I have believed inborn talent, and that everyone will find their own, for a long time. Until I realized that, in the end, you choose what you want to master and practice enough until you reach a point of unconscious competence.
I remember having a conversation with a couple at Afrika burn. They were telling me about their dreams and what they wanted to do with their lives, so I simply advised them to go and do it. A friendly girl overheard our conversation and asked me how I can tell people to simply do what they wanted to do. “Life doesn’t work like that,” she said, “you can’t just tell people to do what they want”.
Thinking about what she said made sense at first. But then I remembered when I was told to “go for it” and did, that life in fact does work like that.
A few years ago, while I was still looking to find my talent, I complained to my cousin that my life is pretty boring. I expected more out of life at the time and could not take the repetitive nature of my life anymore. He asked me what I really wanted to do with my life, I told him and he simply said to me “so go and do it”.
You see the mere fact that someone believed in me inspired confidence in myself that I can accomplish my dreams. My cousin is a guy that travels the world with no steady income, living day to day because he wants to. Hearing him tell me that dreams do come true, you only have to believe in yourself, and do what it takes to get closer to achieving them, changed my perspective completely.
Since then, I basically understood that you don’t only have to sit with the cards you are dealt, but that you are allowed to play with them as best you can to get to the outcome you want. We are allowed to have a dream, and most of all to go for it with everything we’ve got - however impossible it sounds.
Then I realized that once you conjure up the confidence to go for what you really want; you start out in the procrastination phase. You read up on everything three times, watching as many YouTube tutorials as possible. Some of us even spend most of our money on online courses and better equipment. But we don’t put in the work.
We are avoiding practice because practice is uncomfortable. Practice essentially means controlled failure. And we do not like failure, it does not feel good at all. But much like Joseph Campbell’s quote:
"The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for".
The very act of practicing your chosen craft is what will make you a truly talented master. The thing is, in the beginning, you almost fail instantly and horribly. The practice is nothing near what you have imagined it to be, you were sure it would be more fun. It looked like so much fun when the masters did it.
Unfortunately, procrastinating practice often means that we overdo the theoretical part and we start to create a picture in our minds of how it “should” be done. This causes us to lose our sense of wonder, curiosity, and joy for practicing our craft. This is also where most people quit and start believing in inborn talent again.
We become frustrated because what we produce is nothing near what we envisioned it to be. Because you have watched so many videos on the subject you can almost confidently reproduce what the masters do, in your mind. But when you practice it in reality your fingers don’t know the way yet.
You see you still need to transfer all the theory in your mind to your fingers and keep practicing until your fingers can do the task without the need for your mind to guide them.
Like when starting off playing guitar... you can picture yourself playing a Hendrix solo, just jamming along with some nice beats, you could even have a good idea of the theory sorted in your mind. But when you start playing that guitar your fingers have no idea where to go, and when you find the correct spot, your finger does not have the strength to press down hard enough for a clear sound yet. Also, your hands cannot stretch like they are supposed to, to form the shapes needed to play the chords correctly.
Even with writing and coding, you can read and study as much theory as you like, what makes you exceptional will always be focused practice. I say focussed because as my mentor would say “a lot of people have been driving for 10 000 hours and still drive poorly”, meaning merely repeating steps doesn’t necessarily make you better at them. You need to focus on improving every time you take the next step.
You should balance theory with practice in order to get better. I am still typing faster and faster every day, pressing fewer wrong keys on the keyboard, one day I will be as fast as those veteran coders. But by then keyboards will probably be old fashion and we will be using some touchless interface.
So, when you can imagine things perfectly in theory but in practice you fumble, you can assume that you have been working hard on developing the theory part of it all but you are lacking in the practical side of things. You need more practice.
That why practice is so important - it is almost as important as learning the theory but honing your skill day by day is what will lead you to mastery.
So, the whole process of reaching for the stars can be summed up as follows: You start out with unconscious incompetence. Then with curiosity, you gain awareness of your dream and reach conscious incompetence. You then start studying and learning more about it which leads to conscious competence. With focussed practice over time, you reach mastery or unconscious competence. Like tying your shoes, you don’t think about that anymore, your hand does that automatically.