A while back, I wrote an article highlighting Leonardo da Vinci's tendency to leave tons of projects unfinished--in his genius, he flitted from idea to idea, always getting distracted by the next concept. And more recently, I honed in on Elon Musk, who has admitted to an excruciating year trying to keep all his ventures humming.

While these two people might seem worlds apart, they reveal a brutal truth you should keep in mind if you dream of standing in their company. The idea of the tortured genius is a real thing, not in the sense here of trauma inspiring art (it can), but in the sense that incredible intelligence and curiosity can become the most unforgiving of taskmasters. We can feel guilty for not reaching every finish line. We can have trouble staying in and enjoying the moment, because we're so anxious that we've picked the wrong thing to pursue or that the everyday junk of life is getting in the way and stealing time. We can feel like perfection is the only choice and that, if we don't complete everything, it's because of our own inadequacies and mistakes.

This would all be bad enough. But the modern business world pours salt in the wound. Today, the mantra is almost always "Do more!". There's increased pressure to be a help to society. We're constantly told that the only barriers are the ones of our own creation. The stress on attention to detail and self-sufficiency only reinforce that there's no room for error. There is always one more thing to check, one more thing to ensure or protect, especially if you accept that competitors will show no mercy or cooperation. You never can rest. And even as the stigma against mental health starts to wane, it's difficult to admit if we're unhappy or lonely. Nobody wants a Debbie Downer as a leader, after all, and lamenting the woes of your own intelligence is likely to get eye rolls and get people whispering about your narcissism.

Now, I'm not going to put myself in the same category as Da Vinci or Musk. Not even close. And perhaps I am postulating based on a lapse of transference. But I know that, even where I rank, the irritation and exuberance of having multiple priorities is ridiculously draining. And I have trouble believing that, out of the millions of motivated people out there, I'm the only one in this position.

The big picture is, it's easy to idolize the giants and see only their success and positive traits, the millions of dollars and grit. But there's another side. And the odds are good that the inspirational people who really deserve your following, who can teach you and expose the greatness in you, need you to understand that there's tension and worry and all kinds of other yucks. They need empathy. And if you are the tortured genius, lauded or yet to be discovered, you need to have the courage to communicate it when you're suffering. Unless you do that, people won't be able to help you feel better. Your intelligence shouldn't be a shackle to unhappiness. Nobody's should. 

Published on: Nov 15, 2018