Your Zone of Magic

An alternative look at your zone of genius

Rose Ernst
Sep 21 · 4 min read
Photo by Leo Cardelli from Pexels

“Creativity is an energy. It’s a precious energy, and it’s something to be protected. A lot of people take for granted that they’re a creative person, but I know from experience, feeling it in myself, it is a magic; it is an energy. And it can’t be taken for granted.”— Ava DuVernay

I looked at the clock. I did a double-take.

The developmental editing project only took me 60 minutes?

And I’m sure the client will love the results?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this Flow:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

The eight characteristics of flow are:

  1. Complete concentration on the task;
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
  5. Effortlessness and ease;
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills;
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task.

Everyone (hopefully) has these moments at work. For freelancers, writers, editors, and creatives, these moments are golden, not only because you’re living your purpose and enjoying it, but because you usually get paid more. You get paid more because you’re so good at this task it takes half the time it would take someone else and produces double the results.

And if you’re not getting paid more, then it’s time to revisit your pricing structure — which is not the subject of this article.

This state of flow, when we feel good, accomplished, and are producing something amazing, is called our “Zone of Genius,” made famous by Gay Hendricks in The Big Leap.

After reviewing these zones, I offer a reframe on the genius concept, a subtle shift to a more playful and less-work mindset. What I call our Zone of Magic.

Your Four Zones

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

One of Hendrick’s many brilliant points is that most of us live our lives outside our Zone of Genius, hanging out somewhere between the other three zones:

Zone of Incompetence: “all the activities we’re not good at.”

Zone of Competence: “You’re competent at the activities in the Zone of Competence, but others can do them just as well. Successful people often discover that they expend far too much time and energy in this zone.”

Zone of Excellence: “In the Zone of Excellence are the activities you do extremely well. You make a good living in your Zone of Excellence. For successful people, this zone is a seductive and even dangerous trap.”

Zone of Genius: “Your Zone of Genius is the set of activities you are uniquely suited to do. They draw upon your special gifts and strengths. Your Zone of Genius beckons you with increasingly strong calls as you go through your life.”

Hendricks argues that when we try to step into our Zone of Genius (often from our more comfortable Zone of Excellence), we hit an upper-limit problem, which means our ego is no longer in the driver’s seat:

“Now, if your commitment to taking your Big Leap is sincere, your ego will need to be shown the door. Unless you’re lucky, your ego will probably not go quietly. It has a lifetime of employment history behind it.”

Zone of Magic

Since leaving my job as a professor, I’ve often thought of my Zone of Genius, which I used to think was teaching. Turns out that was my Zone of Excellence.

I realized I let others define my Zone of Genius, which often ended up being my Zone of Excellence. You really have to watch and listen to yourself.

The other problem was the word “genius” is intimidating! Sure, it provokes questions of worthiness (who am I to call myself a genius?), but more importantly, often evokes a left-brained analytical way of being, or in the case of musicians, something innate.

It all felt too heavy, even though Hendricks himself emphasizes playfulness:

“An attitude of playful wonder is characteristic of people when they’re operating in the Zone of Genius.”

One day, when I had another genius-session, I said to myself, “that was magic!”

That’s how it feels for you and for the client — like magic. A mystical fun, defying all the productivity-enhancing, energy-saving procedures and devices filling your day. It exists outside space and time. That’s why it’s so special.

Any time I’m too serious or worried if the client will be happy, I ask myself, “Rose, what kind of magic are you going to work today?”

I bring this energy with me to my desk, knowing the expectation of magic is half the fun.

What kind of magic will you work today?

Rose Ernst is an academic editor and writing consultant. Former tenured professor and chair of political science. Happy fiction author. Find her at Sign up for her email list here.

The Startup

Rose Ernst

Written by

Academic editor and writing consultant. Former tenured professor and chair of political science. Happy fiction author. Find her at

The Startup

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