5 Signs You Can Develop World-Class Talent
You don’t have to be uncommon to become uncommon.
There’s a big difference between good and great.
A big difference.
Many people are good at stuff, but few people are world-class at what they do. Why? Why is it so hard to become exceptional? Why is world-class talent so elusive?
This question has baffled humanity for centuries.
Everyone has an opinion on what separates the best in the world from the Joe Schmoes. To name a few perspectives, Seth Godin calls it “the dip”, Angela Duckworth calls it “grit”, and Carol Dweck calls it “the growth mindset”. People dedicate their entire lives to identifying exactly what makes us great at what we do. The truth is, they’re all right. There are many factors that determine one’s ability to become exceptional.
In my experience traveling the world and doing martial arts, I’ve had the chance to talk to, learn from, and even become friends with some of the best athletes and innovators in one of the most unique sports in the world today. I’ve also met multi-millionaire CEOs, world-class musicians, and even top-ranked athletes from other sports like wrestling, mixed martial arts, and boxing.
The truth about these world-class talents will surprise you: they aren’t special. At least, not in the way you might think.
Skills are built over time, and there is no magic involved (unless you’re becoming a world-class magician, I guess). World-class performers are uncommon in some areas of their lives, but if you met them on the street, they’d appear pretty common. This might be a bold claim, but I’ll make it anyway: anyone can learn to be world-class at something.
These 5 qualities are signs that you’re off to a great start.
You’re a deep thinker.
When I was 17, I joined a martial arts gym. Everyone I met was at least a decade older than me.
Being the “kid” in the room, I was subjected to everyone’s opinion about what I should do, who I should be, and how I should live my life. It was exhausting and even obnoxious at times, but eventually, I developed an inner circle of friends and mentors who actually want me to succeed and become better.
The people who have taught me the most are the deep thinkers.
Deep thinkers investigate complex concepts, they discuss ideas and not people, and most importantly, they’re committed to the quest for lifelong learning and personal growth. What makes someone world-class isn’t how many dollar signs they have or how many people follow them on Instagram, it’s the effort and success that they’re able to derive from a particular skill.
Here’s how deep-thinking correlates to world-class talent:
By thinking deeply, we’re actually able to cause ourselves less anxiety in the long run. When we decrease our anxiety, we figure out what we actually want, and we spend less time “pondering” our place in the world and more time doing the thing that we want to become great at.
Most people don’t quit, most people never get started.
Increased performance comes from decreased neuroticism, and by thinking deeply and carefully, we can all decrease our anxiety and get back to building world-class skills.
You can manage your mental health.
There’s a little bit of “tough love” with this one.
With few exceptions, one of the most important qualities for developing lasting success in a particular skill is the ability to manage your mind. I know many athletes who are absolutely incredible in the gym, but under pressure, they crumble like sandcastles. In Jiu-Jitsu, we call them “gym warriors”. It’s heartbreaking to watch people who are incredibly talented fail because they’re stuck own heads.
I’ve watched loved ones, friends, and even athletic opponents destroy their potential due to mental illness, performance anxiety, and even just plain ole nerves. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Mental illness is very common — 1 in 5 Americans struggle with it — but many people who are successful also battle with mental illness.
Experiencing mental illness doesn’t diminish your ability to develop skills and talents, but untreated mental illness does make it much harder to sustain high performance over long periods of time. If you’re too depressed to get out of bed, it’s going to be really hard to do the work required to develop world-class talent.
I’ve learned that from personal experience.
If you can take of your mental health and minimize its effects on your performance, the sky is the limit for what you can achieve.
You can handle negative feedback.
Has anyone ever told you that you suck?
More importantly, has anyone ever told you how you suck?
The only thing more valuable for growth than negative feedback is specific negative feedback. This is because when we receive negative feedback, it temporarily disrupts our feedback loop. The feedback loop is essentially the system that the brain uses in order to help you develop behaviors, habits, and eventually, skills.
Negative criticism shocks the feedback loop, and specific negative criticism shocks the feedback loop while also providing a possible solution for improvement. Having the cognitive ability to not just understand this, but apply it is key to becoming proficient in anything. Feedback loops are very important, but even more important than feedback loops is the mental capacity of the individual to accurately assess the feedback loop and apply what it tells them to future attempts.
We all experience negative feedback, but we don’t all handle it well.
In my experience, most of us need to work on our ability to not take things so personally. I know I do. Most of us need to open our minds when it comes to negative feedback. Negative feedback is not an assault on your character. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and it doesn’t mean you have no skill.
In the process to develop in any area of your life, whether it’s dating or sports or playing the oboe, having the ability to accept negative feedback is going to not only catapult your development, it will also increase your longevity.
You’ll do the work that others won’t.
When basketball legend Kobe Bryant was in the heart of his playing career, he’d arrive at the gym more than 4 hours before his practice was set to start. He’d be up by 5 am and at the gym training by 6 am —several hours before his 10:30 practice session would begin.
He’d train for hours upon hours upon hours, every single day. Sure, Kobe had a lot of natural ability, but what really set him apart was the fact that he was willing to put the work in that other people just refused to. He even described his own work ethic as “maniacal”. I can’t think of a better word myself.
Kobe liked hard work.
“Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.”— Kobe Bryant
In recent years, there’s been a push against hard work in the name of “smart work”, efficiency, and serial optimization. Everyone wants to be able to get to the top as fast as possible, as easy as possible, and with as little pain as possible. This is a nice idea, but in the real world, you can’t become world-class for free.
At the end of the day, sometimes what separates the best from the second best is just good old-fashioned passion and perseverance. Good old-fashioned grit.
You can accept outside help.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: no one can become great by themselves.
The greatest thing that I’ve ever done is win a purple belt world championship in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and that relatively small achievement took an army to get done. I was the one who got the gold medal, but I wouldn't have had even the slightest chance at it without my friends, teammates, coaches, parents, therapist, and even my haters.
If you want to be world-class, being a loner is out of the question.
The real problem is culture. Asking for help should be easy, but culture makes it hard.
In Western society, we demonize asking for help. We worship “self-made” people, and it’s all a big fat lie. Self-made success doesn’t exist, no matter how hard you try. Even if your business is started and built from the ground up by you, you can’t help but be influenced by the world around you, your experiences, and the people you interact with.
When I step out onto the mat to fight, I’m all alone. But in the weeks and months that lead up to that moment, I’m constantly surrounding myself with support because I’m not better by myself. Humans were biologically designed to work together, it’s time we acknowledge this and start acting like it.
One of the biggest reasons that people put themselves down is because they believe that they’re average.
This is funny to me because the primary thing that separates “average” people from “world-class” people is that belief. Your body is capable of more than you know, your mind is the most powerful tool on the entire planet, and success is just a fancy, high-stakes game.
If success is a game, that means there are rules. If there are rules, that means that there are ways to exploit the rules in your favor. Talent isn’t about having “innate ability”, talent is about learning to play the game better. Once you understand this, you’ll be able to unscrew the cap of your limits and access boundless potential.
I’m excited to see what you can come up with.
“If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.”― Miyamoto Musashi
Originally published August 30, 2021, in Mind Cafe
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3 Quotes on Losing
“Losing ... really does say something about who you are. Among other things it measures are: do you blame others, or do you own the loss? Do you analyze your failure, or just complain about bad luck? If you're willing to examine failure, and to look not just at your outward physical performance, but your internal workings, too, losing can be valuable. How you behave in those moments can perhaps be more self-defining than winning could ever be. Sometimes losing shows you for who you really are.”—Lance Armstrong
“Losing is only temporary and not all-encompassing. You must simply study it, learn from it, and try hard not to lose the same way again. Then you must have the self-control to forget about it.”—John Wooden
“Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master.”—Elizabeth Bishop
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