Growing up in particularly nerdy schools, we used to have stories float around about some of our peers’ magical academic abilities – e.g. person X remembered a page by just looking at it for a minute.
These stories and an obvious absence of said magical abilities inspired an observational study of sorts through multiple interviews and conversations over the past fifteen years. The exceptional individuals studied were well represented across fields (e.g. music, research, parenting, venture capital) and I’ve found 3 things to be true –
1. They cultivated a passion for a craft/topic that they had some innate aptitude for
2. They then learnt to focus by saying no to nearly everything (typical exceptions were one or two out of health, family, friends, or a hobby) outside of their craft
3. And, finally, they worked obsessively toward getting better – this obsession generally showed itself in long hours that, over time, felt more like play than work.
The other interesting finding was that exceptional ability didn’t guarantee happiness. Happiness seemed to elude those that applied these abilities for extrinsic reasons (satisfy others/earn a reward/prove a point) and, instead, embraced those who found meaningful intrinsic reasons for doing the work.