"Hard work beats talent
Most of us are familiar with the concept of the quote above. It is basically saying that if you work hard you have the ability to surpass someone who is more naturally gifted at something than you are simply because you are "out working" them (or working smarter than them, I should also say).
You're going to be getting a lot of reflection posts from me these days because I've been having these revelations as I get further and further from a part of my former life that really held me down. Feeling the freedom to think my own positive thoughts without having a negative interjection counter it has made me realize a lot about myself and my approach to the sport in the last 7 years or so....
I was that talented kid that didn't work hard. That was always me. It's not to say I didn't work at all I'm simply saying that until my senior year of college, I never gave it 100%... or even 80%... probably not even 75%. In High School, when I started with this sport, I worked hard 180 days of the year (school days) and a handful of weekends... So maybe, just maybe, I was giving it 60% effort. When I was at practice, I was 100% all in, but when summer came and we had our workouts prescribed on paper and no one watching, I did nothing. I saw people from other schools training all summer and I laughed "why are they working so hard, I'm just going to beat them"... and that's usually what happened. When your talent is reinforced, instead of your hard work, it's more difficult to become a hard worker... even if that's what is necessary to get to the next level.
In education, praising someones work ethic as opposed to their natural intelligence or talent is all the rage. There has been a plethora of research done by Carol Dweck suggesting that praising a child for being smart can lead them to have a "fixed mindset", but praising them for trying hard, doing something challenging or outside their comfort zone that maybe they aren't so natural at produces a "growth mindset"
What if we apply this same level of thinking to sports? Is there a danger in calling someone talented? Maybe you know someone who was really talented but quit early due to a fixed mindset? I think there is a danger in how you praise (this is a huge part of what I do for a living in my special education classroom), and I am a direct product of praising inherent abilities rather than work ethic. I'm not writing this and moping because "wahh wahh, woes me, I'm talented, people called me talented, poor me" No, please don't interpret this post as me feeling sorry for myself and excusing all my shortcomings... I'm simply processing how to shift my mindset so that I can see more growth this upcoming year and beyond, and maybe this will reach someone else who is reading this who has also felt stuck.
Looking back, winning the Presidential Physical Fitness award in the 6th grade was the start to this partially Fixed Mindset and also the beginning of the word "talented" being thrown in my direction. Only three people won it in our school, and one of the other people happened to be my cousin who is doubly related to me (our fathers are brothers and our mothers are sisters). Maybe she was more talented than me and got it without trying, but I worked for that award. No doubt it was mostly talent. Ann and I have such similar genetics, it couldn't be a coincidence that we were 2 of the 3 people that achieved this highest honor. The running came naturally, and I weighed next to nothing so I could do push ups and crunches easily, But I was NOT flexible. There was this part where we had to stretch a certain amount of inches passed our toes and I worked for that. I was 11 years old I have a distinct memory of having my sister push on my back as I exhaled so that I could try and get 5 inches passed my feet (Mary can vouch for how annoyingly hard I worked). However, when that award was given, no one talked about the work I did. No one talked about how I improved from 2 inches to 5 inches, everyone just praised me for my talent. Naturally, I was proud.
It wasn't until I started entering bigger ponds that talent started to recognizably hurt my way of thinking. I was always able to win the important race in high school. I am still one of 6 people that have ever won three consecutive CMASS titles, and I'm the only runner to win in both Divisions.... but I always under performed at the States. I would say "well, I can't win that, so I don't care." as if the results were fixed... just like my way of thinking. The only year I ran well was the year my team had a chance to win. That was the only year I beat World Record Stroller Runner, Dianna Chivakos but it wasn't until later that that became important. College took some adjusting. I spent most of it feeling horrible because I simply couldn't win anything and I didn't even realize that the girl winning everything was Dianna. She saw me in the bathroom and mentioned she recognized me because I out-kicked her at States. I was in her families home video or something. Whaaat? I beat her? HOW? I realized I had to give more, why is this person that I beat in High School minutes ahead of me? I needed to rely on something other than talent. Before entering Senior Year I finally started running over the summer (yes, I never ran over the summer). My hard work was immediately reinforced with a 19:08 5k right off the bat, a 30 second PR. Later that season, I made it to the NCAA National Championship. I was so proud of the hard work I put in, but I remember someone telling me "well, it's about time!" I knew that was their way of celebrating with me, but it voided all my hard work. I worked hard, this wasn't something someone handed to me... I worked hard... for the first time ever, I worked hard" and it didn't matter that I worked hard because all I did was finally, finally meet the expectation people already had for me based on my talent. In that moment I stopped feeling proud, instead I felt ashamed. Have I been letting people down all this time?
As you can see, my inner dialogue was always concerned with what people thought of me. Am I Good Enough? I would never describe myself as insecure, but this was as close as it got.
fFI've been fighting a battle with a Fixed Mindset for a long time as it was the foundation I had laid early on. Fortunately, I had a lot of people (my high school coach, especially) pushing me in the direction of a Growth Mindset and I developed enough of that to never quit. It's really hard to change what is already there; change the foundation in which you built everything you've ever achieved on top of. The only real way is to destroy it all and rebuild from scratch. The knee surgery, the injuries, the two pregnancies; these, I guess, are the things that made me realize I need to start over. I'm not "rebuilding" a foundation, because I don't want the same thing. I'm simply building something totally new. I'm building a totally new physical and mental foundation. It's only been 12 days of the new year, but these 12 days I have spent looking at my new blueprints, my new map, instead of trying to put patches in places that just keep breaking or taping together my old map that really leads to no where. For the first time ever I’m excited about the hard work rather than the result. Maybe I fail a few times, but having the goal to work hard is completely in my control, and so far—I LIKE IT!
Do you struggle with a Fixed Mindset in any aspect of your life?
What steps do you take to overcome this way of thinking?
What do you attribute to forming your Growth Mindset?
Welcome to my blog! I blogged my entire pregnancy in 2017 and I had high hopes for where I could take my running after baby number 2, but my body had other plans. At some point I got too discouraged to write and recently realized that it is essential for my personal growth and development to keep putting feelings into coherent(ish) thoughts. I still hope to run sub 2:45 in the marathon one day, but for now I’m trying to focus on the process and I’m learning to enjoy it. You can come along for the ride, apologies in advance for grammatical incorrectness!