“I will prepare and someday my chance will come” (Abraham Lincoln)

It is not uncommon to come across a great little invention and think, I wish I had thought of that. But bringing even simple ideas to full fruition involves a process – one that is not always as easy as it may appear. Achieving success out of an idea or becoming great at something mostly requires an extended period of practice, hard work at perfecting skills, and collaborating with others more clever than yourself so as to receive valuable developmental feedback from them. People seldom achieve greatness in isolation – there is usually a well-established support base that guides them and gives them the freedom to explore and experiment with their talent.

In order to write his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell researched the concept of ‘greatness’ – what are the necessary ingredients to bring people to the place where they are considered to be great? Among other factors, he found two important ingredients that stand out above the rest, viz.:

  1. The 10 000 hours rule – he mentions that every person who ever became great at something didn’t spend less than 10 000 hours practising their craft. He quotes The Beatles who used to play eight hours a day, seven days a week, months on end at a club in Germany before they went to the United States of America, becoming “an overnight sensation”. Gladwell notes that, be it The Beatles, or Tiger Woods or Mozart, “overnight sensation” is not entirely true as they all spent years of their lives perfecting their skills.
  2. A support network – Tiger Woods’ father, apart from coaches and other support personnel, helped him succeed with golf. Leonardo da Vinci, at fifteen years old, sat under the famous painter, Verrocchio, as his apprentice. Over and over again, it has been found that greatness is not achieved in isolation of others who support, encourage and even participate in the endeavours.

Working towards greatness requires focus, and subsequent energy applied appropriately. Leonardo’s six thousand pages of detailed notes and drawings present clear evidence of a diligent, curious student – a perpetual learner in laborious pursuit of wisdom. His brilliance was learned and earned. He was constantly exploring, questioning, and testing.

Trevor Noah, South African comedian, and host of The Daily Show in the USA, suggests the following recipe to achieve success in any chosen field:

  1. Focus on your giftedness – work really hard on perfecting your skill. Your passion will drive you to learn from mistakes and to strive towards a place of mastery.
  2. Find opportunities to use your gifts – Trevor notes that as you give freely of your gifts, opportunities start presenting themselves.
  3. Build a support network around you – this diverse group should not only encourage you, but also challenge your approach, methodology and work ethic.
  4. Help others – ensure that you censure selfishness and focus on assisting humanity. This outward focus on the needs of others brings balance and wisdom.

Preparation precedes performance. Perhaps there are no real “overnight successes”, but rather focused people who apply all their energy to enhancing their giftedness. Brilliance is learned and earned.

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