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May 23, 2024

“Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.”

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I heard a quote that I believe can be attributed to former Navy SEAL Alden Mills, and it shines a light on something that I think most of us have a hard time seeing.

The quote is: “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.”

The reason this quote is so attention-grabbing is because of how it describes the common person. It suggests that the average person is both underachieving (in that as a society we accept a low standard for ourselves) and completely capable (with gifts and strengths that aren’t being expressed).

If that’s true, it makes you wonder why.

The bridge that people are missing, that I think Mills is alluding to in this quote, is hard work. Having talent isn’t enough.

As Angela Duckworth says in the book “Grit”, combing talent and hard work generates skill. Then working hard to develop your skills leads to success. In other words, hard work counts twice.

There are a few things that come to mind as reasons why people aren’t working hard and therefore, are chronically unsuccessful. 

First is a matter of weakness.

Our lives are so comfortable. Especially compared to just a few generations ago, our problems are not that serious. This means that we’ve had less opportunities to cultivate resilience and what we think is “working hard” isn’t actually that demanding.

Second is a matter of convenience.

Anything we want is available for overnight delivery at the touch of a button, and endless entertainment can be found in our pockets. Frankly we don’t have the attention span to work hard any more because we get bored with it so quickly. Impulsively we jump to something else just to keep our minds occupied with something stimulating, which we’ve grown too accustomed to.

And last is a matter of clarity.

Maybe we are putting some good quality work in, but we’re working on the wrong things. We’re investing our time and effort in ways that lead to fractional results. Because things are so fast we struggle to slow down and get strategic about what exactly we could be doing to make progress.

Because of all this, many people with a world of talent settle for falling short of the level of success they’re capable of. This is the majority. However it’s also a massive opportunity. Those who can apply their talent toward the right things, be resourceful, and practice resilience do work their way to the top.

It’s easier to win than ever because we have access to so much and everyone is doing so little with it. So if you delay gratification, do the boring and mundane things others are unwilling to do, and stay consistent, you’ll find yourself achieving more than you thought possible.

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