People do amazing things. Search YouTube for “people are amazing” and marvel at the shit that people do. It’s pretty safe to say that whatever the coolest thing is that you’ve done, someone has done the same thing except 10x better and on steroids. This often leads to a phrase that I don’t like hearing:

That person is really talented.

When someone says this, it basically means, “that person is way better than me at something. It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because that person is naturally better at it.”

It’s a steaming pile of bovine waste.

Most people by now have heard of the “10,000-hour rule,” made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers (and further popularized by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis). It basically says, when you spend a lot of time doing something, you get good at it. The Beatles spent 10,000 hours playing live shows in the early 60s and they got good at making and playing music. Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours programming in the late 60s and became a genius programmer. And so on.

I don’t think anyone would argue with that. But when people start talking about how talented another person is, they imply that certain people don’t need to put in the work to become skilled. At best this is wrong and at worst it’s harmful thinking that encourages us to not try.

I went to Missouri State University. While I was there, Blake Ahearn was on the men’s basketball team. Ahearn was exceptionally good at shooting free throws. He holds the NCAA and D-League records for free throw percentage at 94.6% and 95.7% respectively. He also holds the D-League record for most consecutive free throws made at 99. For reference, the NBA record is only 97. Ahearn is really good at making free throws. Some might even say that he’s talented.

He’s probably not, though, naturally good at shooting free throws. It’s much more likely that he put in more time and effort at shooting free throws than anyone else and now he’s the best there is. And that’s what appears to be the case. Since the fourth grade, Ahearn has kept a journal of his daily practices. He keeps track of every single shot he takes, every single day. If you wanted, you could look back at when he was 11 and see where on the court he took shots, how many he made, the percentage made, etc. In the offseason, he made 102 free throws every day. The first 100 were practice and the final two were for real.

Is it any surprise that this guy became the best free throw shooter in the world? He obviously put in more work than anyone else. To say that he’s talented is doing him a disservice. He earned that skill–it wasn’t something he was born with.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I just “must be really good at learning languages” because I learned to speak French in a relatively short amount of time. Again, this is just a person trying to rationalize his own failure. When I was learning French, I was living in a French-speaking country, dating a francophone, living with a francophone, spending many hours a day studying by myself, going out with friends and practicing my French every night. I put in a lot of hard work to learn the language. Is it any surprise that I had more success than another person who simply took a few French classes in college?

You can get good at anything with enough practice. You can get really good at anything with a whole lot of practice. Stop with the excuses. If you want to be good at something, put in your 10,000 hours.

Penned on August 7, 2014 by Kevin Sweet