To become good, better or great at something we need to practice; right?

But obviously there are some people who have natural talent that slingshots them past everyone else. They can become great at something in a fraction of the time of regular people; it is called talent. These are the instant success stories you hear about all the time… they are born with "the gift".

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? More relevant here… which came first, the talent or the practice?

I was killing a bit of time in a bookstore recently and skimmed the book "Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else" by Geoff Colvin. I didn't read the entire book (yet) but one section really caught my attention.

(From memory) Apparently after studying the habits and activities of a large group of violinists who were accepted into a music school in Britain they came to an astonishing conclusion. They broke the group into 3 subsets of musicians: the good, the better and the best. The good typically went on to become music teachers, the better often played with an orchestra or band and the best went on to become world class soloists. They all basically had the same curriculum, they all had the same instructors, they all played music in groups, and they had all been playing since age 8-10.

The only significant difference. The best violinists (solo) practiced 4000 hours more than the merely good (7000 versus 3000 give or take a few hundred hours). Over ten years, this difference is 8 hours a week, every week for 10 years. The best practiced (solo) on average, 20 hours a week in addition to playing in lessons and groups.

This is the hard and not fun kind of practicing. Scales, arpeggios, vibrato, repetition, technique, etc. Tunes over and over.

They found very little evidence of any natural talent that allowed one violinist to be as good as all the others without the practice.

This fits with other sources of knowledge on talent. The rough rule: 10,000 hour of doing something to become a master; or roughly 10 years (maybe 5 if you work really hard).

Now this is not to discount that some people just don't have the body or makeup for some types of things. Genetics does play some role in many areas… so does the quality of instruction and the age at which you start.

People have talent because they practiced something (or something related).

But this knowledge is comforting (and discomforting at the same time).

Just about anything you want to do well you can become good, or even great at.

The not so good news; you need to practice it. And you need to be passionate and committed enough about achieving your goal to stick out the hard and not fun parts of it. The right kind of practice. There are no easy shortcuts. A coach, instructor or mentor helps too.

Mastery is within your grasp.

Start practicing (with passion).