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whopays's avatar

How do you know if you're a genius toiling in obscurity, or a failure failing?

Asked by whopays (10points) January 29th, 2011

Mundanely, I fit most likely in the middle of the Bell curve. Every good idea I’ve seen develop has had brutal opposition at the beginning…

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30 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

If you have to ask, then it’s the latter.

Jeruba's avatar

You can toil in obscurity without being a genius. Toiling in obscurity is just toiling in obscurity.

6rant6's avatar

Schroedinger’s writer. You are neither good nor bad until someone reads you.

You can toil or exult in writing. That much is under your control.

seazen's avatar

I disagree with @wundayatta – one can wonder…

cubozoa's avatar

I thought the whole point of being a genius, is that you didn’t need to toil. It should all by inspiration.

cubozoa's avatar

Maybe you could measure it on the Thomas Edison scale – “Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Any more than 99% perspiration, and you are destined for failure.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I’m pretty sure I’m neither.

Zyx's avatar

@cubozoa Edison was a fraud. Inspiration and perspiration should be equal parts.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The lens of time will show which one you were.

Cruiser's avatar

I am no genius but I am very smart and do feel at times I am toiling in obscurity.

SavoirFaire's avatar

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
—Howard Aiken

I’m afraid there’s probably no way to know for sure, @whopays, but don’t be discouraged by opposition. It may be that it is through your toil that you will tap some unknown ability and become a genius (if you aren’t one already).

@wundayatta Kafka was a genius who toiled in obscurity and died penniless. He also worried about his legacy, albeit in an idiosyncratic way.

@cubozoa Geniuses toil and suffer more than non-geniuses because their inspiration demands a perfection that is unattainable.

janbb's avatar

”...For us, there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”

T.S. Eliot, East Coker

6rant6's avatar

@SavoirFaire I disagree that obsessive pursuit of perfection is the solely the path of genius. It belongs to obsessives of every ability level.

Don’t you know people who pursue excellence maniacally, but who would not recognize quality if it ended up on their burger bun between their cheese and lettuce?

cubozoa's avatar

@SavoirFaire Yes, I agree with @6rant6. I don’t think being a genius necessarily implies that you are a perfectionist.

Jeruba's avatar

I think what @6rant6 said was the other way around, @cubozoa: being a perfectionist doesn’t necessarily imply that you are a genius. You can suffer with your compulsions without having the blessings of genius (if blessings they be) to console you.

I know lots of perfectionists and very few geniuses, so experience bears out this observation.

cubozoa's avatar

@Jeruba Yes, you are right. I guess what I was trying to say is that the two (genius and obsession) are independent.

6rant6's avatar

__Where’s the Venn diagram text styling on this thing…__

Jeruba's avatar

Here’s how I did it, @6rant6: Venn diagram.

(To whisper, place two hyphens before and two after the comment.)

6rant6's avatar

@Jeruba Ah! Genius.

Jeruba's avatar

No, dear, just compulsion.

SmashTheState's avatar

Genius isn’t something you are, it’s something you do. Everyone has genius, but few have the courage and tenacity to reach it, empower it, and release it into the world, largely because you will be punished for doing so. Genius is not valued, respected, or desired by the denizens of Planet Earth, since it reminds them of their own cowardice in taking the easy and safe road of banality.

“If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the results were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity with higher principles.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Jeruba's avatar

I would like to see a definition of genius that permits it to be a universal human trait.

If Throreau was using it in the sense of an inhabiting guiding spirit, I don’t think that is the same sense in which the OP is employing it, which seems to be closer to “intellectual brilliance.”

SavoirFaire's avatar

Strictly speaking, my statement does not violate what @6rant6 said.

6rant6's avatar

@Jeruba If genius were a universal trait, the word wouldn’t mean much, would it? Then we’d have to create a word that meant “having capabilities well beyond the norm.”

Jeruba's avatar

That was my point, @6rant6. @SmashTheState claimed that everyone has it.

There is a sense (older, not much used outside of literature) in which it means “spirit,” somewhat like the “genie” inhabiting the magic lamp. but I don’t think that’s what the OP was talking about. It’s probably the sense in which Thoreau used it.

6rant6's avatar

@jeruba I am confused by, “I would like to see a definition of genius that permits it to be a universal human trait.”

Okay, maybe I’m getting it ”... because until I see it, I’m going to continue to believe it doesn’t exist,” is implied? [Just woke up from nap. And EVERYTHING seems hard!]

Jeruba's avatar


@SmashTheState wrote: Everyone has genius, but few have the courage and tenacity to reach it, empower it, and release it into the world.

I replied by asking, in effect, “How are you defining ‘genius’ so that it can be something everyone has?”

If “genius” is defined as “intellectual brilliance” (or something closely approximate), clearly it is not something that everyone has. But that seems to be the sense in which @whopays is using it.

The Thoreau quote that @SmashTheState included in his post implies a different meaning of the word from “intellectual brilliance.” The quote appears to use an old literary sense of the word meaning an inhabiting guiding spirit.

Defining a term one way and then using it a different way to try to make a point is a rhetorical trick and not effective argumentation.

6rant6's avatar

@jeruba Thanks for the explanarantatory. I am feeling sentient again. Tomorrow – genius!

Jeruba's avatar

@6rant6, GA for “explanarantatory.”

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