What it takes to be the best

The first question that I heard a reporter ask Bradley Wiggins after he won the Tour De France was, “What are you going to tell your kids about this win?” What a wonderful question! But Bradley was tongue-tied and he could not answer the question. All he said was, “That I won the Tour De France.” WHAT! Millions of children just saw you win the hardest sporting event in the world. That answer either left children wondering or now millions of children think it’s rather easy to win the Tour since the answer was so simple. I’m sure he was caught off guard and maybe we’ll get a better response from him soon. Until then, this is what I would say to the millions of kids out there that watched Bradley win the Tour on Sunday or who will watch Olympians win gold in the coming weeks.

They are great because they found where their passion and strengths intersect. At that intersection there is hard work, patience, teamwork, support, focus, and dedication. Find something that you are good at. Something that seems less like work and more like fun. Pursue it with all your might and do not let anyone or anything distract you.

There is much talk about passion lately. Many people lack passion and go through their lives doing “what needs to be done” or following the crowd. The world needs passionate people. But being passionate about something you are not good at is rather useless. The key is being passionate about something you are good at doing. Passion + Strength = setting up to succeed.

Passion and strength should = success but it’s not that easy. Let’s say you are ten and are really passionate about cycling and you are good at it. If you live in the US you also need parents to support that passion. They need to make time for rides, drive you to races, pay for races, pay for gear etc…You need support and they need money. In other countries the government is more involved at developing athletes so you should have a better chance, say in Australia, if you do not have supportive and/or wealthy parents. So now you have passion, strength, and support. You are in the game and ready to compete with others in your field.

To be the best, you need to focus on your strength for long periods of time. This takes patience and dedication. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Bill Gates didn’t just drop out of Harvard and start Microsoft, Wiggins didn’t just win the Tour De France. They spent thousands of hours focusing on one thing. One thing they are good and passionate about.

Which leads me to how we are running schools and preparing out children for life. We want them to be “well rounded.” We put them in multiple extracurricular activities. Many kids never learn to be good at anything. The world today rewards specialists. In cycling there are sprinters, climbers and time trialists. The all round cyclist does not win anything let alone the Tour De France.  If you are a well rounded cyclist you carry water bottles to the specialists. If you are a programmer you do not have a (good) job right now unless you have a specialty. Companies are not hiring Software Engineers anymore. They are hiring iOS developers or NetApp engineers (as two examples). I say let your child get really good at something. Even if she decides to not pursue what she spent years getting really good at. It doesn’t matter because she knows what it takes to be excellent. Those skills transfer to whatever she decides to do next.


  1. This is a really interesting post, and defiantly thought-provoking. It’s funny, now that I have a son and I’m finishing up my Phd, I’ve kind of seen this issue pop up a lot in my life lately. Do we need to pursue only one thing in life, and what is that one thing that we should be doing? Do we put our energy into supporting our son’s athletic or intellectual endeavors? Should I devote myself to this specialty or that one?

    To be honest, I think that it’s a lucky person who can spend their life doing only what they love. But our world needs trash men, and road crews, and truck drivers, and jail guards, and IRS agents, and we can’t all do the things that make us happiest all the time.

    I think sometimes life is about passion, and sometimes it’s about survival, and sometimes it’s about exploration and trying NEW things, too!

    • Agree we all can’t be the best or even good at one thing. And it’s not only okay but important to keep searching for what you are good at and enjoy even if it takes you until you’re 75. In the meantime you may have to work at McDonalds or even find a well paid corporate job. Or maybe punching the clock is all you need. But I think there are those that show interest at a young age and we often try to deter them to try more things, expand, be well-rounded. As a society we don’t understand people that are happy only doing one thing. We think it’s not “normal.” For me what has stuck is that it’s okay to focus on one thing and be good at it even if it is only short lived. Because learning how to be good at something is not wasted. You don’t need to do what you did at 10 when you are 30 but if you learned to be great at something when you were 10 it will help you be great at x when you are 30. And for those rare people like Wiggins sticking with something can pay off. Maybe I’m rambling now;)

      • Yeah that’s true. Dedication, goal-setting and achievement are not bad skills to learn at a young age! I totally agree with that! :) It does seem easy to have short-attention-span lives today. A person who can do one thing is rare, indeed.

  2. Great thoughts!!! I think about this a lot with my own kids. Hoping I can just give them the opportunities to find out their talents and support them in whatever they choose and live my life with passion.

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