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Talent Can Only Take You So Far
Fulfilling a dream, lifestyle change, or goal doesn’t require talent. Effort is the most often overlooked common denominator for success.
I've mentioned before that coaches often fall into the trap of falling in love with talent rather than effort. Chasing talent is much easier because it's often the most noticeable characteristic in athletes. The results that talent can produce are also appealing, especially in advanced levels of competition. But chasing talent alone is not only futile but lazy. It takes much more time and attention to assess effort. As we refine our plans to make lifestyle changes, the easiest thing we can do every step of the way is try. If we truly want to fulfill a dream, lifestyle change, or goal we don’t need to be experts or the most talented. Effort is the most often overlooked common denominator for success.
As a kid, I loved watching football (I still do). All the athletes on the gridiron made spectacular catches, tackles, blocks, and runs look artistically easy. I tried mimicking my favorite players' seemingly effortless skill every chance I got. As I entered junior high and high school, trying to make everything look easy set me back from reaching the limits of my potential. At the time, however, I didn't realize it. I kept finding my place on the "B" teams year after year. I was afraid of appearing to give 100% effort, and it resulted in failure, so I continued to hold back. It created a viscous cycle of self-doubt and negative self-perception that sometimes still haunts me as an adult. I can still hear the same negative thoughts that hounded me as a teenager when I think about a new career path or writing endeavor: "Look at how hard he's trying! All of that effort for nothing. What a failure. He shouldn't have even tried."
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I finally had enough of being a "B" team underachiever spring football of my 11th-grade year and the summer going into my senior year of high school. Don't get me wrong, many "B" team athletes give great effort but need time to refine their skills. Some of my favorite games I've coached have been "B" team games. But I was on these teams because I did not give effort. I finally decided to pour 100% of myself into being the best wide receiver I could be. When I decided to change my effort level in the face of my negative self-perception and self-doubt, I saw almost instantaneous results. By the end of my high school football career, I earned a starting position on our varsity team all season-long and 2nd-Team All-District honors by the end of the season. For me it was confirmations that I always contained the talent but lacked the effort.
Change can happen, but it won't be because of talent only. I’ve played alongside and coached many talented athletes who were content with minimal inputs. Their talent took them places many wish they could go, but their lack of effort resulted in mediocre outputs.
Even if our "natural talent" is beyond the ordinary, as long as we put minimal effort into refining and perfecting our skills, the results can never be as good as their maximum potential. Angela Duckworth says in Grit, "Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn't."
Everyone has talent because we all have a passion for something. My passion is writing and teaching, so I've dedicated time to writing and publishing something every week. I'd be lying if I said those high school thoughts of self-doubt don't creep up every week. When they do, it's tempting to hide away in the distractions of other "necessary" tasks to complete. I fear that all this time and effort won't result in anything substantial. However, my 16 and 17-year-old self reminds me that all I need is effort, and the rest will take care of itself.
As Duckworth says, "With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive."
Which do you think is more vital to success—talent or effort?