Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chasing Excellence

Below is a long quote from Paul Carter, a strength coach who writes regularly for several magazines and other media outlets. Obviously, the quote is on the topic he's paid to write about (lifting weights), but it applies equally to anything else you do in life. If you're wanting to be excellent at something, there are going to be thousands of hours spent alone doing that thing when no one else is around to give you support.

A popular rule of thumb is 10,000 hours, but that was made famous by one journalist (i.e. Malcolm Gladwell) looking at a few research articles by Anders Ericsson. The real truth is that it depends on the field you're chasing expertise and excellence in. Music and chess will take over double or triple that due to the international level of competition.

I haven't seen numbers for computer programming, but would imagine it's closer to 25,000 hours as well. Other fields are probably fairly easy to get ahead of by devoting as little as a few thousand hours. Naturally, the more obscure and less competitive, the less time will be required.

The reason more time is required for more competitive fields is that it takes more and more experience to separate yourself even a fraction of a percent from the rest over time. You can see this in the graph above. It's typically quite fast to go from zero knowledge or skill to intermediate as shown in the rapid rise of the curve; it takes far longer to continue making incremental progress as the rate of learning slows down.

Since some fields are "winner take all", like music, chess, sports, law, medicine, etc., being even a small fraction of a percent better can get you the majority of success in the field. To truly be the best will therefore require thousands of hours toiling away with only small increases of skill with the hope that it pays off with recognition from society that you truly are the best available in your field.

“The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching.” -- John Wooden 

I read an interesting article this week about a key factor in success, and successful people, is that their will to succeed surpassed that of their need for approval or affirmation by others. 

I have no idea why, but the very first thing that popped in my head, was how often I have read from people that they need training partners, or even a training group. That this was or is a big factor in their success.

This always baffled me. 

I've trained alone for the most part of 26 years. That means I was training a long time before the internet and social media, and all that shit. I never "needed" training partners. I've had a few, and did enjoy it at various times. But I never found that it made a difference in how hard I worked in the slightest. If anything, my 13 year old pushes me harder than anyone else ever has because she always wants to do more work, and doesn't need much rest time between sets. So dad has to work harder to impress his training partner, lest she think he's a lazy bum who is getting outworked by her. 

I'm not saying lots of people haven't been successful because of training partners or even groups, I just find it baffling when someone sees that as a "need" to improve. 

Can you imagine a guy trying to make a college or pro team as a walk on or free agent with the attitude of "I was going to run 100's today, but John can't come so, eh, I don't know." 

That is not the attitude of someone who has a desire to achieve their own personal degree of excellence. 

If there is one thing I've learned over the past few years, it's that your passion and desire to be great at something had better surpass what other people think about you, your efforts, your abilities, and your worth.

I hear guys talking about want to look a certain way, or lift a certain way, then watch them eat shit most of the time, and forget what hard work really looks like in the gym.
Truthfully, I forgot too. Months and months ago I realized my training had become a very comfortable place. Too much complacency. This has happened before. If you're aware enough, you'll know it when it happens to you too. Because you will do all the shit you like to do, the way you like to do it, and have a million excuses as to why you aren't doing the shit that is hard, that you hate.

When the sun sets each day remember, it's about self worth. Which is derived from how you feel about who you are.

And regardless of what someone else says or thinks about you, or your efforts, if you want to be "great" at something, you better do great work when no one else can see it, judge it, or pat you on the back for it.

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