I actually share a lot of my content and also updates and thoughts on The Genius Habit, so you can always do that as well.
JENNIFER BROWN: Perfect. Thank you, Laura. Thanks for joining me on The Will to Change.
LAURA GARNETT: Thank you so much. This was so much fun to be here today. Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
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