Updated: Feb 16, 2021
"Our research into human strengths does not support the extreme, and extremely misleading, assertion that 'you can play any role you set your mind to,' but it does lead us to this truth: Whatever you set your mind to, you will be most successful when you craft your role to play to your signature talents most of the time." - Donald O. Clifton
"You can do anything if you just set your mind to it, and work hard...."
How many times have I heard this phrase, spoken to kids and adults alike, by well-meaning (but misinformed) teachers, coaches, parents or managers?
I call this the "Idols Effect". Have you ever followed "American Idols", or "South African Idols" or similar shows on TV? If you have, you will be able to picture this scene:
A highly motivated and very self-assured youngster walk into a room and goes to stand in front of four judges. Head up, eyes beaming, he/she smiles and greets them with confidence. The confidence is welcomed by the judges, and they smile back, asking the youngster what he/she does for a living, and what he/she would like to sing. When they hear the title, the judges sit back in eager expectation, hoping to hear the sounds so familiar to that song, to fill the room.
The youngster closes his/her eyes for a moment, then look up, and open his/her mouth.....
Sounds fill the room that makes your TV speakers tremble in their effort to project it. The judges' faces turn into ghastly images of pain and horror. Not one of the notes that leaves the contestant's mouth even come close to the song that they are supposed to sing. Horror turns into laughter, both behind the judges' table and in millions of living rooms across the country.
Mercifully one of the judges stops the horrific sounds. With head shaking, he simply says: "Please, promise us you will never do this to anyone else, ever."
The youngster frowns in disbelief. The other judges affirm this statement with short sentences of affirmation. Then the fourth judge simply states it to the youngster: "You cannot sing."
The youngsters face turns to anger. "But, everybody at home, all my friends, they all love it when I sing, they all say I have a beautiful voice!"
"They are lying to you. You are horrible when you sing. Find another dream sweetheart", says one of the judges. The other three nods in agreement, as do millions of people in front of their televisions.
"But, I can work even harder! I can be even better! I've worked my whole life for this" pleads the youngster.
"Don't even try. You do not have what it takes. Find a new career. Now, please go."
With a swearword directed at the judges, the youngster turns and storms out of the room. Outside, in front of the camera, he/she goes off about how they are going to show the whole world, and when they are famous, they will laugh at everyone who doubted their talent and ability.
"Anyone who says I cannot sing is F$@%&# crazy!"
Behold - The “Idols Effect”.
You cannot achieve anything you want simply by working hard and putting your mind on it. You need talent. At least a little. And the more talent you have, supported by knowledge, skill and experience, consistent and hard work will pay off.
Maybe you can achieve challenges through working hard to prove a point to yourself or someone else. Like making the first team. Or climbing Kilimanjaro. Or learning to play the piano. This is all very good things that form your character. But, if you truly want to achieve beyond your wildest imagination, you need to top-up your natural talents and abilities with effort and hard work. Lots and lots of hard work.
Sometimes Lady Luck comes knocking. But the "Cinderella Man" story was only made into a movie because things like that almost never happen.
I don't want to kill dreams or drown challenges - not in the least. But combining hard work and high aspirations with natural talent is the proven recipe for success.
Beyond 10’000 hours
“Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.” - Robert Half
In his book "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell tells numerous stories about successful people in life. He make one very important discovery in his research: that it seems that almost every success story has a lot of very hard work, and long hours, behind it. To be specific, Gladwell found that at least 10'000 hours are spent working at something specific, in order to become a success. 10'000 hours. That is 8 straight hours a day, five days a week, for 5 years... a lot of practice in anybody’s perspective.
Gladwell found that the exceptions are so few and far between that it really is exceptions to this rule of 10'000 hours.
But, contrary to how some people interpret this, Gladwell never once claimed that these 10’000 hours replace the value and importance of natural talent. On the contrary! Someone with no talent within a specific area will simply run out of energy and 'fuel' long before the 10'000 hours mark is reached. Or, they might spend 20'000 hours for that matter, and never be recognized at all.
Talent cannot replace hard work, in the same way, that you cannot fill up a car with fuel, and then expect it to go anywhere without starting it, and driving it. The key to fulfilment and success lies in the balance between the two. Working hard at developing your talent. Turning it into a strength. Perfecting it....if 'perfect' exists at all.
Aligning the effort and hours you invest in any activity with your continuous pattern of thought, behaviour and action (talent), is exactly what is proven by most people over history as the recipe for how they built not only success but real fulfilment.
As you invest in this precious day, be sure to try and push towards your natural abilities. Be sure to do what comes naturally to you, most of the time. Be sure to work hard at it. Invest. This way, the most important thing of all will happen - you will find that today will have meaning and fulfilment beyond expectation. And that is already the achievement of success.
(This article is an excerpt from the book "Launch your Brilliance - A guide for everyone towards a Strengths-based life" , by Dries Lombaard.)