If you put a fish on land, odds are it won’t excel very much. If you give a computer science expert a couple dumbbells, they probably won’t be very good at weightlifting. And if you place an athlete in an office cubicle, most of them wouldn’t produce pristine work.
Did you know that you can be a genius, but if you’re in the wrong environment or culture, noone would ever know?
Let me explain what I mean. Genius, in an academic level, is no longer considered that old fashioned hollywood-portrayed mythical fantasy where someone can play a trivia game and know every answer- far from it. Even Albert Einstein was really only ever good at any one thing- Physics- and he had to work hard for it. He was a C student in school throughout most of his life (a fact many people still ignore).
No, psychologists on an academic level today view intelligence in a very different and more accurate way than they did back in the early and mid twentieth century. In fact, there are many new widely accepted (and debated) scientific theories that describe intelligence, some of which are picking up more momentum in the past decade.
Intelligence, on a scholarly level, has for quite some time stopped been being looked at as test taking or recitation alone. This may seem obvious to many intelligent people, but for decades, if not centuries, culture portrayed it as only such. It was clear that while Michaelangelo had no interest or aptitude of an level of expertise in math and science, he had a genius gift for art. Many genius savants are poor in some areas of study, but have a gift in one area where they’d be in the top percentile.
Art, athletic ability, creativity, music aptitude and other abilities are now often considered to be as much as forms of intelligences as solving a pointless algebraic equations and scoring well on tests.
In the early 1980s, Howard Gardner proposed his theory of multiple intelligences: musical, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential-spiritual. Many psychologists have generally supported his proposition, and some have elaborated even further to come up with derivative theories. However, all are moving science’s understanding of intelligence to include many different facets of the brain’s talents, and not just test taking.
You don’t have to go far to see this theory on display. Just turning on the TV or radio, you see and hear individuals who can do extraordinary things with singing, speaking, talking, performing, and playing sports. Nine of these things in culture are usually identified as genius, but it’s pretty obvious, especially since the majority of the population would have more difficulty doing them, that these things require a similar kind of giftedness when done at a high level.
However, what’s even more profound regarding the discovery of talent and individual ability, is how the environment one lives in has a huge impact on the development of it. This goes back to the fish on land idea. Did you know that it doesn’t matter how talented, bright, or gifted one is- if they’re in a bad surrounding environment, they will never prove it or contribute anything if significance?
For example, just because someone is smart, exceptional, or bright in one area, it will not matter if their environment isn’t nurturing. Furthermore, in the wrong environment- one in which the individual’s adults are ignorant and of mediocre intelligence themselves or where their peers and even teachers and coaches are jealous of them and their unique ability- they may never even know that they’re gifted and special. In environments such as these, they may be picked on, outcasts, and belittled by their environment to bring them down to its’ level. This obviously occurs often in the population as egos get involved and many people are hurt by someone’s exceptional talent as it makes them feel less or inadequate. And then there’s just common everyday occurrences. Everyone is human and still vulnerable to emotional pain, tragedy, losses of loved ones, abuse, and health issues, all of which can hinder a gifted, intelligent individual’s ability to develop their skills and talents to their potential- in other words, even Shakespeare, Saul, Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Freud, and many of the world’s greatest inventors didn’t just wake up and roll out of bed and suddenly discover their iconic contributions to science and society- they had to work for them and survive after years of struggling.
Society and popular culture has this ignorant view that geniuses stand out, wear nerd glasses, and recite algebraic math equations and nuclear physics like it’s going out of style, but the reality is this is all sensationalism and misleading. In fact, most likely none of the most popular great contributors of any area of society probably acted like that- they were just normal humans with one or two exceptional gifts or talents who competed throughout life, had to pay their bills, failed tests, got Cs and Ds in classes, and cheat with family and health problems just as anybody else. There’s evidence that the only reason they truly gained fame and reached the heights of their contributions was because they persevered. If they gave up, stayed in the wrong mediocre environments, or didn’t stick with it for years, nobody would ever know their name.
Everyone has some area of specialty (at least one). If the culture they’re in values it, they tend to excel more at it as it’s more prestigious, but if the culture does not look proudly on it, they tend to ignore it. Thus, many talented people become underachievers since there’s little to no positive reinforcement on their specialty. This has been recently apparent at the Scripps spelling bee contest. 11 of the last 15 winners have been from Indian descent. Indian children are raised in households and families that strongly value academic achievement culturally, whereas most cultures value it less and stress athletic ability and conformity to western pop culture. This is just another example of how culture shapes goals and obtaining of them.
The point is: if you want to reach your potential in life with your dreams, talents, and passion, it’s just as important that you place yourself in the right environment and right culture as it is that you develop your talent and gift. Everyone has a gift and something special to share to help and inspire other people. While some people ignore that gift, and underachieve, becoming the type that holds other people down from developing their talent and potential, or maybe have never discovered they have it, your goal must be to surround yourself with an enriching, positive, and mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy environment and culture. If you don’t, then it doesn’t matter how smart, gifted, or talented you are- you could be a genius, but you’ll never fulfill your potential. Like a fish on land, you’ll struggle because your natural God given talents and abilities are being used in the wrong area where they won’t be valued. If you want to achieve big, you gave to get in the right environment. Otherwise, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. Who knows- you might be a genius and never knew it because you were in the wrong situation or environment.