I recently read a great book called The Talent Code based on a friend's recommendation. What I loved most about the book was the basic premise that all of us can achieve excellence if we practice our craft. Whether it be music, sports, or basket-weaving, we all have the ability to become great at any given skill through repetitive practice.
OK, so the book goes into much more detail about how the physiological aspects of our brain operate. I'm in no position to try and summarize that here, but the mind-blowing thing about each and every case study was that it didn't matter if you were smarter, richer or better-looking than the next guy or girl. Each one of the talented people outlined in the book came from different backgrounds. Different countries. Different centuries. But the common characteristics in all of them were similar methods of training, motivation, and coaching. To get really good at something you need to practice. Not just practice once in awhile or every other week. Practice daily. Practice with passion. You need to be motivated and care about the outcome. You need to want to become more proficient. And, you need a good coach, teacher or mentor.
Practice makes perfect. How many times have you heard that? We hear it so often because it's true. We can't get good at something if we don't hone the skill, learn from our mistakes and keep practicing. Nicholas and Christopher amaze me with their piano skills at such a young age. But, they have a great piano teacher and they practice often (their Dad makes sure of that!). Nicholas has been practicing for four years. He has a lot to learn, but he sees the older kids in other classes who play so well and so confidently and he knows that one day that will be him. For now, he is honing his skill. He is getting frustrated and he knows that it's hard work but he's willing to put in the time because he knows he will only get better if he practices.
Nicholas also likes to play baseball. He asked me other day if I thought he would be a good pitcher and I said he could be good at anything he puts his mind to. When I asked him what the essential element was to being a good pitcher he cocked his head to the side as if to contemplate this deeply philosophical question and said, "oh yeah, I know, practice!" If Nicholas wants to be a pitcher, he needs to practice. Christopher is riding his bike without training wheels. How did he manage that? Practice.
My boys get irritated sometimes when I tell them that they can do whatever they want as long as they put in the time to perfect their skill. The irritation comes from realizing that it takes work on their part. Even if I had a magic wand that would instantly make them competent at any given ability I wouldn't use it. Their greatest achievements will be those they have to work hard for. By themselves. Mustering their own resolve. Nothing good ever comes easy. It usually involves a lot of...you guessed it...practice.