Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson                  

10,000 HOURS!

     Did you ever know what we might call a "natural?" We all have. We've all seen the high school kid who could throw a baseball ninety miles an hour.  I remember a left-handed sophomore who could throw the football seventy yards on a rope.  Watching him throw that ball on a string, the only visual after-image left in my brain was my momma’s clothesline.  And then there was that fourteen year-old fiddle player in that beer joint, playing behind a wire cage he was.  I never will forget him.  He not only made all those redneck beer drinkers stand still and listen when he played; he made the angels weep.  No training necessary, these were people who could do it from day one.  I went to school with some of them - those who made straight A’s and never cracked a book.  We’ve all known naturals, right?  If only we had been born with their skill, their talent, their hand-eye coordination, or their IQ, then life would have made a lot more sense.  Things would have been a lot easier. 
     Go to any coffee shop at seven a. m. and ask the old guys, “Ever see a natural?” and in no time, that café will be filled with one story after another about the great saddle-bronc rider who never bucked off, the great roper who never missed, or the great golfer who only played on Mondays.  “He never had to practice.  Just played on Mondays – and still he shot par.  He could just do it.  He was a natural.”  We’ve all known naturals, right
     What if I told you there’s no such thing?
     I know that is difficult to believe.  Every old fellow sittin’ in the coffee shop somewhere in America reading this right now just said to himself, “This guy’s problem is he never met ‘Bubba.’  Bubba was a natural.”  The belief that there are naturals is so ingrained we know they exist.  But do they really?
     What if we found out about some new rule?  A rule that existed since time began that we didn’t know about.  What if - I’m just saying what if, mind you - the Lord gives us all some talent at the beginning?  Yes, some have more and others less…but we all get at least some.  What if the key is – the trick is - that we work on that God-given ability to do well from the beginning, and then we can do better than most?  Could that possibly be true?  And would whatever talents or gifts we have been given be enough?  Maybe it would.
     Maybe that is the rule.  Maybe if we would spend time working – not complaining or whining, but working on our meager abilities, then we might surprise everybody…most of all, ourselves.
     Maybe that is the rule.  How long would we have to work to see some results?  What if we spent 10,000 hours working and
developing what we have been given?   Turns out that would be a good number.
     One of the most popular authors in America these days is a fellow named Malcom Gladwell. In addition to previous works titled Tipping Point and Blink, Gladwell has recently written Outliers.  In that book, Gladwell writes about successful people and how they became so.  His explanations for the causes of success – and high achievement - are not what you might expect.
     Including scads of research, stories about Bill Gates, rich attorneys, and even the Beatles, Gladwell builds a strong case that the rules for achieving are varied and some luck is involved in everyone’s climb to doing better.  And he points out, “No one does it alone.”  There was one other ingredient for success that really caused me to sit up and take notice.
     The author writes about the research of the famous psychologist, Lewis Terman, at Stanford University beginning in the 1920s and continuing for decades.  Gladwell writes, “In 1921, Terman decided to make the study of the gifted his life work.  Terman would eventually sort through the records of some 250,000 elementary and high school students, and find 1,470 children whose I.Q.s averaged 140 and ranged as high as 200.  These young geniuses came to be known as the ‘Termites,’ and for the rest of his life, Terman watched over them like a mother hen.  They were tracked and tested, measured and analyzed for decades.”  Terman knew they would rise to occupy all the positions of power in politics, make all the great scientific discoveries, and rule the world.
     They did not.
     Some of the “Termites” did well of course, but the majority of these “geniuses” were no more successful than “normal” people.  What caused those who did succeed to do so?  10,000 hours, that’s what.  Turns out it may be nice to have a high I. Q., but having that gift is no guarantee of success any more than being tall guarantees a career in the NBA.  And just because you can throw the baseball ninety miles an hour or the football seventy yards, does not mean you will arrive at the mountaintop.  What does?  Hard work.  No matter what gifts we have been given, Terman’s research and a host of other studies show no matter what gifts we have been given, if we do not work to develop our abilities - no matter how precious or rare the gift - we fail to become what we could be.  And one other thing…
     In all the years of his research, Terman – and many others cited by Gladwell – all agreed.  The one thing they never found was a natural.  Certainly some had more talent than others, but if that ever-so talented person did not work at his craft?  Others with less talent – but those who worked harder – eventually surpassed even the most gifted of the “gifted.”
     I once knew the fastest human on the planet.  Really, I’m not kidding.  But you don’t know his name, do you?  And you’ve never heard of the kid who could throw it ninety, or the quarterback who could rope it seventy yards on a string.  And you don’t know the young fiddle player either, do you?  They’re gone now.  Their talent didn’t sustain them.  They all took those precious gifts for granted because sadly…there is far more talent wasted than there is used.
     Where does that leave the rest of us?  What about all us “mediocre” people?
     Take heart!  Rejoice!  Good news!  Even if we are not the most talented in the beginning, by applying ourselves, by using and developing whatever “small” gifts we have been given, we can surprise the world…and even ourselves.
     Gates was a young techno-geek, but he spent 10,000 hours sitting at a computer in his teens. The Beatles were not accomplished musicians on the first day, but became so after playing in Liverpool dives for thousands of hours.  And no matter how gifted Tiger is, had he not hit thousands of golf balls for thousands of hours, we wouldn’t know his name.
     But people in my world of rodeo know Allen Bach’s name.  Allen Bach is a practicer.  We know Walt Woodard’s name.  Walt Woodard is a worker.  Leo Camarillo was invited to the first ever “Timed Event Championships.”  For six months prior to the event, Camarillo roped 300 steers a day!   When he arrived, he said, “I may not be the best here, but I am the most prepared.”  He won.  Tuff Hedeman said, “I was the last one you would pick to be a success.”  But he continued on.  First ever cowboy to be inducted in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame while still competing.
     And so it is in rodeo, golf, baseball, football, band, academics, writing, in business, and in life.  We may not be the best or brightest, but even if that is so…still we are not defeated.  Work and effort overcome mediocrity. 
     And those A students we knew?  Those who said they never cracked a book? 
     They lied, mi amigo.  They lied. 

                                                                                          -- Michael Johnson   


Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

Healing Shine


Please stop
and sign our Guestbook

Send Michael
an Email

Michael Johnson Books
1172 CR 4122  Campbell, Texas 75422  (903) 862-2082

Copyright © 2003 Michael Johnson Books. All rights reserved.
webmaster pswope@candw-webmasters.com