Tuesday, November 30, 2010

talent. overrated or under appreciated?

Talent is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I know because I've got bucket loads. Maybe I mean potential, but what's the difference really. I look at my mirror -- which takes up an entire wall -- and I empathize with what Narcissus had to go through. Except I'm real. If I didn't look like a neanderthal, I'd be the sexiest man alive, I'm sure of it. In the rare moments when I can reclaim my gaze from my self, I think: wowzers I eat shit on a regular basis (not literal), drink like I'm a fish, sleep 4 hours a night and I think my six pack just became an eight. I don't tell you this to brag. Well, maybe a little. Alright a lot.

Neanderthals, so hot right now

I go through cycles, reading up on different topics, because it's nice to be able to shut people down when they start discussing the finer points of what a quantum theory of gravity might look like. Disabusing people of their natural inclinations toward ignorance is just one of those many talent things I've got that I was talking about earlier. This time round I'm recycling my decade old self help book phase, which is probably why I sound so up me self right now. It's good for the self esteem.

A friend of mine, and not just on facebook (does it surprise you that I have some of these? Me too. A man cannot live by talent alone), was telling me about a cool book: Talent is Overrated. I live in Australia which incurs some kind of copyright violation in regards to this title so I read the internet equivalent of the cliff notes version. What separates super duper successful people from the average frustrated chumps out there? The answer will surprise and disappoint you.

And here it is... Work. Wasn't that a curse from god for eating an apple or something? But not just any work will do, we can all hold down a job if we're hungry enough. People who are better than good, like nigh on elite at what they do all appear to engage in an activity called "deliberate practice." Yes, it's as boring and monotonous as it sounds. Instead of just setting outcome goals, these uber overachievers also set specific goals related to the process of their desired outcomes. Usually in areas of their game where they're noticeably lacking (even if the focus area is not a commonly encountered event) and then practice in that uncomfortable region where their weak links reside for hours and hours and hours. 10,000 minimum. Fun times.

This recipe is probably equally capable of producing insanity as it is success. I'm reminded of a tiny excerpt from The Magicians (talking about the protagonist, Quentin, who's preparing for an interview) "now that the ripened fruit of all that preparation was right in front of him he suddenly lost any desire for it. He wasn't surprised. He was used to this anticlimactic feeling, where by the time you've done all the work to get something, you don't even want it anymore." If you almost despise the activity you're doing because of excess repetition you're on the right track. To exalt yourself, you must debase yourself. A little masochism goes a long way. I mean what would Jesus do?

Umm, I knew there was a reason I brought up my abs for the nth time here. But why stop there, I'm a natural born athlete. I'm white (sort of) but for some reason I can dunk like a mother fucker. I'm naturally stronger than most people I know, something to do with those throw back neanderthal genes I think. I find it hard to believe that if a usually over weight person trained hard enough that they'd ever be able to catch up. I know people who train way harder than I do and eat way better and who still look they frequent the local pub 7 days a week. Some people are just naturally predisposed to be better at some things than others. This is were I and the book part ways. But then I remember that I've never done anything useful (like making ridiculous amounts of money) with my athletic ability. Maybe Talent is over rated after all. For the best possible results though, it's probably best to pair your talents with activities that will give you the best possible return on your time investment (like I should never try to learn to sing). Why didn't I think of this 30 years ago?

In the end there's no royal road to self-actualization/bundles of cash money. Talent can take you only so far. Eventually you gonna have to work your butt off. If you're willing to pay the price, you might win. Or you might not. Go all in and you might find yourself sleeping in a cardboard box somewhere down the road. It's better to have loved and lost though, that's what the poets say. This is going to suck.


Justin said...

Sounds like a good read.

Perhaps they should make a companion book called "Experience is Overrated", I've come across people who have years of experience but practically no progress at all (except in arrogance).

In fact, I think this spring chicken's gonna go out and whip some experienced butt real soon...

If one can engage in repetition while identifying something specific that needs improvement, then it is usually enjoyable/addictive. The anticipation of and beating of a clear personal record is fantastic.

Loren said...

They definitely touch on that issue in the book. Most people work their entire lives, but why don't most people attain elite levels proficiency at their work? It explains to some degree how the divide occurs and why some types of experience (i.e. deliberate practice) are better than others.

I heartily agree beating personal records is fun.