Oh the fine line – the microscopic distinction – between genius and insanity. Readers of my Mad Genius book will know this has been a topic that fascinated me for a long time. Maybe because some people think I’m a genius and other think I’m batshit crazy – and I secretly know that both camps are right. (And more than a few of the people who follow my work could describe themselves the same way.) So how do we navigate through the minefield, staying sane and able to function, but not giving up our belief that breakthrough change, brilliant ideas, and unexplored worlds still can come into being?
Let’s begin a series of posts investigating this topic and see where it leads us. I’m not sure how many posts this will entail, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? Let’s simply jump down the rabbit hole and see what’s there…
The idea of a razor-thin line between genius and insanity could be best demonstrated perhaps by Ted Kaczynski, a/k/a as the Unabomber. Most people know him only as a crazy guy who lived in the wilderness, mailing pipe bombs to professors and tech people, in a futile attempt to get humanity to destroy technology and start all over again. Would it surprise you to learn that he was a child prodigy who was accepted to Harvard at 16 years old, and went on to become a PhD and a professor himself?
He was eventually captured after a Manifesto he wrote was published by some major newspapers at the request of the FBI. You might expect that this Manifesto would be crazy, and in some ways it was. Yet is also demonstrated critical thinking ability and had some intriguing ideas worth deliberating.
Kaczynski stated that for people to be truly happy, they require challenge, most specifically to have goals which require serious effort. He divided goals into 3 buckets:
- Easy goals that can be attained with minimal effort
- Hard goals that require effort and challenge
- Impossible goals, that cannot be attained no matter how hard you try
The overriding theme of his Manifesto was that the hard goals – the difficult problems the world needed to solve – were already done. The only goals left were the easy ones and the impossible ones, thus no real meaning or fulfillment in life, no reason to continue.
I don’t agree with Kaczynski’s conclusion that all of the difficult but possible goals for the world have been solved. But I think a lot of people are in a similar place that he was, in regard to the goals and meaning in their personal life. This comes about because they also believe that the worthy goals remaining are impossible for them to attain. They’ve given up on their dreams. Millions of people believe that they will never get in shape ever again, won’t find true love, will never be wealthy, etc. Because they don’t see breakthroughs happening, they stop living life and simply exist through it.
The number of people suffering from depression is mind-boggling, and the suicide rate is beyond alarming. Personally, I believe a lot of this comes from people who feel there is no real meaning in their lives. They aren’t seeking out challenges worthy of them. They’re self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, social media, and Netflix. But these things are only diversions and prevent us from seeking the real answers.
People who are eager and excited by a challenging project have no time or proclivity towards depression. People who are merely keeping their head below the cubicle, waiting out the week until Friday are much more likely to experience depression. If you believe your greatest years are behind you, it’s difficult to think your life is very meaningful. I fought a serious fight against depression. But I never had an issue when I was launching a new company or starting a new book I was excited to tackle.
Kaczynski had a very bad approach. But his ideas about goals and challenges are worth pondering. What’s your default setting of your path in life now? Do you see your best years and work behind you, or in front of you? Do you seek new challenges? And do you have a challenge worthy of you at this moment?
Please share your thoughts below. And tomorrow we’ll explore this deeper.
P.S. The idea for this series was inspired by the challenging questions and critical thinking of Peter Thiel, after I did a rereading of him book Zero to One recently. So a h/t to him along with a strong recommendation to read the book if you have not.
Very difficult goals & challenges has brought me into a super intriguing world. Exploring new worlds is critical. Most importantly finding a "worthy challenge" allows you to connect with yourself in "your silent inner power" of desire & hunger for the unknown. Super thought provoking blog Randy. Thanks for posting this. #prosperityconsciousness!
I just attended my national convention for my company and after, I was like, oh man this is going to be hard... but as a pro songwriter told Steven Tyler when he bitched that it was hard, Steven, if this way easy, everybody would do it. Exactly. I just accepted it and started thinking of ways I can generate more volume with more affluent people.. Lean into the challenge and enjoy it!!!
Perhaps as we get older, the goals appear to be less important, given the many "distractions" from family life. Retirement also takes away many people's goals. Satisfaction with one's lot in life also stops going for "hard goals", however we all hear / read about people who take up something in their retirement that inspires such passion in them and others that it revitalises them.
What is the difference between the grandparent who has no time because of the grandchildren and the one who becomes an entrepreneur late in life, inspiring others to do the same?
Great post Randy - very thought provoking - thank you
JUST got the book yesterday after being fascinated by the ideas of secrets because often times when i share my "secrets" as with coworkers after a hot sales streak, a dialogue happens that I don't quite understand happens but the result always occurs in a lowering of my performance for a while until I can get back into my own head and in control of ky own thoughts again until the next cycle...all the while my goal is to make a permanent improvement in my sales and myself to the point where I can take the skillset with me onto the next thing. Truly conquer.
for a while these cycles have made it seem whimsical but as I trace circumstances with thought it seems like im getting closer and my life is about to begin! the herd think i would say seems to apart of it but it's very hard to articulate.
I would be and have always had some troubles having big dreams and aspirations but feeling like its not okay when I "go back" to talk with certain family, friends, and coworkers......is mucho depressing or related to it.
When my manager helped pointed out the dynamic with past acquaintances, I felt like a big weight was lifted off me...and I've now resquested to work 6 days instead of 5 so I can see if that helps to truly create the change im looking for in life.
Thanks randy. crazy timing of a post. smart, healthy, rich!
time for my second listen of mad genius