To be great, One need not be special. One only has to be willing to work hard at it.
“No great achiever – even those who made it seem easy – ever succeeded without hard work.” ~Jonathan Sacks
Very often one hears that people are born with natural talent. This is just not true. We are born with hardly any innate skills. Excellence therefore, is primarily born not of inherent ability, but of deliberate practice.
We all want to be excellent at what we do. So, how does talent actually work? Actually, you can be good at whatever you want… within reason. The keywords are … Whatever you want …
The questions that now arise are – How do you know? Where are you supposed to focus? What if you don’t even know what you’re passionate about?
So what do you do?
There are umpteen books, essays and writings which extol one to strive for greatness. People struggle and agonize over this conundrum for lifetimes. They chase one career after another, just to realize that they were originally cut-out for a third. Necessarily, one has to pass through all these processes. The answer lies in the lessons that must be learned.
Learnings start in school. The entire environment in school conspires to push one towards seeking out new opportunities. Every day, children arrive at school and return home, wonder-struck at the myriad possibilities there small world provides. They pick up new abilities, new habits, new choices. Sports, Music, Arts, multiple avenues of learning. Yet, the child is not born with any of these abilities. Yes, he is drawn to a certain type, but he knows nothing of it. The only way he can actually get better is therefore by practice. And practice. And more practice.
Although, a school provides the breeding ground for developing these talents and abilities, it is the home where the child actually begins learning. It is a natural progression from parent to child. The first things children want to do, and excel at, are what their parents do. Day in and day out. One would see that musician parents produce musically inclined children. Academicians produce researchers. And so on.
One will also note that the school environment is limited. And generally, the child’s upward progress will flat-line at some point. This is because their abilities are not being challenged enough. They get comfortable with a certain level of talent. As that is what their immediate audience demands. So, why do they need to get any better? This is where the first steps towards greatness actually germinate. They just want to get better !
They step out. Out of their comfort zones. Into the world. They expose themselves to more challenges. They begin to see others who are equally good or better. And these people tell themselves that they can get better too. And with more practice, they begin to realize that they can now do things in their field which sometime back, they never imagined were possible.
Thinking that talent has a limit and that one is born to only achieve a certain level of skill, people grow comfortable with what seems a reasonable amount of talent. Always tell yourself – ‘I can get much better’.
Then, there is nothing holding you back.
As time passes by, interests wane. Sometimes, other attractions pop-up. Sometimes, responsibilities crop up. Sometimes, people just don’t want to do it anymore. We call this flagging motivation. You know, at every stage of your life, you are the best at a particular activity. As good as you ever thought you could be. The lurking danger is that you may no longer want that ability.
At this stage, ask yourself – ‘If it’s possible for anyone to acquire any skill, why don’t more people do it? Why don’t they get good at things they’ve always wanted to do, like cooking or sports or playing the piano?’
The first answer, of course, is that it’s difficult, much harder than people realize, and requires an incredible amount of discipline. It just takes time and effort, which most people don’t have or aren’t willing to give.
But the second answer, the one that’s not addressed enough, is ‘motivation’.
Eminem reminds us – “If people take anything from my music, it should be motivation to know that anything is possible as long as you keep working at it and don’t back down.”
And so it begins. Where this comes from is a mystery that escapes the current grasp of science. But make no mistake. You cannot become great without motivation.
Thinking over this, one cannot ignore the thought that pops up – ‘If I can do anything, what makes me choose one pursuit over another?’
It has to come down to desire, to passion, to what truly motivates you. Otherwise, you will eventually lose interest and never master a skill.
“A successful individual typically sets his next goal somewhat but not too much above his last achievement. In this way he steadily raises his level of aspiration.” – Kurt Lewin
The last of the learnings is sorting out hobbies and pastimes from something one really wants to do. For many, what they did at school were things they did not want to fully dedicate themselves to. They were just hobbies. One needs to give some serious thought to these activities. Think of these as greater than just misplaced passions.
Parker Palmer writes, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am”.
It’s not just about being good at it. It’s about being good at the right thing. Many of us could spend our lives climbing the ladder of success only to realize it was leaning up against the wrong wall. So be careful what you choose to excel at.
Listen to that tiny voice in your head. Listen to your life. It is your heart calling out your true desires. “Your calling,” Frederick Buechner famously wrote, “is the place where your deepest joy meets the world’s deepest need.” That’s what personal greatness looks like: finding what the world needs and what makes you come alive and combining them. That’s your sweet spot.
What it takes to succeed in the world and how to find that thing you were meant to do –
- Find something you love. Ideally, surround yourself with others who share your passion. Your environment matters.
- Do it until you can become good, eventually even great, at it. And don’t worry if you’re not that good yet. This is what practice is for. But make sure this is something you are motivated to do even when you are bad at it.
- Share your gift in a way that helps other people. If you do this, you actually can get paid to do what you love. Otherwise, it will only ever be a hobby.
Remember to begin by discarding the idea that “people are born with it.” It’s just not true. Talent has little or nothing to do with greatness. You can make yourself into any number of things, and you can even make yourself great.
Because the truth is, just about anyone can get better at just about anything.
“Take those chances and you can achieve greatness, whereas if you go conservative, you’ll never know. I truly believe what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Even if you fail, learning and moving on is sometimes the best thing.” ~ Danica Patrick