We have all heard the stories, the sporting superstars who were told they would never make it but they applied themselves in a way we could never imagine, hitting their 10,000 hours of practice and what do you know, they made it. Thomas Edison’s “thousands” of failed attempts to make the electric light bulb creates a vision of single-mindedness that most of us feel like we could never come close to. We can find plenty of people who display a level of determination which we could never muster but which we all aspire to.
What if I was to tell you that actually we almost all have that level of determination. I have proof. Can you walk? Can you talk? Can you read, write, do mental arithmetic? Then you have it! You were not born with those skills, you had to learn them, some of them took years, even decades, before you got to your current level, which is infinitely beyond where you started.
What is it you had as a baby that allowed you to do this? The obvious answer is determination. It’s probably true to a point, but I think what is more important is what you didn’t have: excuses, phrases like “it’s not for me”, “I’m not a natural”, “it’s not in my genes”.
I used to be quite a good runner, distance running. I was a skinny kid, I was generally a good sportsman, not the best but I could turn my hand to most sports but, I wasn’t particularly fast, so I found myself drifting towards distance running. At 12 years old I won the area championships for cross-country and obviously my school year cross-country race. The following year Alec started at our school. Again Alec was a sportsman but a touch slower than me at sprinting so he too drifted to distance running. That year in the School race, I thrashed him and set a course record in the process. At 13 years old it looked like I had more natural ability than him.
Over the following summer though, I spent my days playing on my PlayStation, mountain biking and just generally having fun with my friends, Alec however ran most days. Come the following running season, the difference in our natural ability had become irrelevant, I could not come close to him. We are talking two months, TWO MONTHS extra training by Alec compared to my standard teenage active life.
Over the following 4 years Alec kept up his training regime, and I became more dedicated, training harder and more consistently. It took me all 4 years to slowly reel in the difference in performance until I got close to him and eventually beat him in ONE race. Over that 4 years, Alec consistently made the County Squad, where as I only occasionally made it. Two months’ training was probably somewhere between 30 – 40 hours, less than your average working week. Alec could have easily have said “I’m not as fast as Jon” and just accepted this but, with just 45 minutes 5 times a week over 8 weeks, he didn’t just catch me up, he surpassed me by a huge margin.
How did this effect me? It gave me a new sense of confidence, I developed this idea that if something had been achieved by one person, then there was no reason that, with the correct application, I could not achieve that too. This could be perceived as arrogance but I’m not saying that “I am exceptional”, I’m saying “I’m average”. My belief is that we are all much closer to each other in terms of “natural ability” than we give ourselves credit for. The difference is the majority of us start to create excuses as we get older, literally as we get older than the age of 5. When you let go of these excuses and start to accept the hard work and then start to experience the joy of that hard work, then you will amaze yourself by what you might achieve.
For me that achievement was at first receiving my Commission into the Royal Marines. I remember a Biology lesson at school where a classmate whose father was an Officer in the Marines asked “What would the Marines want with you? They are looking for clever and exceptionally fit and strong men.” His declaration was clearly that I was not good enough, and that doubt is something that has remained ever since, in fact it was already there and it has been reiterated by many others over the years. However whenever I have set my eyes on something challenging, I have always countered that doubt with “if others have achieved it then with the right application I can too”. This got me through my Commando Course and the Mountain Leader Course (these videos may be old but they will give you an idea). I continue to use this counter now in every challenge I set.
Babies look around and see everyone else doing what they cannot do, so they just keep on trying until they can do it. They never say “this is not for me” and give up, they just believe that they are the same as everyone else around them and decide to keep going until they can do it. So identify the best things that those around you achieve (and in this modern world that no longer needs to be the people you physically know and see) and say “If they can do it, then with the right application I can too”. Be a Big Baby and don’t give up.