3 Superpowers That Will Make You Successful in Your Career and Life
🚀 The surprising secret? Anyone can develop them - Issue #169
Is there any child who didn’t dream of having superpowers? I bet there was at least one moment in your life when you wish that you could fly, be invisible, have incredible strength, or shoot lightning from your fingertips.
No? Ok, maybe it was just me.
As you grow older, you realize that there are real-life strengths that enable you to be successful in life and advance in your chosen profession and career.
Uh oh, I’m seeing a trend.
Yes, these are primarily innate talents and traits. You are born with them, to a significant degree.
Can you learn, practice, and increase the level of each? Yes, but only when there is already a natural, stable base.
I researched talents and skills while I was in graduate school. We studied pianists at The Shepherd School of Music. Granted, we didn’t have a time machine, so we couldn’t go back and observe their childhood and their entire path to their current level of performance ability.
But, we did uncover something unexpected.
We had a hypothesis that the best pianists had practiced considerably more. This is somewhat related to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule described in his Outliers book, which claims that a ton of deliberate practice is what sets the experts apart from the rest of us.
However, a Princeton study in 2014 challenged that assumption. They found that deliberate practice only explained 21% of the variance in performance for music, as one example.
In a Dec 2015 research article, “Rethinking Expertise: A Multifactorial Gene-Environment Interaction Model of Expert Performance,” Ullén, Hambrick, and Mosing also found that deliberate practice theory is unable to account for recent findings relating to expertise and expert performance.
Other genetic factors will affect expert performance through their effects on deliberate practice and its covariates. This suggests that the genetic architecture of expert performance may be different at different levels of deliberate practice. Indeed, preliminary findings support that the heritability of expert performance may actually increase rather than decrease with deliberate practice, contrary to predictions of deliberate practice theory
We had a similar finding. The best pianists were not the ones who had been playing the most years. They also weren’t the ones who practiced for more hours every week.
There was a base level of talent that existed from childhood, and practice simply elevated that talent to extreme levels. The best pianists said things like:
“Playing the piano always came naturally to me.”
“I was really good at the piano from the start.”
“It was already in me.”
These findings may seem discouraging but stay with me.
The harsh reality
I did reasonably well in school. Grade school, junior high, and high school, that is.
When I went to college, I quickly discovered that there were much smarter people on campus. I was no longer some whiz kid.
I didn’t realize that I had to actually study in college. It set me back a year or two. Yes, it’s an ugly story, but I survived and graduated.
Later, I went on to graduate school and encountered even smarter people, with even bigger ambitions.
Then, I went to Silicon Valley to work for IBM, Apple Computer, eBay, Yahoo, etc.
I was working with super-smart people. I met genius-level individuals.
I attended many meetings where I had to say, “Ok, stop. Explain this to me like I’m five.”
So, the harsh truth that most of us face at some point in our lives is that we aren’t the smartest, fastest, strongest, prettiest, or most talented person in the room.
Does that mean you are doomed and will never be wildly successful in your career? No, not at all.
However, it does mean that you need a strategy that doesn’t depend on innate talent to carry the day.
There is hope
Some of you may already be certain that you are gorgeous, amazingly talented, super genius, superstars.
If so, you don’t need my advice, and you don’t need anyone’s help. You are ruling the world. Go in peace, my superhero friends.
Now, for those of you who are still here and want to know my secret, rest assured:
There is hope for the rest of us.
I’m firmly including myself in this camp. Perhaps there are a few others who will admit that they are in this group with us too.
You may not always be the smartest, most talented, and most creative person in the room. But, you can tap into these three superpowers and achieve great success in your career and life.
You simply need to be:
I don’t mean kind of persistent, consistent, and resistant.
You need to exhibit heroic levels of each. But, the great news is that anyone can do this if they are genuinely willing, ambitious, and stubborn.
1. Be Persistent
When I’m trying to learn something new or solve a problem, I refuse to give up. I get tunnel vision, and I persist until I get it done — one way or the other.
It doesn’t mean that I must always generate the solution. Sometimes, I can hire someone who knows how to provide a solution. But, I persist until the problem is solved.
This “superpower” served me well in graduate school. I kept grinding until I received my Ph.D., even though I had a full-time job at Apple, and we had a baby on the way. I couldn’t leave it unfinished.
It’s also served me well in my career.
I have no formal training in Design with a capital D. I’ve always enjoyed the act of designing, but I taught myself software design while I was in grad school. I continued to learn and grind at IBM and then at Apple.
No MBA and no formal training. Just stubborn persistence and refusing to give up or be stopped.
This isn’t a magical superpower that only a few people have.
Anyone can do this!
Anyone can set their sights on a goal, be persistent, and keep grinding to make it happen.
I don’t entirely agree with every aspect of the “hustle” that Gary V talks about. But, I believe in his philosophy of persistence.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge
2. Be Consistent
I create new habits easily, and then I am consistent with those habits. For the past 11 years, I’ve been working out almost every day of the week. For the past three years, I’ve been writing every day.
Process beats goal setting.
Systems will beat vision.
Focus on what you will consistently do every day, and you will accomplish more than dreaming about what you want.
I do prefer to place a flag on the horizon. I’m not entirely opposed to setting goals.
However, I think people fall in love with goals and planning, and then they get discouraged when things go wrong (as they always do eventually). Or, they want the results, but they don’t want to put in the hard work required consistently.
Fall in love with the daily process and enjoy the journey. The results are a side effect.
They’re a pleasant side effect, of course. It’s fun to celebrate the wins along the way. I’m not an “all work and no play” kind of person.
However, when you genuinely love the process, you will endure the setbacks and hard times. A failure here or there doesn’t destroy you.
Keep on keeping on, and you can’t help but see substantial results.
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. ” — Aristotle
3. Be Resistant
I guess “resistant” is a nicer word than saying that someone is “extremely stubborn.” If someone tells me that I can’t do something, I will do it to prove them wrong. Maybe I’ll even do it twice (like my two Tough Mudder events).
On the other hand, if someone tells me that I must do something, it fuels my drive never to do that thing. I hate being told what to do.
I don’t sound like a very good employee, do I? It probably explains why I do what I do.
Yes, my stubbornness can occasionally hurt me. But, more often than not, it enables me to achieve things that shouldn’t have been possible for someone like me.
Or, at least that’s what I was told.
People told me that I was too poor to go to college. Oh really? I got a scholarship, and I worked several jobs throughout college to make my way to graduation.
They also told me that I was too old to apply to graduate school at 24 years of age. Yes, 24 was considered ancient. I worked with my favorite professor and advisor to create a winning application and got accepted into multiple graduate programs before choosing Rice University.
I was told that I would never finish my Ph.D. if I accepted a job at Apple. I worked night and day for six months to make sure that didn’t happen.
As I started writing this and thinking about examples, I realize that I’ve probably been told what I could and could not do hundreds of times throughout my life. I would bet that you have too.
How many times has someone told you that you weren’t good enough to do something?
How many times have they told you what you should do instead?
I have friends who were coerced into being doctors and lawyers because their parents desired it. It wasn’t because they wanted to spend their lives that way.
Resist anyone who tells you what you can and cannot do with your life. They don’t know the fire and drive that you have inside.
They don’t fully understand what you are capable of doing if you persist. They don’t have to live your life.
Only you do.
“Don’t let others define you. You define yourself.” — Ginni Rometty
Tap into your superpowers
I’m sure that you have a boatload of talent, skills, knowledge, and experience. Everyone does, in their own way.
I’m also confident that there are lots of things that you are very good at doing. However, you don’t have to worry if you’re not the absolute best at everything.
Be persistent, consistent, and resistant.
Those superpowers are accessible to all of us. Innate talent can only take you so far. But, the big three will bring you the rest of the way.
Do you want to add these to your list of superpowers?
Good things happen to your career when you are surrounded by other ambitious people who help you, support you, and hold you accountable.
That’s why I’ve created a career mastermind community for professionals who demand more from their life and want more for their future.
You can apply to join us now. I’ll be inviting select individuals into the community over the coming weeks.