One Sunday night as I tucked my seven year old son into his bed, I asked him, “Hyrum, what do you want to accomplish this week?” He thought for a brief moment and then responded in what seemed to be a random response. “I hate my reading books.” “Oh, what is it you don’t like about them?” Hyrum gave it to me straight: “Well, they’re boring, and kind of stupid and just not very interesting or fun.” I thought for a moment about his reading books. They were grade appropriate, and would teach him all the right sounds and beginning words to build a foundation for his reading. I thought they were cute.
Just for a brief moment, my head and my heart battled each other. My mind held onto the idea that he needed to read these books so that he could become a good reader for his age and grade. My heart and mentor’s intuition had another idea: “Hyrum, I think you are ready to read chapter books.” “Really, do you think so?” His eyes were big; his voice showed obvious interest. “Would you like to choose one right now?” He shrugged his shoulders, “Okay.” We went to the bookshelf in his bedroom and looked over the assortment of books. He settled on Dinosaurs Before Dark, placed it by his bed, and contentedly went to sleep.
Early the next morning I found him awake and reading. Suddenly I didn’t have to get him to read, he wanted to and he put in much more time than I expected of him. By the end of the next day, he had finished his first chapter book and started his second. He was drawn into the act of reading by his own interest and his own love. At that point artificial, external motivations were no longer needed. He loved it and this love caused him to spend time in it and naturally his ability increased.
Genius happens when people love what they do. It is a love of the activity itself that draws a person to it and to spend time in it. Then as the hours, weeks, and years accumulate talent or genius is developed and shared. It isn’t the sheer will of discipline, but the love of something that ultimately makes the difference. As parents and educators we often think it is the opposite—that the discipline will bring about the talent. It is both, but when the love is there and alive the discipline follows and comes from a place of enjoyment instead of drudgery.
This principle is evident in learning to play an instrument. Dorothy Delay was a famous violin teacher. She often encountered those who doubted the wisdom in allowing young, prodigy-type children to practice for so many hours in a day. When asked about this, she said that these children love to play their instruments. When they cannot play it is painful for them. They spend the hours playing drawn to it from a love not from an external pushing by parents and teachers. Genius comes from a place of loving the activity for its own sake so much so that much time is spent in it and simply spending this kind of time naturally grows genius.