Here’s the dilemma: we all want to be fabulous and awesome and just plain astonishing, and we all want to be lionized and revered and honored for our greatness.
We just don’t want to have to work too hard to make that happen.
So how do you achieve genius status without wearing yourself out?
Since I had no idea, I consulted the experts.
In Outliers: The Story of Success, New Yorker writer and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell posited that there’s really no such thing as genius. If you put 10,000 hours of work into anything, you’re liable to get really good at it, and people will mistake you for a genius.
So his short answer: Don’t worry about whether you have talent for something. Just start putting in the hours.
No such thing as genius? That’s encouraging. But those 10,000 hours seem, well, fatiguing. Aren’t some people naturally more talented than others? Isn’t there a Plan B?
Yes, responds Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, in which he offers two prerequisites for success. The first is what he calls “an igniter,” a teacher so inspiring that you are willing to work your butt off for him or her.
You can guess what the second part of the equation is. It’s pretty much the same answer Gladwell gave.
You work your butt off.
But there must be a lazy person’s route to greatness, I thought. So I turned to the late George Plimpton, who made everything look easy. He penned a slender volume twenty years ago called The X Factor. This book sought to identify the magic elixir that caused some people to achieve greatness while the rest were forced to stew in their own mediocrity.
Plimpton surveyed a variety of highly successful individuals, from financiers to top athletes, ostensibly to help him prepare for a return horseshoe match against then-president George H.W. Bush. His interviewees didn’t know much about horseshoes. Unfortunately, they didn’t know much about X factors, either.
The best guess came from financial wizard Henry Kravis. His advice: be short. The shorter, the better. Kravis told Plimpton that virtually every major takeover artist on Wall Street was under five feet eight inches tall. I’m wondering what Plimpton, who stood six foot four, made of that nugget.
I’m too tall to be that short, so Plimpton’s X Factor couldn’t help me. There had to be a way to be great without having all that homework. So I turned back to Malcolm Gladwell and his new book, David and Goliath, in which he makes the point that if you’re disadvantaged, that’s actually an advantage.
Children from wealthy homes don’t know the meaning of a dollar, Gladwell argues. Children who grew up without parental love, or even without parents, often run circles around those who received adequate nurturing. According to the U-shaped curve on which he graphed various aspects of human nature, too much of pretty much anything, from money to education to happiness to love, is actually a detriment to success.
I’ve always had a very supportive mother, so I can either ignore Gladwell again, never a good idea, or turn instead to the motivational giant Tony Robbins, for guidance.
“If you do a poor job at something,” he tells his audiences, “you get no results. You just get fired.
“If you do a good job,” he continues, “you get poor results. That’s because nobody wants somebody who just does a good job of something.
“If you do an excellent job, you only get good results, because there are a lot of people who are excellent at what they do.”
But here comes the kicker: “If you do an outstanding job,” Robbins says, the warrior’s glint in his eyes, “you get all the results. And here’s a secret: It doesn’t take that much more work to do an outstanding job at something than it does to do an excellent job.”
Finally. You don’t have to put in the 10,000 hours. You don’t have to have particularly great teachers. Your parents can be wonderful or middling or nonfactors in your life. All you have to do is put a little bit of extra effort-not 10,000 hours’ worth, but something-and greatness will be yours.
All kidding aside, that’s brilliant advice. But if it doesn’t work for you, I’ll share a piece of wisdom I heard uttered by a woman who shall go nameless, speaking in circumstances, for various reasons, that cannot disclosed.
And she didn’t need to write a book to make her point, either.
“Greatness,” she coolly advised, “is like the female orgasm. It cannot be coerced. But it can be coaxed.”