My father for lack of any better term was a genius in his heyday, a top-of-the-class summa cum laude graduate of virtually every academic institution he attended from high school to his undergraduate alma mater to the University of Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business. A genius is a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, creative productivity, or is associated with the advancement of knowledge. In his prime, my father registered a MENSA-worthy intelligence quotient (IQ) of 145. Geniuses sometimes are socially awkward or apt to lack empathy and emotional intelligence. Many times, however, geniuses are a perfect synergy of emotional intelligence and cognitive ability, and high-performing professionally.

Neither me nor my siblings are geniuses. . . the Setliff children may variously register intelligent quotients between 120s and 130s on the Stanford-Binet and Wenschler tests. My sister is a nurse practitioner and my brother is a training manager in a discipline that’s vary mechanically-inclined. I’m often engaged in Information Technology and Digital Marketing work.

General intelligence, known as g factor, refers to the existence of a broad mental capacity that influences performance on cognitive ability measures. I read a lot about psychometric theories on intelligence. I learned intelligence cannot become a short-cut for hard work or study, and I was often a fan of ‘short-cuts.’ Applied intelligence (whatever the nominal value) works best when concurrent with hard work.

But that would be beside my major point, living in the shadow of a genius gives one a rapid self-assessment of their cognitive limitations. When I was a small child I loved the story of The Little Engine That Could. When I was younger I was gifted Marilyn Von Savant’s Brain Building in Just 12 Weeks: The World’s Smartest Person Shows You How to Exercise Yourself Smarter by an aunt and uncle in 1991, and I obsessed with the notion of improving cognitive ability by environmental stimulus such as cognitive exercises, reading and study. As a teen and twenty-something, I read up on psychometric investigations of cognitive abilities and human intelligence to include books such as The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability and the more controversial tome The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. I loved the sci-film Gattaca. I came to accept a preponderance of inductively-reasoned evidences that cognitive ability owes to a combination of both genetic and environmental factors — and the predominant influence is genetic / hereditary. I also accepted that I was not a genius by any technical definition, nevertheless I was a beneficiary of a positive environment and certain positive hereditary traits that contributed to my cognitive abilities even if I fell short of any claimant title to being a genius in any meaningful sense.

The sci-fi film Gattaca contrasts a world where genetically engineered "valids" come to surpass the societal value of "invalids." Is it utopia? Or dystopia? It all depends on the hand of cards dealt you in this world.

My father applied his intellect differently than I did. He was very practical and concerned himself with applied intelligence such as practical life skills, such as accounting, business, and entrepreneurship. That was pretty much it. I was the much more prolific reader. I overcompensated by becoming an obsessive reader to ameliorate and overcome my perceived shortcomings. Rather than persist in unhealthy habits, such as the so called “Little Man’s Disease” — the behavior traits observed among those lacking in stature, or other perceived shortcomings — whereby they demonstrate a psychological predisposition to develop extra-assertive (at times combative and overbearing) personalities, I opted instead for an underdog approach, which entails humility in recognizing my limitations, and concerted effort to broaden the constraints of those limitations. I found motivation in the 1992 film Rudy about the Notre Dame walk-on student, Rudy Ruettiger. I also drew inspiration from the accounts of entrepreneurs and inventors that had failures and setbacks in life, the academy, and yet went on to accomplish great things through dedication, hard work, and perseverance.

For all practical purposes, like Rudy, I was an underachiever and disengaged in high school, in spite of winning Who’s Who in American High Schools three years in a row. In junior high, I applied myself much vigorously at first, but towards the end of high school, I grew aloof, indifferent and rarely studied. I was obsessed with outside reading, playing PC strategy games, programming web sites, computer-aided draft and design (CADD) designing starter homes, which I did for money. As a teenager, I was obsessed with extracurricular activities, such as entrepreneurship and earning money.

My father influenced me in this direction by starting a sideline business as an Ingraham/MicroD distributor of software and personal computers in the early 1980s. I had access to most of the major computers throughout this time from the TI 99 4/A to the original 1984 Macintosh to the IBM PS/2 to the Compaq Deskpro 286, 386, 486, and later the Pentium, before graduating to Dell Computers. This gave me a privileged life with access to the latest personal computers, programming cookbooks, and I learned Basic as a prepubescent child by reverse-engineering cookbooks through inductive reasoning. By 1990, I was onto Visual Basic, and later the web-based programming languages HTML and Javascript. I loved fiction novels like John Grisham, D.C. Poyer, Tom Clancy, Frank Herbert, and Issac Asimov. I read incessantly and won recognition for creative writing.

I tried to redeem myself in college, and had a 3.83 GPA in my undergrad major itself, but a B average in outside subjects. I averaged a higher median GPA in graduate studies. I’ve always faced the distraction of wanting to read and study outside things independent of assignments. My library grew exorbitantly as did my vocabulary. I came to realize that certain things I deemed worthy of esteem, such as the classics, the humanities, and history had value independent of their utility in earning a living. I came to fall back on the study of such things. I didn’t believe they found a greater embrace, however, by trying to turn them into a career. In fact, I came to realize it was a folly to become a college professor regardless of mentors who pushed me in that direction. The market for Ph.D’s is simply not present.

Living in the shadow of a genius had this overarching impact on my life. It compelled me to strive for improvement, often in a futile manner, and at times broaching wish-fulfillment. Nevertheless, I strove to better myself through applied knowledge, wisdom, and recognizing that hard work (obviously lacking amid the ill-discipline of youth) is requisite for success. I’ve written a 400+ page manuscript for a constitutional history book. I programmed web sites, helped develop mobile apps, and worked for start-ups that had momentary success and flopped. Being a ‘genius‘ alone certainly doesn’t give one character, nor work ethic, nor motivation to persevere. I am convinced that regardless of one’s cognitive limitations that ‘genius effort‘ can be achieved by a mindset of dedication and hard work, and doing the best with one’s God-given abilities, and talents. New skills and competencies can be developed as well. What’s the true secret to personal growth, and ever expanding knowledge, skills, and talents? Dedication, effort and perseverance.

The rivalry between Vincent (Ethan Hawke) and Anton (Loren Dean) comes to a head in one final competition.

My younger brother once found himself in disputation with me, and he was critical. I remember referencing this video many moons ago in 2011, and on the heels of it, I rhetorically asked him the words of Cain to God: “I’m I my brother’s keeper?” To which I answered my own question: “Yes I am.” I was mindful there were larger principles than our sibling rivalry. I no longer saw myself in competition with him. I had transcended it with age and wisdom. I extol his success and I am happy for him.

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