The Genius Dilemma

The Overachiever

I once read an interview of Anil Manibhai Naikthe Group Executive Chairman of Larsen & Toubro Limited in a magazine. He’s undoubtedly a high achiever whose exploits like saving L&T from a hostile takeover, are legends passed on in MBA classrooms around the world. They credit 3.36 Crore (33.6 million) Rupees into his account as salary to retain a genius like him in their books, if possible till he’s alive. I admire such men and women. The Sunder Pichais and Indra Nooyis and heads of great companies, organisations and governments etc who have struggled their way up ‘from the ranks’ to become the absolute best in what they do. Most of them must be having an IQ of 140 or above on the Mensa Scale. There are many other men and women with comparable or higher IQ than these leaders but they never tangibly influenced the lives of greater number of humans on earth than these overachievers. They may have ended up as master pianists, sportsmen, writers or scientists etc who won the hearts of all the humans but not influenced the day to day living of so many like these achievers who do it with just the decisions flowing out of their brains. {Ok, I grant it that scientists get to influence the lives of all humans. Doing what they love, being socially useful, enjoying the gratitude of the rest of us and getting paid for it!! Lucky rascals 😦 }.

The Overachiever’s Compromise

So…. the interview with Mr AM Naik was a short but a very insightful one which showcased his knowledge and every admirable quality in him that made him great. However, some aspects he revealed made me think deep…. and be sad. What he said was, “I’ve never taken a single day of leave for the first 21 years of my professional life”. The sadness did not germinate then. It was when he was asked the question, “What is your greatest regret in life?”. And he said, “I wish I had spent more time with my family”. His family was estranged at that time.

A very senior and respected person in my org, during his farewell visit before his retirement, was sharing his parting thoughts to all of us in a large gathering. He did not speak much about professionalism or hard work or dedication or leadership but he spent a long time on how to bring in some balance between work and family. On how the most important thing in your life remains your family no matter what achievements you accumulate. And never to lose sight of that fact. For me, the sadness for what I think this man lost in life came towards the end of his speech where he, being a good sportsman and believer in universal health through daily physical activity, was harping on why all must play something. When describing the social benefits of playing games he said,

“You can get to know a person better on the court than anywhere else. You can secure bonds stronger than anywhere else. And believe me guys; the first time I bonded with my son was when we played squash together when he was 18”.

Now, here’s a man I admire. Who has touched the pinnacle of what’s possible in my line of work, so I know the man’s substance. Very equivalent profile of Mr AM Naik, as in being an overachiever. And it appears that even he had made the same kind of compromises with his family. Imagine the relationship between the father and son before and after their first ever squash match in life. And judging by the warmth with which he said those words I can guarantee you, that match changed their lives forever. After 18 precious years lost, the man regained the true meaning and purpose to life in a squash court.

The compromises that these achievers make, sometimes as a considered decision by both spouses, have their sordid effect on a very small group of people called children. However the achiever analyses the situation and sees that the opportunities and abilities to create wonders in this world and move the machine of humankind are present in them and they have an obligation to themselves and others, to achieve and beyond. So they compromise, many a times to the utterly hopeless dismay of their spouse and children. So the ultimate reasoning is that, to do great things we need to pay a great price. Is all hope lost for you geniuses? I think not.

Geniuses! Don’t Lose Hope

I know that you wont take anything but sound reasoning before your brain will allow any advice to brush your heart. So let me try to be as close to logic as possible when I try to convince you guys that there’s another way than burning through the precious life that you have.

Firstly, the hard task masters among you  who drive their juniors to lunacy by overworking them, must chill and realise that if those poor bastards are performing and producing results despite the torture, then they most likely are compromising on the least threatening aspect of their lives, family. You may not have or desire it but they have a “life” and need it to keep their mind at peace. You must surely know from all the leadership workshops you attended and conducted that a person with his mind at peace will have his faculties working at its best (proven through decades of research into what’s known among my friends as ‘Crew Resource Management’, and of course you knew that). These are the same faculties that you are presently trying to extract by waterboarding them with your style of working. Not a smart move for the long term interests of your company, in pursuit of the sky high goals that you are going to achieve for sure.

Now comes the sad part. Every one of these geniuses, every once in a while, when talking to their own self, must have lamented on the joys they lost in parenting and marriage. I sincerely feel the pain as I empathise during my thought experiments. And I want to offer a solution all the geniuses who ail from the above mentioned maladies.

Firstly, understand that the reason why you compromise is because you think that the time spent with family does not compare with the productivity of professional tasks. Unfortunately that reasoning is based on nothing but fallacies on the true aim of life. Bare yourselves naked and then ask the human in you, what parameter must you be judged by at the end of your life.

Strip yourselves of impermanent entities like nation, organisation, company etc and consider yourselves as Homo Sapiens staring at the future? Despite the megalomania that may be associated with some of you, your intelligence will betray you and agree with me when I say that it is highly unlikely that your legacy will be carved on a stone that never weathers, for human beings of future millennia to admire. Considering the length in history of human race, your existence is like the time it takes for a round to exit the muzzle and your fame like a blink of an eye. Your irrelevance is inevitable.

Casting that fallacy aside, I can understand the power, the popularity and the feeling of self actualisation that comes as the rewards during your life. It is intoxicating and addictive. You must however remember that such fleeting Dopamine rushes in your brain are your only compensation for the lack of release of Oxytocin, the love hormone. I’m sure you know that clinical effects of loneliness has been found to be the equivalent of 15 cigarettes a day. So compromising on love for the feeling of contentment in life elsewhere is a self defeating compromise. There’s a decent chance that you’ll end up with neither.

All that remains is one possible aim. Acknowledge the fact that no matter how high you want to reach out and touch greatness, you remain a living thing created by the genetic code in you to become the best carrier for that code to be copied successfully far into the future. And that process does not involve reproduction alone. Real own time spent with your child, especially a child during its formative years, is never replaceable with the best care from the best surrogates in the world. They say,

Hold your child’s hand as much as possible because a time will soon come when she wont let you

When that time comes, they’ll emerge from under your wings and be ready to fly away.  Going by the same reasoning that made you compromise on your quality time with them, your cuddle will no longer be of much tangible value to them but they’ll will surely accept a nice chunk of your wealth to progress their own aspirations in life. Which I’m sure you’d give even if you were an absent parent till then. So all you have is around 18 years to enjoy the joys of parenting and for your children to bask in the warmth of something irreplacable. Until then you just have to lump it and modify your undoubtedly tough professional life intelligently around the central fact that your children is priority one always and every time.

There’s only one way for such a change in attitude to work on a global scale, as you’d have already analysed. And this is your bane. We fail as a species, owing to our genetic wiring for competition, to understand that we don’t need to be competitive to stand the best chance to propagate our genes into the future.

We’ve come through a stage wherein only around 2000 humans remained on earth during the ice age following the Toba Eruption (c 75000 years ago). All of us around today are related to those 2000 men and women. It is not a question of if but when. The next mass extinction event is inevitable. In order to survive a future cataclysm, our best bet is not having a world filled with similar genes, even if they are all genius ones. Our best bet is in having the greatest genetic variability. Competition is detrimental to genetic variability as only one kind of genes, the ones that usually win, get to propagate. Competition and survival of the fittest is for those living things that does not know about the Theory of Evolution. There’s no reason that humans must play by the rules of nature that mandate competition for resources as the basic criteria for choosing the next generation in a species. Therefore as intelligent and decent humans, we must know that universal altruism is the most stable social condition for an advanced life form like Humans. However, the key is in the word ‘universal’.

You cannot create something new without smashing what is existing into smithereens

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

To bring in a radical change, we must start from the top and that’s you. All of you high achieving geniuses must take a solemn oath that ‘thy shall abide by the principle of universal altruism and not think ever of sharpening your dagger for the next cut-throat situation. However if you choose not to commit so for all our sake then, you being our hope to lead us into the future, the chances are indeed dismal of overcoming the follies of man and gravitating towards the status of ‘Superman’ that Nietzsche’s foresaw.

You geniuses hold the power in your hands. Your call.

2 thoughts on “The Genius Dilemma

  1. “Casting that fallacy aside, I can understand the power, the popularity and the feeling of self actualisation that comes as the rewards during your life. It is intoxicating and addictive. You must however remember that such fleeting Dopamine rushes in your brain are your only compensation for the lack of release of Oxytocin, the love hormone. “
    Very well brought out….. and I feel that this is the crux of the matter.
    Also let’s not forget that it is these over achiever’s that have made life better for OUR loved ones even if they neglected their own.
    Finally…. I guess it take all sorts to make up the world and it be frightfully dull if it was any other way.



    1. I can’t counter your implied opinion that we probably need men n women of such kind to lead the progress of humankind. I certainly agree that this world will be a dull place without them. I’m merely speculating that even they have the option to strike a balance. Wouldn’t we want them to nurture their progeny (same genes) so that their children can contribute as profoundly as them for the rest of us? Considering the benefits in their own performance that’ll be tangible if they have a stable and loving family, I think it’s in the best interest of all of us that they get their priorities right. Thank you for your view.

      Liked by 1 person

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