Training Makes it Possible

Have you ever looked at someone who was really good at what they did and felt a little daunted?

Maybe it’s how they seem to easily make connections with new people, or design an amazing-looking web page over a weekend, or how they casually mention the 6 miles they ran before breakfast today.

It’s natural to feel intimidated by someone who’s really good at what they do and get a little insecure about yourself. It happens to me on occasion. But whenever I find myself falling into that trap,  I remember something I learned from 16 years of gymnastics:

Training Makes it Possible.

I’ve written before about the science of practice makes perfect, but today let me just tell you a story:

When I was 10 years old, I remember watching the 1996 Olympics and watching gymnasts perform amazing release moves and double flipping dismounts on the high bar. At the time, I could barely swing around the bar doing basic front and back giant maneuvers. With gymnastics, it takes you a long time before you learn to do anything cool.

The guys in the Olympics were literally orders of magnitude ahead of me. If I was running a lemonade stand, they were senior executives of Minute Maid.

But year by year, I got better. And I saw myself improve, and get stronger, and learn new skills. I learned how to do a dismount with one flip. Then two flips tucked. Then two flips completely straight. Then with a full twist. I learned a release move called a tkachev where you fly over the bar. First straddled, then completely straight – my head 14 feet in the air.

It was scary. I fell. I hurt myself. I had to learn to overcome my fear and perform under pressure.

By the time I was 20 years old, my high bar routine would have been competitive with those in the 1996 Olympics. Of course elite gymnastics itself had advanced beyond that level as well, but still, I saw a multiple-X improvement in my performance over a decade.

Now certainly a healthy dose of good genes, good nutrition, good training and a supportive environment played a big role, but ultimately the most necessary ingredient was disciplined training.

Now, whenever I see someone who’s very good at something, I always remember three things:

  1. When they started doing that thing, they were no good. Even if they were “good for a kid” or “good for a beginning” their absolute performance still sucked.
  2. It took them a lot of time, effort, and training to get to level where they are at now. They might be making it look easy, but there’s no way getting there was in fact, easy.
  3. If I really wanted to, I could also invest in training and with sustained effort, I could get a lot better. Would I be better than them? Maybe. Maybe not. But I would no doubt be WAY better than I am now.

Remember that next time you see someone deliver an impressive performance.

Training Makes it Possible.

 Photo Credit: L’oeil étranger

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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  1. I think the Web may change how people perceive what is possible and not. For example, consider all the kids putting up their writing or code or singing up online now, and consider how in two decades most of this will probably be searchable, so that people can actually look back at authentic documentation of progress. In the past, people have tried to hide how hard they worked to succeed, because it was a competitive advantage to scare competitors into thinking they had no “talent”, but in the era of transparency, we might see a lot more about how improvement really happens.

  2. Great point! Have evidence of progress would be a great way to show that even “talented” people need time and training to get good.

  3. Thanks, Jason. Great post. Timely as I am struggling with how to incorporate more design into my work in strategy and marketing. I get frustrated because I’d rather do more design, but I’m not great at it yet. After reading your article, I realize I need to think of finding more ways to practice and keeping my expectations appropriate for what practice will produce.

  4. JasonShen And, the principle of “practice makes perfect” works with just about anything. Even middle schoolers learning Spanish. Ha!

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