John Williams is a genius because he worked hard on his music skills and he got the right motivation for it.
He's a genius because he was born with innate musical talent, and worked hard to hone that talent.
It is politically expedient in countries like America to propagate the idea that 'all men are created equal', but that's a philosophicalideal, nothing more. We are not all equally capable of becoming the next Mozart, the next Einstein, or the next Steve Jobs - each requires a particular talent, the lack of which no amount of hard work can overcome.
I agree. I'm very tired of people who just keep preaching "everyone can succeed if they put their minds to it". You know when you can do something, and you know when you can't. Generally, you naturally converge towards what you are good at, at around age 15-25. There are exceptions, of course, and you can be talented at multiple things, but on average, people are aware of their limits and know them very well. That's not a flaw, it's a fact of life - you can't be good at everything. And, yes, you aren't born with an innate knowledge of your talents - you discover those throughout early life as you grow up and experiment with different things, and it's a natural process which should be encouraged but not forced.
Just the same way that if I suddenly decided to learn to play the piano and practised every day for years, I would still not be a good musician at the end of the road. Sure, I'd be able to convert sheet music into sound with an acceptably low error rate. But there would be no inspiration, no creativity, and most of all no fun - my brain just isn't wired that way.
As for the actual topic, I've had people call me "genius" before, a couple times, but I don't think anything of it. No, not because I'm some arrogant jerk who takes that for granted, but because I know it doesn't mean anything. It's merely a friendly way of saying "wow, that's cool but I don't understand any of it". I am a "genius" from their layman perspective, in this particular domain, because that's what I'm good at. And I also sometimes think the same thing when I see people doing stuff I would have never thought of myself (e.g. building a cleverly designed contraption, or coming up with a really smart math derivation, etc..).
So instead of endlessly dwelling on how you can't do X and Y, I think the most productive approach is to make peace with your weaknesses, and try and make the best of your strong points instead. Again, this is not fatalistic, it's just common sense. People who think anyone can succeed at anything are simply delusional.
To me, "all men are created equal" doesn't mean "everyone is good at everything". It means "give everyone a chance to find what they are good at".
Edited by Bacterius, 19 January 2013 - 01:22 PM.