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.