You Have to Outlast the Others

Winning requires preparation and perseverance. Having some talent certainly helps, but it’s not the defining piece of any success story. Talent, as we know, only takes a person so far. However, what we don’t know – or so often neglect – is how far we’re willing to go when our talent runs out.

For instance, I’ve always been good at baseball. When I was a kid, I took to the sport very quickly. As soon as I could walk, I could also hold a baseball. And throw one too. Granted, learning to throw well took some time. I didn’t whip out four-seam fastballs right away – that took some effort and some growing. But, my ability to adapt and learn the game was always a cut above most everyone I competed with (or against). I wasn’t a prodigy, but I was definitely someone who could succeed if I stayed with the game long enough.

And that was just what I did: I stuck with it. When I was growing up, I met a lot of other naturally-gifted ballplayers. Many of whom were better than me. They seemed to hit home runs rather easily. They threw curveballs with an arc that seemed to defy all laws of physics. They could field, catch, and throw with a precision that looked predetermined. I was good, but I still wanted to be greater than they were.

Then, as I got older, something strange began to happen. My skills improved, yes, but the same standouts that kept me hanging around were falling off the radar. They were the same men, with the same names, but their skills somehow diminished overnight. At first, I thought it was only because was getting better. That somehow, I had eclipsed them and could now focus on a new enemy. But, it was more than that. Somewhere along the way, these fellow ballplayers – these prodigies of baseball – had plateaued. They had reached the peak of their natural gifts. And now, without the proper disciplines in place, they fell out of the sport and never returned.

Seems odd, doesn’t it? That despite all their accomplishments and their love of the game, they just up and left. Usually doing so because the going got tough. Looking back, what looks like a mystery actually makes a lot of sense.

For example, Mozart was known as a virtuoso. In the realm of music, he was a genius; highly skilled and possessing an innate knowledge of how strings, horns, and percussion should come together for perfect harmony. But, he also had discipline. The same can be said for Michael Jordan; a man who was cut from his high school basketball team (you probably know the rest of the story). It’s hard to imagine, but consider for a moment how many “unfinished works” there are. How many unrefined or incomplete talents have gone to the wayside because the discipline was the only thing lacking. I’m sure the number is impossible to count, but you get the idea.

If you want to be a success at something, you have to have more than just talent. You have to maintain the course. You simply have to outlast the others.

Talents and gifts we wish we had

Short break from the story writing here. A few more thoughts I’ve had since I’m almost through with Spirit Run. Reflecting on the stories I’ve written has really opened up some good observations, I feel. Especially with the type of week I’ve had.

I believe every person has a talent. Yes, each and every one of us has a gift of some kind. That sounds like some cheesy Hallmark card, but it’s the truth. The usual list of suspects come to mind – singing, dancing, sports, etc. You know, the ones that get glorified in social media and late night television. There are other, “less glamorous” talents though too; just as important and in some ways, even more important: leading, teaching, mentoring, organizing, building, puzzle-solving, navigating, etc. So you see, there are plenty of talents out there. I’m sure you have one. But even so, and despite the talent you’ve been given, we still find time to covet someone else’s gift. Somewhere there’s a skill, an ability, or even a trait that we wish we had. We look at this person’s gift and we covet it greatly. We want it for our own. Ever feel that way? Oh, I’m sure you have.

Mine is drawing.

I royally suck at drawing. Not just a mediocre, average kind of sucking – I’m talking the royal kind. Granted, I can trace things. I’m pretty good at tracing objects. So long as I’m provided a piece of paper lying over top of the intended image, I’m fine. Oh, and I have to be able to see through that paper clearly too. Then I’m good as gold. But stick me with a pencil and paper and ask me to come up with an original piece of work and I’m sunk. It’s just not gonna happen. I can see the picture in my head, but the translation I create on paper is so heavily filtered that it looks like a tank rolled through a war zone.

I recall being asked to make a self portrait in the 11th grade. I thought it was an opportunity to finally hone my skills and convince myself that I had some artistic talent. Well, what did happen was something resembling microwaved jello. Ugh. Was I really that bad?

Yes. Yes, I was.

And still am to this day. There are times where I have isolated moments of triumph though. A friend of mine asked me to draw a stick figure on his paper once. I accomplished that feat quite nicely from what I remember. Beyond that? Well, I haven’t had much success. So drawing is my kryptonite. The one thing I will probably never be able to do, but covet all the same. And I hate that.

It’s the great tragedy of my generation. With so many options on our plate, we think we ought to have all of the talents out there. And if we aren’t keeping up with the person next to us, then we ought to be trying harder. But I would say otherwise – along with so many others, I’m sure. Why waste time trying to be a banker when you love to cook? Why try to be a guidance counselor when you hate hearing other people’s problems? And why try to draw your work when you’re made to write it? No one person can do it all.

As a writer, I need others to help get ideas out. I will need those who are gifted in editing, gifted in publishing, gifted in teaching, and so on. And while that’s going on, I know other people will require my talents to help get their own ideas out. Or at least make sense of those ideas by putting them into words; words they couldn’t come up if they tried to do it themselves. See how that works? It’s a great feeling when you come to that realization – the epiphany that your gifts can and will be used to their utmost capacity if you’ll allow for it to happen.

But first, you have to hone the gift that’s yours. Only then will you find yourself not coveting everyone else’s, wondering if what you’re doing is right or not. That’s a road to real satisfaction. Cheesy Hallmark card and all.