I was struck by this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, even though I’m not sure I understand what he meant.
In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
Maybe Emerson was referring to that why-didn’t-I-think-of-that feeling when you see that someone else connected one or two more dots than you did. You thought about a challenge, and maybe you were close to resolving it, but you lacked a key insight to pull it all together. You decided your approach wouldn’t work, but someone did make it work.
If that’s what Emerson had in mind, it’s puzzling that he speaks of “every work of genius.” It would be incredibly arrogant to think that you almost came up with every great idea you see. Maybe he means that we recognize genius best when it relates to something we’ve struggled with.
What do you think Emerson meant? When have your rejected ideas come back to you?