How to be a Genius, Today

Ten years ago, I discovered myself to be a creative. A writer. A blogger. A new voice in a big digital world.

It was a good time to have found that part of me. I began blogging at the peak of its popularity, releasing introspective posts into a social media still more interested in self-reflection than self-promotion. I wrote about being a dad at a time when the algorithm still emphasized loving your people rather than hating other people. My voice was a quiet one, but it was audible in a digital world where you could still hear a whisper if you wanted to.

Five years ago, the digital world changed almost overnight, in part because the algorithm changed, in part because we human beings changed, and in part because both of those changes accelerated the other.

I must admit, I’ve struggled since then to understand my place in the so called “attention economy,” which trades in the currencies of sensationalism and outrage, and whose volume is set to eleven.

Of course, I understand some things are sensational—they merit the moniker, they deserve to be above-the-fold—but most of the transformation I talk about is not sensational, it’s incremental. Most awakenings are ordinary and orderly—small moments that add up, gradually, to big change.

For instance, last night, a storm rolled over the youth soccer field, and in its wake it left a rainbow over an old boys-home cemetery with gravestones so smooth no boy can be remembered and a telephone pole standing in the middle of it like a cross, and if you paid just a little bit of attention to it you couldn’t help but notice that all of it was right there—all of life, the tragedy and the death and the hope and the promise and the Love that has stood for eternity right in the middle of it all—and it was just enough to open up my heart, and a heart opening up is just enough transformation for one evening, thank you very much.

That’s how the deepest change happens, but how do you share that truth in a digital world hooked on the next adrenaline rush? Furthermore, I understand there are a lot of things to shout about right now, and a lot of good reasons for shouting. The thing is: I’m not a shouter.

I was thinking about this last night as the dark clouds receded into the distance and the setting August sun shone sideways on a bunch of dribbling middle schoolers. Standing there, taking it all in, I remembered my early attempts as a youth soccer coach to get my players’ attention: I bought a whistle, raised my voice, got louder. And I hated it. It wasn’t me. So, instead, I started whispering. And the kids who wanted to hear what I had to say, they leaned in.

I spent this past summer reflecting on who I am and how I want to show up in this digital world of ours. And I’ve gotten some clarity. I’m not going to shout into it. I’m going to whisper. And those who want to listen will lean in. The truth is, I can’t do it any other way, because that’s who I am, and I want to be the kind of genius Thelonius Monk was talking about when he said, “A genius is the one most like himself.”

So, I’m going to focus on being most like myself. I’m going to whisper.

Which means…

I’m going to start blogging again.

But my emails to you will look more like they did ten years ago—text only, no fancy formatting, a single link or two.

This fall, we’re going to move our Human Hour discussions from Facebook to Zoom, where we can connect more deeply rather than more loudly or more publicly.

Earlier this year, I quietly wrote a novel and it has been accepted for publication, and over the next year I’m going to find ways to whisper to you about it.

We’re going to gather in Utah in October 2022 for Companion Camp, and I’m going to find ways to whisper to you about that, too.

All of that to say, I hope you’ll lean in, but I’ll understand if you don’t. Either way, though, I hope you’ll spend today being a genius, which is to say, becoming even more like yourself.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.