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Do you know why so many ‘gifted’ children go on to produce mediocre results with their ‘gifts’? How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m a talented guy, why can’t I achieve results like him? How did someone with such average intelligence, average looks, and average ability, become so successful?” 

Vince Lombardi, a man with average looks, average intelligence, and average athletic ability, became one of the most successful coaches in history, and his wisdom debunks many common beliefs about competition, giftedness, success, self-improvement, and personal growth.  

One of the most unassuming, average guys from my High School went on to make over $100 million dollars. Actually, today he’s pretty good looking guy, but back then there were dozens of people who were smarter, more charismatic, better looking, or better athletes. How did it happen? How is he different?

Another person from my High School is one of the smartest and best looking people I have ever known and has done little with her life but complain about how ‘stupid’ everyone is and she wonders why the ‘stupid’ people seem to be so much happier and wealthier than her. She talks about how it must be a conspiracy or blind luck. She says most people are too shallow to understand her intelligence. She has an IQ over 170 and can’t understand why people won’t simply pay her six figures for her brilliance. You can see the problem, but she is blind to it. Why? How did this happen to someone who was given a major advantage in life? I’ll explore that in this post.

Vince Lombardi’s formula for being #1 is simple and it doesn’t require high intelligence, good looks, or world-class talent. But remember, we often confuse simple with easy. Simple is not easy. For example, losing weight is simple, but it can be extraordinarily difficult. Ask any computer programmer who has developed a simple solution and he will testify that complex solutions are far easier to create than simple ones. Complexity is the sanctuary of the novice, and simplicity is the revelation of a genius. So when people tell you to keep it simple, they are asking you to think like a genius.

Read Vince Lombardi’s speech on what it takes to be #1, and you’ll see his formula. Winning is a habit. Winning attracts more winning and unfortunately so does losing.

So how do we develop the Vince Lombardi habit of winning?

Develop a Strong Head
To have a strong head you need to have a disciplined mind. Everything ever accomplished by a human being began as a thought. This isn’t magic. It’s an undeniable fact. Set your goals, focus your thoughts, visualize the outcome, document the details, and make it a habit, because good habits are the foundation of all accomplishment. But it does require much more than thought alone.

Develop a Big Heart
Immerse your focused, habitual, and obsessive thoughts with positive emotion. Mix your burning desires with faith, love, determination, gratitude, and persistence. This is what my son calls Sha-hand-show-bo. This is how you keep going even when you want to quit. This gives you the ability to reach down inside yourself, when you don’t think you have anything left to give, and find the energy to persist. Emotional stamina separates winners from quitters.

Learn to Love Competition
Another way to say this is… be courageous. In all endeavors, on your way to the top, there are people who will scoff at you, impugn you, and when they become threatened, they will try to stomp you out. Getting to the top means knocking someone else out of #1. Some people don’t want to hear this, but it’s true.

Many people are confused about competition. They think of those who will do anything to win. Lying, cheating, and stealing isn’t winning, it’s corruption. Winning is being the best not the worst, so don’t confuse being a winner with being a crook.

Some people say creativity is constructive and competition is destructive, but there is a flaw in this logic – if you create something new which disrupts and challenges the existing order, you are competing whether you like it or not. Creative new solutions must compete with existing paradigms for attention and resources much like web 2.0 is challenging the old media. Do not be fooled into thinking you can create something valuable for others without competing – you can’t. If you aren’t competing for someone’s dollars, you are at least competing for their time and attention.

Evolution occurs from the competitive selection of all things, which are in a state of constant change, recreating and reinventing themselves to become better than what came before them. Change is the new replacing the old. Competition is the means of determining which change is best. Competition is necessary to grow, so to avoid competition is to avoid growth.

Learn to Love Discipline
Self-discipline is critical to success, happiness, and personal freedom. How happy and free is the undisciplined irresponsible person? The answer seems obvious doesn’t it? There is no freedom without responsibility and there is no success without self-discipline.

Does that sound too black and white? Look at the areas where you need to grow. Be honest with yourself. Are they areas where you lack discipline?

How does this affect the ‘gifted and talented?’

Many of you fit into a group, which the education establishment has labeled ‘gifted.’ Labeling someone ‘gifted’ is dangerous because it breeds arrogance. An arrogance which hurts the ‘gifted’ and keeps them from reaching their potential.

I’ve spent decades around under-achieving ‘gifted’ individuals. These folks had two major traits that kept them from succeeding:

1. Without effort, thought, or training, they simply knew the answers to difficult problems. Many of their peers had to work hard, pay attention, and build academic discipline to solve problems. But for many gifted students, it was effortless.
2. When they didn’t understand something intuitively, learning it was easy, requiring only 1-3 iterations to achieve mastery, while their peers required 10+ iterations. Learning the same material required far less studying for the gifted learner.

Dr. Bertie Kingore makes similar observations in her essay about the differences between the high-achiever, the gifted learner, and the creative thinker.

So the danger is this…
Many ‘gifted’ kids don’t learn self-discipline because they don’t need to. Learning is too easy. I’ve seen the same thing happen to gifted athletes.

During a staff meeting at work, I asked a bunch of co-workers a question, which generated looks that seemed to question my sanity…

Is a straight A student really successful? Are they really getting a good education? If they never fail, what have they learned about themselves?

A few people seemed horrified that I was suggesting that an A student could be a failure.

But this is what I was getting at…
If a student pushed herself as hard as she could to achieve top grades, I’d say yes, she is on the road to success. However, if she is getting top grades with little effort, she is being cheated and set up for failure in the future because she doesn’t know her limits. She’s never pushed them. She hasn’t developed the self-discipline necessary to succeed at something difficult. So she develops a habit of doing just enough to get by, and later her peers blow past her in every measure of happiness and success. It’s the classic tortoise and the hare story.

Let me leave you with something I’ve discovered about what truly makes me happy. I spent years coasting, doing less than I was capable of, under the false belief that talking it easy would result in happiness. Coasting became a habit. But it never resulted in happiness. In my late twenties I discovered that pushing myself to my limits resulted in far more happiness than taking it easy (I know, I’m a slow learner). Today when I find myself falling into depression or self-destructive thinking, I know what the problem is… I’m coasting, I’m not pushing hard, and I’m not growing.

The universal Law of Growth states ‘that which is not growing is dying.’ So every time I start to slip, I know why. It’s because I have stopped growing and it is time to push myself hard to learn something new, to solve more problems, or to help other people.

And you know what…

It works every time.

(FYI – I’m a Green Bay Packers fan and I love Lombardi. Go Pack! Beat the Giants on Sunday! Let’s bring home lucky #13!)

Tell me what you think? I’d like to know.

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