Momentum Podcast: 37

Defending Brilliance

by Alex Charfen

Episode Description

Over the last 40 years, modern education has devolved to a system whose stated goal is the standardization of all human beings. Any child that is different is seen as having an issue that needs to be resolved so the drive towards standardization can succeed. 

When I think of these young hunters strapped at a desk, straining not to move and willing themselves to try to pay attention I feel their pain because I was one of them. 

In this episode, I share an article co-written with Dennis Welch where he has helped me capture the essence of this argument and why so many children today are seen as broken.

Full Audio Transcript

I'm Alex Charfen and this is the Momentum Podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, world makers, shot takers, and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution.

Sure, we pay attention to the rules, but only so we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat, because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future.

Instead of just daydreaming what could be, we enter the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world, because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution and we always will be. This is episode 37 of the Momentum Podcast, defending brilliance.

Today I'm going to do something a little bit different. I have been working with Dennis Welch for years now. Dennis has become a close friend, and also one of the best writing partners that I ever could have asked for. He has helped me take my ideas and my concepts that I can talk well about, and has helped me transform them into words that people listen to and words that get published in major publications, and words that have gotten over 180,000 shares on a single article on Success Magazine.

Dennis has this magic way about taking concepts and structuring them and writing about them so that they touch your soul. Dennis sent me a text message today and said, "Hey, do you have a second for me to read something to you?" I know that every time he does that, what it means is he's written an article or he's written a piece, or a chapter or something that he wants to share with me, that he thinks strikes that nerve that we're looking to strike.

Today, like so many other times before, I've called Dennis as we were driving through downtown Aspen this morning. Sorry, this afternoon. I called Dennis and put him on speakerphone, and my whole family was in the car. We actually got loaned a Tesla by Tesla Aspen for a couple days so we're driving this incredible SUV, and with very little noise on the inside. So, everybody could hear the speakerphone really well and Dennis read the following article to me. Like so many times before, both Cadey and I were emotional and just humbled at how Dennis can take the concepts that I can talk through and do this to them.

So without any further delay, I want to share with you an article that I think is critically important because over my career of working with entrepreneurs, the amount of clients that I've had who have talked to me about some issue with their children has gone from high to near 100%. Almost every entrepreneur I've worked with has been told their child has trouble paying attention or doesn't listen, or might need medication, or has behavioral issues, or has learning issues or whatever those things are.

I have perspective of over two decades working directly with people like us where I can tell you that just wasn't how it used to be. Kids have gone from maybe getting a call home from school to being labeled with microaggressions, to being a kid like me who couldn't really pay attention in class, to now schools near mandating medication. They don't mandate it, but they get really close.

Dennis helped me capture so much of what I feel about what's going on in an article he called, "Defending Brilliance," but this will end up being an excerpt out of the book we will have coming out called, "Defending Brilliance." For every one of you who either was the child or has the child who is struggling in a system that doesn't work for people like us, and wasn't really built around serving people like us.

"Sit down, stop talking, quit going so fast, and making everyone else uncomfortable." We've all heard it, and perhaps in the one place where we should find the most safety, the classroom. Let me begin by saying that most teachers I know are well meaning and caring. The system, though, is broken. It makes our jobs virtually impossible, especially in regard to a vitally important segment of the population they see every day, the entrepreneurial personality type, the tiny evolutionary hunters who struggle to stay still and follow the rules.

The numbers don't lie. Increasingly, children are being labeled as disordered or disabled, or broken, or some other thing, and it goes up by double digits every year. In the midst of this, we are failing to see that there's a clear correlation that over the last 40 years, schools have eliminated or discontinued movement. They've all together thrown out self-direction and they've created an exclusive and I would say obsessive focus on standardizing human beings. But here's the truth. Human beings cannot be standardized, and labeled, nor should they.

We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us can do at least one thing better than 10,000 other people. Brilliance has never looked standard, and can ever appear to be broken. Albert Einstein didn't speak until he was four. George Washington couldn't tell a lie. Thomas Jefferson had an inability to relate to others. Tesla had an intense sensitivity to light and sound. Sir Isaac Newton was quiet, not good at small talk, had extreme focus, and would even forget to eat when he had too much to think about.

Today, Einstein would be called Asperger's. Washington, maybe even autistic. Jefferson would be suspected of ADHD. Tesla, mania. Sir Isaac Newton, social anxiety disorder. We give broken labels to the very qualities that throughout history have been critical signposts and evidence of brilliance. Here's the challenge for a child who is brilliant. Brilliance has its own look, its own set of issues.

People that we revere and call brilliant are quite different from the rest of the world, but amazingly, very similar to other brilliant people. If you study just about anyone in history who is worth remembering, people who have done other worldly things and accomplished them more than anyone else, you'll see a pattern. For example, brilliant children learn asynchronously. They learn and read at a different time than everyone else. They learn to read at a different time than anyone else, math at a different time.

They might not be able to tie their shoes for years, yet they can write poetry or sing, or dance, or play a musical instrument, or do mathematical calculations in their head. They often times have asynchronous physical growth. They also experience asynchronous psychological development. The translation? Brilliant children don't all develop the same. They don't all show up the same. They might seem childlike in one instance, and then talk like a full grown and mature adult in another.

But this is certain. They do have above average skills and abilities, and if they are nurtured and encouraged, they will do things. They will do great things someday. But see, brilliant children also have below average skills and abilities. They are challenged to follow direction. They have a hard time with things that other kids have an easy time with. They squirm in their seats, they want to move. What happens is brilliance appears incongruent, because a brilliant child, when they are excited about something, can do that one thing all day long.

But when they don't care, they have trouble even making it happen at all. It looks contradictory, because the same child that speaks with the maturity level that shocks the adults around them might 10 minutes later being lying on the floor kicking and screaming like an infant. When we look at what's happened over the past 40 years, let's be realistic where some of the challenges to brilliance are coming from.

Phrases like ADD, ADHD, or any other of hundreds of other labels and mislabels have become a code for, "This kid needs medication to be able to sit through class like the normal kids do." But when we look at the educational movements in the past 40 years, we have to understand what's been driving the amount of control, the amount of constraint that children today deal with. Schools were originally created to condition human beings to working in factories. The bells, the whistles, the breaks, the work periods, everything was created around the time of the Industrial Revolution to help us get used to working in factories.

Only we don't have factories anymore. Sadly, we're still teaching kids the same way. For some reason, the system works. Those who can do well in school go on to become doctors and lawyers. They have an easier time of it. They memorize the material and regurgitate it, and they become summa cum laude. But God forbid that you be an Edison or an Einstein. You probably won't graduate at all. You might even wind up in jail, and you'll be pretty sure it was your fault because somebody, an authority, will be happy to tell you so.

Something needs to change, and soon. If not, we're sure to lose an entire generation of brilliance. Those people should be traveling out into the future and seeing what's there for the rest of the world, and then bringing it back and making it come to pass, will end up discouraged and broken. We need to build a system to educate and encourage these young men and women who look crazy, because they truly believe they can do things like launch a rocket into space then land it on a tiny platform so they can reuse it again, or explain the universe in a simple formula.

We don't need these people to be normal or standard in any way. We need them to lock themselves in a room and appear half crazy while they try and fail 10,000 times to invent the next light bulb, or figure out a way to fly, or go to Mars, or improve the lives of all of us in some way that we would have never have thought of or predicted. Why? Because they're brilliant, and they always have been. Even when the system and those who run it say they aren't.

I hope that meant something to you, like it did for me, when Dennis sent it to me yesterday. This has been a pretty intense week for me. I've done a few podcasts that hit pretty close to home and this one is definitely one of them. In fact, earlier in the week I did a live post and my elementary school principal was actually on it which was so wild. Because he's one of those few adults when I was a kid who I think helped get me through school, helped get me through life.

I had a hard time going out to recess or lunch, so I used to just go to the office and read, somewhat obsessively, and I don't even think that they would allow that today. But Gene [Bedley 00:13:17] used to just let me sit outside of his office and so I learned how to read. I learned a ton, and by sitting outside of the office, I learned how all of the school politics worked, and how everything in the office worked, and I did that for years.

So, I know that there's so many entrepreneurs today that have kids that were like me, or maybe even like them. They're being told that they are somewhat broken or less than, and I just want all of you to know that if you think of anyone in history who matters to be remembered, anyone that you remembered, they were just like us. Every person who has been labeled or frustrated or put down or experienced the cognitive dissonance of just not being able to create the momentum they want, throughout history has felt just like we have.

I know that that has made you feel isolated and alone, and sometimes like a party of one. But I want you to just take a deep breath, and remember all those magical people throughout history who changed the world, who left their mark, their dent in the universe. I want you to know that that is your club, that is who you are, and there is nothing wrong with you, and you are not alone.

Thank You For Listening!

I am truly grateful that you have chosen to spend your time listening to me and my podcast.

Please feel free to reach out if you have a question or feedback via our Contact Us page.

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With gratitude,


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