Are Olympic level swimmers naturally good at swimming?
Are some people born with an eye for drawing, or throat for singing, or feet for dancing? Is there a gene for writing which bestselling writers have and we missed out on?
Some people seem to be way smarter than us. We all happen to know someone at school who was a genius in maths or wrote beautiful stories, or sang like an angel.
What makes people so good at something that others can’t seem to touch their heights.
We all want to be good at a few things, but it doesn’t matter how much we desire it or how hard we try; it eludes us.
Did the talented people have different wiring?
Let’s take the case of three well-known talented people and figure out if they had something special going for them.
Was Tiger Woods born with a golf club in hand?
Tiger Woods is often considered a child prodigy. He was introduced to golf before the age of two by his athletic father. At age three, he shot a 48 over nine holes at the Navy course. Before turning seven, he won the Under Age 10 section of the Drive, Pitch, and Putt competition, held at the Navy Golf Course in Cypress, California.
At the age of eight, he won the 9–10 boys’ event, the youngest age group at the Junior World Golf Championships. He first broke 80 at age eight. He went on to win the Junior World Championships six times, including four consecutive wins from 1988 to 1991.
In 1996, Woods turned professional at the age of 20. By the end of April 1997, he had won three PGA Tour events and 1997 Masters, which he won by 12 strokes in a record-breaking performance. He reached the number one golfer in the world in less than a year after turning pro.
Was he really born with a golf club in hand, or was there something else going on?
His father started training him when you and I couldn’t take a spoon to our mouth without spilling food on our bibs.
All through his life, his training regime matched that of a navy SEAL.
According to his former trainer, Hank Haney, Tiger Woods used to have 13-hour marathon training days even when he was young.
“13-hour training days were not uncommon for Woods. He would have one of his two workouts at 6 a.m., then hit the range with Haney for a two-hour session on swings and short game. Afterward, they would play nine holes, have lunch, then play another nine holes. Afterward, they would continue working on other facets of his game until 6 p.m., when Tiger would do his second workout and then have dinner.” — Hank Haney.
Often Woods would introduce variations to his training routine. He would start the day with a four-mile run, followed by a lift, hours of working on his game, and another four-mile run. If that’s wasn’t enough, he would play basketball or tennis when he was done.
Such laborious training gave Woods a mental edge as he knew nobody would outwork him.
Did Mozart has an inborn talent for composition?
Mozart could master a minuet and trio on the piano in half an hour when he was just four years old. He wrote his first opera at the age of 12.
Certainly, the composer’s extraordinary talents have never been in doubt. But according to Nicholas Kenyon, the author of A Pocket Guide to Mozart, agrees that the composer’s reputation as a genius was created only after his death.
“Mozart saw himself as a practical worker.” wrote Nicholas Kenyon.
“This myth tells us a lot about the difference between the Classical and Romantic ages. The Romantic composers who succeeded him perpetuated this idea that he composed thoughtlessly when all the evidence is that he wrote and rewrote his work.” — Nicholas Kenyon
‘Many people have the misleading impression, principally from Oscar-winning 1984 feature film Amadeus, that Mozart was a bawdy, undisciplined philanderer who occasionally had flashes of genius,’ said Grabsky.
“In fact, he was going to concerts every night, meeting musicians, listening to other people’s work, writing and rewriting his own. He was very practical about his work and entrepreneurial. ‘Of course, Amadeus was a creative reworking of Mozart’s story. But it had a lasting effect on people.”
Even Albert Einstein thought of him out of this world.
“As an artist, or a musician, Mozart was not a man of this world.” — Albert Einstein
But, let’s have a look at Albert Einstein, someone who was indisputably a genius.
Was Einstein really a genius?
There’s no doubt that Einstein was whip-smart.
In 1905, in just under four months, Einstein wrote four papers that gave the scientific field a whiplash.
The first paper explained how to measure molecules’ size in a liquid; the second drooled over packets of light move around in packets called “photons.” The third was related to the first, namely determining molecules’ movement in the liquid—the fourth unwrapped special relativity.
As sort of P.S., Einstein came up with a fifth paper that showed the matter and energy could be interchangeable at the atomic level. And that equation, E=MC2, is often associated with the genius of Einstein.
Now let’s have a peek into Einstein’s classroom. There were certainly others in his year that were better at maths—others who were exceedingly good at drawing. And we’re guessing here, but, likely, Einstein wasn’t the top student at physics in school.
If you want to focus on Einstein as a genius, be my guest. But even Einstein was never considered anything more than average by the outside world. It was only in 1905 when his ideas caught up and saw the light.
Einstein was one of those that needed more time.
Granted, his brain was wired differently, but all brains are wired differently.
In fact, very efficiently.
While we may not write papers in physics, we’re exceedingly good and can reach an extremely high standard in one or many disciplines.
We may not write five astounding scientific papers in a year. But we certainly can reach incredibly high levels of skill in many fields.
A person who loses his sight becomes incredibly adept at the language of braille in about nine months.
A person who’s “hopeless at drawing” becomes pretty astounding in under a year.
A person who hasn’t ever written an article can write two articles a day.
We look around us and think people are better than us, and we give up.
When faced with such thoughts, remember, even Einstein fell off the bicycle, like the rest of us.
We make the mistake of looking at people’s results and not the effort they have put into getting there.
We see that Tim Denning writes 6 articles a day and thinks he must be a genius to come up with so much output without realizing how much effort he must put into crafting those articles and consistently coming up with insightful content.
Yet some people never wanted to do some and became excellent at it.
Michael Phelps, for instance, is recognized as one of the greatest Olympians of all time. He’s won 28 medals. Born swimmer? Sure, except that Phelps hated swimming with a passion.
Many people who seemingly are good at some skills to the extent that we think they had an inborn talent for them have no interest in the field.
Let me wrap it up.
Today all of us can use computers.
Yet less than three decades ago, no one had seen a computer.
Why did almost everyone believe they were not skilled at computers, only to become proficient at it within a few years.
Writing emails is such a simple activity that we can do it while sitting in a car waiting for a red light to turn green.
Do you think Einstein would have been intimidated by emails?
Why was boring, everyday e-mail was so intimidating to entire generations that preceded the 90s?
Did the talent fairy douse us with e-mail skills in the late 1990s?
We were all bad at eating with a spoon, bad at walking without falling, bad at forming the most basic sentences. Yet, it’s easy to brush all of that ineptitude under the carpet. It’s easy to say that some people are naturally good at doing certain things.
And as we go across the spectrum of extremely talented people on the planet, we will find that they had put in an insane amount of work in becoming good at something we thought was their inborn talent.
They were not even smart at school. If they were child prodigies, they started early and practiced a lot, even as tiny kids in nappies.
On the other hand, some brilliant kids didn’t do anything special as they grew up.
And tens of thousands of ordinary kids became geniuses at making coffee, juggling umbrellas, fixing computers, or figuring out equations in their heads.
It is up to you whether you want to use the excuse that you have no talent in whatever you ‘so much want to do’ or put in the hours and become a genius at it.