Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
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
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
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
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
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 heading for the great Sonny Gould