No matter how smart you are, how fast you are, or how skilled you are, there is someone out there who is smarter, faster, and more skilled. This is no reason to despair. Great things are often done by people who are in the right place at the right time and have enough passion to make a difference. You do not need to be more talented or more skilled or faster. Sometimes you just need to care more. In a world full of people who have more natural ability, how can you get the advantage to get the job, the promotion, or the raise?
Derek Jeter said it simply; “There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” One of my high school track coaches, former University of Washington coach Ken Shannon, who coached our high school team to stay active in retirement, told us “Your attitude, more than your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Whether or not you are into sports, I think we can all appreciate the lessons that athletes provide for other areas of life. Naturally talented athletes are beaten by less naturally talented athletes who practice more, work harder, and have a better attitude. The same is true in life and business.
Have you ever seen the list of “10 things that require zero talent?” There are many articles about this list. Some, like Tom Gimbel writing for Time, say the list is a myth, and some of these things actually do take skill. On the one hand, I have to agree with some of Gimbel’s points that certain skills are required. On the other hand, however, anyone with enough passion and drive can wake up tomorrow and do any one of these things to get ahead. No talent. No natural ability. No special skills. Just the desire to be and do better. The list is as follows:
I do not want to join the debate of what constitutes skill versus talent. But I think that anyone who wants to gain an advantage and continuously improve in any area of life can apply the things on this list to get ahead of people who do not apply them.
Being On Time/Respecting Time
In the last few years I have done much of the hiring for my company. One thing I do while scheduling interviews is set a time, then in the interview confirmation email ask that they arrive 15 minutes before the set time in order to fill out an employment application. So if your interview is at 1:00, you should arrive at 12:45. I don’t say this is a requirement, just a suggestion. That 15 minute window it is the first test. I do not consider someone late unless they arrive after the original start time, say 1:00. The 15 minutes doesn’t make or break the interview, but if I had two people that were exactly the same, the person that carefully read my confirmation email, planned ahead, and arrived 15 minutes early to fill out the application will gain the advantage.
Being on time is definitely a skill. I will admit that, like with anything, some people are naturally better at being on time. But being on time does not take any natural ability. If you live in the United States and have access to the internet, or carry a small computer in your pocket like most people do, there are thousands of apps, websites, and features to monitor traffic, the weather, view maps, pick various travel routes, etc. To me, being on time for a meeting is a sign of respect. You are respecting the time that the other person or people have set aside. You are respecting the subject or topic of the meeting. Being on time shows that you thought about what you were going to do ahead of the scheduled event and planned to make it happen. I know that some parts of the world do not value being on time as much as others, but in the U.S.A this can make or break some big opportunities.
In my experience, some success has come from just being in the right place at the right time. Basically luck. But being in the right place at the right time starts with being on time. If you display to your friends, coworkers, or bosses that you care enough, plan enough, and can execute being on time in a complex world of meetings, car accidents, and hail storms, you will put yourself ahead of others. Reliability can go a long way. Lolly Daskal writes: “Time is indeed a precious and finite commodity, and those who respect it know how to use it wisely to achieve the greatest results. Time can be wasted, invested, or respected.”
A blog post on spotio.com says “Some will argue work ethic and effort are the same. I completely disagree. Work ethic is your desire – effort is how hard you work.” I really like this definition of work ethic. Work ethic is like your core values; something you can always come back to when deciding right from wrong. It is a mindset. It is something you develop within yourself that becomes the reason why working hard is worth it.
My grandfather served in World War 2 and then went to college at Central Washington University on the Army’s dime. To earn living money, he swept the stairs at the college for some amount of money in the cents per day. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him is that no matter what you do, do it to the best of your ability. If your job is to sweep the stairs, you better be the Tom Brady of stair sweeping. I know the whole “I swept the stairs for ‘x’ number of cents per day” thing sounds very old school, like some part of a great American novel. But I truly believe that how you do one thing leads to how you do everything. It starts with the little things, but grows into the big things. If you practice developing the core value of a strong work ethic it will lead to a desire to succeed in whatever you do. Whether that be pursuing a masters degree, going for the big promotion, or just doing your laundry.
To me, work ethic is the first brick of the foundation of success. If it’s there, everything else can build on top of it. If it’s not there, you can still build up but will not have the strong foundation to fall back on when things get hard.
Success takes a lot of effort. Sustained effort. Go the extra mile and always try your best. “That means giving more and better service than people expect, going beyond the expected. It takes character, but it doesn’t take talent,” writes Lolly Daskal. Whether you are taking care of a customer, working on a project for your team, or building a relationship, effort shows that you care. People remember the extra effort. And it is even better if you do this without expecting anything in return. If you can develop the habit of putting in effort when working towards your goals, it will show. You will stand out of the crowd as the one who tries harder than everyone else. Even if you fail, knowing that you did everything possible means that you can feel good and learn from that failure.
“Effort is a mindset as much as it is a behavior,” writes Molly Fletcher. If you are known as a person with this mindset and behavior, people will trust you with larger responsibilities at work, feel more comfortable investing in building a relationship with you, and you will gain freedom being the person that your boss knows they don’t have to keep an eye on. The combination of work ethic as a core value and effort as a mindset and behavior, this becomes a super power that can propel you past others.
Body language is definitely a skill that can be studied and improved. This means both how you use body language and being able to better read the body language of others. Different cultures may value different forms of body language. But there are also many universal forms of body language. The spotio.com blog post says “Anyone in the meeting can tell whether or not you want to be there. Your husband or wife will be able to tell whether or not you had a good day at work the second you walk through the door. It’s critical your body language and tone convey the message you want to portray.”
Communication skills may be the difference between succeeding and not succeeding. The words you use are just part of the equation; how you hold yourself or whether or not you are smiling can either confirm or confuse your message. I took a non-verbal communication class in college and honestly I think it should be required. Body language seems so obvious; having a good handshake, making and maintaining eye contact, smiling, etc. Mastering body language is a quick way to improve your image and better read situations. Tom Gimbel writes: “I’m CEO of a company with 200 employees, and I still have to remind myself to maintain eye contact. The art of a handshake is messed up all the time, and after people leave a meeting, the guy or gal with the wet-fish handshake is always criticized.”
It takes practice and some experience, but you do not need any special talent to begin using body language to your advantage.
Everyone on a team influences each other. Be the type of person that brings good, productive energy to the group. People will want to work with you more and you can quickly stand out. Energetic people can bring out the best in others. You can wake up every morning and make the choice to bring positive energy into the day. It is a mindset and an outlook on life. You should be excited about life. If you find yourself not feeling energized by your life, it is probably a good time to reflect on your choices, habits, and routines.
Do you have a friend that brings up the life of the party a few notches? How about a friend that always drags down the atmosphere? People want to be around the person who increases the mood of the whole room. Be the hype person in your friend group. Be the one on the team that is excited to get after it each day. You don’t need any skill or talent for this, just make the choice to practice optimism and lead the charge every day.
“Optimists see opportunities and possibilities in everything that happens, positive or negative,” writes Lolly Daskal. Remember the Ken Shannon quote above? Your attitude has a much bigger impact on your altitude than your aptitude does. It seems cliche to say that having a positive attitude leads to success. But the thoughts that you choose to focus on and your self talk eventually manifests itself into an outward expression of your internal monologue. Attitude starts from within.
Most successful people, apart from having dumb luck, believed in themselves or had someone in their life that believed in them. If you can create thought patterns that look for opportunity, ways to learn, and bring the attitude of continuous improvement with you each day, you will immediately rise above those with bad attitudes.
If you have the right attitude, experience doesn’t matter. If you are someone who learns and grows and tries things out and constantly tries to get better, you will blow past anyone that is relying on their skill or experience.
Molly Fletcher writes that passion is “perhaps the single most important way each one of us can suffocate the fear that keeps us from peak performance.” Passion keeps you going when things get hard. It can be the reason you keep getting up in the morning.
Have you every seen someone who is truly passionate about what they do? It is inspiring and motivational on a whole other level. To find what you a truly passionate about, it is important to try new things and experiences. If you don’t think you are passionate about anything, that just means you haven’t found it yet. So keep looking! And enjoy the journey.
Passion may be the most important factor of success. If you don’t love whatever it is you are trying to get good at, you are missing the key component. I always ask people in interviews to tell me something they are passionate about. I want to know what brings them joy. Passionate people, I believe, are more likely to bring that passion into other areas of their lives. So if someone is passionate about one thing, I believe that makes them more likely to be passionate about something else too. Hopefully that means they will be passionate about the job I am hiring them for. Or if they are not, I hope that them knowing one thing they are passionate for will be a clue to whether or not they will be happy working for our company.
You have to be willing to change and improve. Even the top performers in their fields can be even better than they currently are. And that improvement will come in part from putting the ego aside, listening to criticism, and using those lessons to get better. Whether or not you are someone that takes criticism well, you can train yourself to use it to your advantage.
K. Anders Ericcson writes that peak performance often comes from deliberate practice, “a type of practice that is teacher-directed and focused on incremental advances that add up to major improvement. Deliberate practice depends on extensive feedback, and is the most effective form of training that researchers have yet to discover.” To get ahead in life, you have to know where you currently are. It is important to have a starting point, something to measure improvement from. Being coachable allows a person to accept where they currently are and also develop steps to get better.
No one wants to work with or be friends with the person that thinks they know everything and stubbornly refuse to recognize their flaws or areas that can be worked on. Learn your strengths and your weaknesses. Find out how to improve your strengths and how to mitigate your weaknesses. Ask for feedback from your team or partner. Grow, learn, improve, try, and try again.
This is directly related to effort. Putting in the work to make sure something is done correctly and accurately can be the difference between success and failure. On one hand, doing extra can be a waste; if you do something properly, you do not need to do extra. On the other hand, developing yourself into the type of person that will do whatever it takes to make sure something is done right, including doing some extra work to double check your processes or appointments, will propel you past others. Your bosses will feel more comfortable giving you responsibilities because they know you will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
The people that I have seen succeed in my company have taken it upon themselves to go beyond their normal duties and do whatever it takes to help the team succeed. They never said “I don’t get paid enough to do that” or “that’s not my job.” Whether it was a mess that needed to be cleaned up, a customer that needed to be taken care of, or a backlog of work, they did it without being asked.
Successful people are often this type of self starter. I have seen two people with the exact same duties take vastly different paths. One who put in the extra work, asked questions, learned new processes, and gained new skills that made them a more valuable employee is now managing a major portion of our company. The other person, who had the exact same opportunities, did the bare minimum to get by and never advanced. They thought they should be paid more in order to do extra. In my experience, taking more responsibility and doing extra puts you in position for raises and advancement, rather than waiting for the raise or advancement to motivate you to do the extra work.
“The ones who succeed are the ones who are ready when opportunities come,” writes Lolly Daskal. Being prepared is important on both micro and macro levels. On the micro, knowing all of the facts before giving a presentation means you don’t look like an idiot when the client asks you a question. On the macro level, like Daskal said, successful people are prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Molly Fletcher writes: “Only you can give yourself the time and space to be as ready as you can be. Make it a habit, and you will make the most of your talent.” If you have a habit of being prepared, that means you will be prepared for both success and failure. When things are going great, you know what to do. When things are going bad, you know what to do. If you can become someone that thinks ahead, analyzes all of the possible things that can go wrong, and develop a plan for what to do IF/WHEN things start to go wrong, your chances of succeeding have increased exponentially.
Sometimes success is determined by the slightest of margins. Maybe you are competing with other applicants for a job or with coworkers for a promotion. If you can truly put the things above into practices, those margins of success may begin to tip in your favor. My favorite thing about this this is that you can wake up tomorrow and start making a difference in your life. You don’t need much prior knowledge or experience. You don’t need natural talent. All you need is the desire to learn, grow, and get better.
Sources and Inspiration
- Why You Don’t Need Talent To Be Successful, by Harsh Tyagi, Published on November 11, 2017, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-you-dont-need-talent-successful-harsh-tyagi
- You have plenty of talents, skills, and passion. Don’t ever say otherwise, by Violeta Nedkova, OCTOBER 1, 2015, https://violetanedkova.com/blog/2015/9/29/talents-skills-passion
- The world’s top performers prove talent has nothing to do with success, by K. Anders Ericsson, June 27, 2016, https://qz.com/707205/successful-people-dont-have-natural-talent-they-have-something-thats-much-more-important/
- You Don’t Really Know How (Un)Talented You Are, According To Science, BY TOMAS CHAMORRO-PREMUZIC, 07-24-17, https://www.fastcompany.com/40443073/you-dont-really-know-how-untalented-you-are-according-to-science
- 11 Ways You Can Succeed With Zero Talent, by Lolly Daskal, https://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/11-ways-you-can-succeed-with-zero-talent.html
- ’10 Things That Require Zero Talent’ Is a Total Myth, by Tom Gimbel, JANUARY 30, 2017, https://time.com/4652315/10-things-zero-talent/
- The Difference Between Having Talent and Being Talented, by Noelle, MAR 8, 2018, https://feltmagnet.com/artist-corner/The-Difference-Between-Having-Talent-and-Being-Talented
- 10 Things That Require ZERO Talent, by Molly Fletcher, https://mollyfletcher.com/zero-talent/
- Breaking The Myth Surrounding The “10 Things That Require Zero Talent”, https://spotio.com/blog/breaking-myth-surrounding-10-things-require-zero-talent/