Have you ever wondered how it is that some people seem to have natural talent (in whatever activity: sports, music, academics, professions). In school, It was a constant source of puzzlement to me how some kids could just open a math book and understand everything in there so easily. I often wondered what was different in their brain from mine. For others, music genius comes naturally. We see those “geniuses” pop up on facebook every once in a while. You know, the 11-year old that is playing first string in a symphonic orchestra.
It always looks like things come easily to them. It can be frustrating, really, how some just seem to soak up talent by osmosis. The rest of us sit on the sidelines wondering why we did not win the genetic lottery or receive the “golden trophy” of potential talent as we left the maternity ward. What is it, we may wonder, that these talented people have that we somehow missed out on?
Is It Always About Natural Talent?
It can be discouraging in school or university, where everyone is measured according to performance and rewarded with academic “money” (grades), to see the same people getting recognized, over and over, for their high achievements Some of them don’t even have to put in that much effort; they are just “naturally” smart. Then there are the ones who are a “natural‘ on every court, field, rink or wherever they play sports. They shoot right in and become Joe-Pro from the get-go. In the business world, there are those for whom everything comes so easily – they get the clients, they get the promotions while the rest of us sit and wonder what is wrong with us.
The Starting Point Really Doesn’t Matter
Everybody starts in different places We may start from awkward beginnings, seemingly without out much talent that stands out at all. However, over time, whether we improve is really entirely up to us. The starting point doesn’t much matter. The natural talents that we have, begin to take a back seat over the course of time. Really, it depends on what we do with these talents through our own efforts that will make the difference.
Everything we do in has a beginning. While it is true that some people have a natural leaning toward certain skills or abilities, talent is much, much more than that. Even the 11-year-old music prodigy still has to practice over and over. Micheal Jordan was not born knowing how to play basketball and Micheal Phelps had to first learn how to swim. Some of the talents that go unseen are those within us such as determination, refusal to quit, perseverance and willingness to fail. Without these very important qualities, no amount of “natural talent” will get us very far.
So, we all have a starting point and a potential. It is just that our starting point and our potential may differ from someone else’s and it may be in a very different area of skill. Comparing apples and oranges does not make the apples or the oranges taste any different.
Most of Us Really Are Just Average
Most of us are just Joe-average, not overly talented nor underly talented. We like to think that we (or our children) are above average (like in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone community), We tend to overestimate our abilities even though we may not have all that much working ability. We like to think that just by watching others (who make things look so simple) we are just as good.
When we consider all the possible skills that human beings can have, we really just come out average. We can’t be good at everything and, overall, we are really just people gifted with potential. But untapped and undeveloped potential remains just potential and nothing more. What makes us come out of the “average” and into the “talented arena” is really a result of our choice to dream, to persevere, to plug away, to fail, and to not ever be defeated.
But They Make it Look So Easy
Martial artists (for example) make a punch look so smooth, easy and, of course, natural. What we (the spectators) don’t factor in are all the hours of practice the martial artist has put in to master this skill and others like it. To master this skill, the martial artist has to learn to stand in a correct stable position and twist his body to transfer the energy from his torso into the punching arm. He must clench his fist at a specific angle to avoid injury to the fingers or wrist. This skill, one of many skills in martial arts, can take many hours and failures to perfect.
I have done martial arts (9 years) and I can tell you that to be a master of any skill in the martial arts (karate in my case), it requires repetition after repetition to develop muscle memory and automatic movements. Yes, it may look easy, done by a master, but that master has had to work hard at hand-eye coordination, strategy, developing rapid responses, and anticipating the moves of opponents (sometimes several moves). The result looks smooth and expert, but it is the result and not the practice.
The Bottom Line: We Need to Do the Time
The bottom denominator is time. Whatever we hope to accomplish and do well will require a sustained effort (and focus) over a significant amount of time. Most things are harder than they seem at the beginning; the pros just make it look easy.
The more effort we put into something over time and the longer we continue doing this, the better the results we will eventually get. The catch: most people will not try that hard. Statistically, the majority of people will eventually find that it is either too hard or takes too much effort or too much time and they eventually give up.
So if we decide to stick with it, trying hard, giving it (whatever the activity is) our best, keeping at it over time, we will eventually outdistance than those who began with more natural talent than we had. The opportunities are there, success is available, but are we willing to try hard enough, consistently enough and long enough to improve and narrow the gap?
The Tortoise and the Hare
The hare in the story had everything going for him. Winning this race was a done deal. In fact, it was laughable racing against a tortoise – how could a slow-in-the-mud tortoise even think he had a chance? So the hare slacked off, had some burritos under a tree and settled down for a snooze But the tortoise just kept plodding along, slow and steady.
Maybe the hare had natural skill. Maybe he was Joe-Pro strutting around. He didn’t even need to try -he was just fast. But what he failed to realize was that the compounding effect of consistent effort over time applied by the tortoise was gaining ground. At one point his bank account of talent was not enough. The tortoise may not have had natural ability, but he certainly had perseverance -that “stickability” and that was all he needed to win.
Don’t Be Like the Hare
For those who had an easy time, there is a danger of depending on or counting on these abilities to get you through. At one point, life will catch up and this “bank account” of talent will run out. If we don’t buckle down and adopt a regular discipline, if we just sit on our laurels and think we are good enough, those other ones (the less talented, but hard-working ones) will eventually run right past us and leave us in the dust. But, if we are one of those “gifted ones” and choose to adopt a solid work ethic, we will soar right past everyone.
Taking charge of ourselves is a key component to success; a major player in determining what we will be able to accomplish in the course of our life, how much of an impact we will have on people around us (families and communities) and, ultimately how happy we feel as we go through life.
Seeing ourselves as an asset, something valuable that can bring enormous personal, social and monetary returns, means we are more likely to protect and grow that asset. We need to take charge of making good choices and decisions in order to protect this asset. One of the best keys to managing ourselves well is to realize that there is a “scoreboard of life.” Everything we do will have either a positive or negative impact short and long-term, so keeping an eye on the scoreboard (how we are doing at what we are doing) is a good way to keep track of our progress and see where we can improve.
Get In and Get Wet
Going from being a spectator in life’s bleachers to actually buckling down and learning to master the skills we need to move forward can easily overwhelm us. We begin to realize that there is a lot more to success than we imagined. We may begin to question ourselves regarding our goals: “will we ever be able to get where we want to go?” ” Will we ever be able to succeed at it?” “What about all those people who are already so good, will I ever be able to catch up?” “There is just too much to learn,”
Sometimes we need a jumpstart to pull us out of this “deep freeze.” Sometimes we need to stop behaving like a deer staring at the headlights of a car, locked in panic. Sometimes we need to shake ourselves up a bit and dive in. The water will only be cold for a bit. After that, we will be on our way. We can get mad enough at ourselves to start telling ourselves a new story; we are just as able as anyone else.
Yes, We Do Need to Change
At one point we realize that we need to change some things, starting with how we think. As the saying goes:
If you want to change some things in your life, you need to change some things in your life
Of course, nothing happens overnight. Whatever skills we are trying to master, whatever business we are trying to grow may require hundred if not thousands of hours of focus and practice. It may require hundreds of failures (big and small). Naturally, It will always require perseverance and hard work. All this focus and practice, all this work will eventually make it look so easy to do in the eyes of the bleacher crowd simply because we have practiced so much, in the right way, for enough time that we have achieved mastery.
And, We Will Be Amazed
When we have finally come through the total immersion and come out on the other side with mastered skills, we can look at the process with amazement. First off, we may be amazed that we got through it all and survived. We may be amazed by our strength, our perseverance, and our staying power. We may be amazed at all the steps we had to pass through, at all the failures and all the times we had to pick ourselves back up again and move forward. We may be amazed at the complexity of everything we had to learn to get good at what we do.
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