Talent. Some people seem to innately have it; others develop it; most want it. Some strive for it while others are content to simply remain in awe of it. But as a professional instructor with over three decades of experience, I can say with a high degree of certainty that innate talent is both rare and overrated. I have met hundreds of people who thought they were far more talented than what they actually were; I have seen many hundreds of people who, having no ‘natural’ talent to speak of, became highly talented over the course of their training. Personally, I don’t rate so-called natural talent very highly. I have come across quite a few people who seemed imbued with natural athleticism and an ability to learn quickly and effectively but many (perhaps the majority) of them didn’t have the ‘stick-at-it ability’ that is a prerequisite for true success.
Many so-called naturals seem to be very enthusiastic in the early learning stages and as long as their skill acquisition is on a steep upward trend, they are fine; when things plateau out, though, or they hit a rough patch, they fall away or begin looking for the next thing to which they can apply their natural talent with greater ease.
As a professional instructor, I much prefer dogged adherence to the training regime than natural talent. Give me someone with a strong work ethic and determination over someone with innate athleticism and coordination any day!
It is a part of my personal mission to instil people with talent. In fact, I’ll go one step further: my mission is to imbue ordinary people with extra-ordinary talent. Almost anyone can acquire extraordinary talent by simply putting in an extraordinary amount of time. Hit 10,000 golf balls off the tee and you’ll be able to hit a golf ball a long way; go fly fishing 300 days a year and you’ll catch plenty of trout, guaranteed; roll on the mat for 30 hours a week and in a year or two, having done more training than most people will do in their lifetime, it would be no surprise to find yourself standing on the podium. It’s simple: time spent equates to talent acquired. The good thing about this is that pretty much anyone can do it; anyone can achieve (within reason) most things they want, if they want it badly enough and are prepared to make the sacrifices to put in the time. The bad thing is that this precludes most people from experiencing the extraordinary.
But, I say, there is a middle road.
I think that extraordinary talent can be earned and achieved by being smarter in our approach to those things we want. For example, there is no need to be a fitness fanatic and live in the gym to achieve well-above-average fitness. By doing the right kind of training, in conjunction with the right kind of diet, great results can be enjoyed without needing to give up our day job and set up camp in the gym. So very often, people equate ‘more’ with ‘better’— and although this can be true in many circumstances, it isn’t necessarily always the case.
Smart training is the right mix of a number of things: efficient utilisation of time, correct sequencing, optimisation of focus on the most important things, creating the best possible culture/environment for success, etc. Smart training just makes sense to me. Training, in anything, is a kind of investment, and with most investments, we should be looking for the best possible return. I always want the best possible return on my investment in time. If I had a life span of 300 years, I could afford to be less picky about how I spend my time, but sadly I don’t have that luxury, so I am discerning!
Talent is acquired through consistent practice, but exceptional talent is acquired through consistent and thoughtful practice. Mindful training, which depends on critical and analytical thinking, can yield exceptional results in affordable time.
Most of us have talent at one thing or another, but developing the ability to learn effectively, I rate as one of the best talents I ever acquired. Learning ‘how to learn’ affords us the opportunity to make the most out of those opportunities that life throws our way. So, strive to become a learning machine.
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